Ranking Saturday's eight NCAA tournament second round games

USA TODAY Sports ranks Saturday's round of 32 matchups in order of watchability. 

The NCAA tournament continues rolling along on Saturday with eight games at four different sites across the country.

Get ready for all the action with thorough previews for every game on the schedule as the schools look to punch their tickets to the Sweet 16 on the road to Glendale, Ariz., for the Final Four.

RELATED: TV schedule for 2nd round games in NCAA Tournament

1. No. 12 Middle Tennessee vs. No. 4 Butler (South Region)

Time, TV: 7:10 p.m. ET, TBS. Site: Milwaukee.

  • Why Butler (24-8) will win: The Bulldogs aren’t flashy, but they don’t have many flaws, either. They’re as deep as they are balanced, with eight players having led the team in scoring. In Thursday’s win vs. Winthrop, Kelan Martin, who’d averaged 19 points in the previous six games, had just 10 in 17 minutes – and it didn’t matter because Avery Woodson made five three-pointers in the first half. Butler also rebounds well, shares the ball and it doesn’t turn it over much, either.
  • Why Middle Tennessee (31-4) will win: Reggie Upshaw. The star of last year’s NCAA tournament upset was at it again in the “upset” of Minnesota, scoring seven of his 19 points in a late stretch to stop a Minnesota comeback cold. Upshaw is a senior, and he takes that role requires seriously. And after making it to the second round for a second year in a row, Middle Tennessee is eager to get a little further this time.

2. No. 2 Arizona vs. No. 7 Saint Mary's (West Region)

Time, TV: Approx.7:45 p.m. ET, TNT. Site: Salt Lake City.

  • Why Arizona (31-4) will win: The lineup versatility Sean Miller has at his disposal will come in handy against the Gaels, who run terrific offense and spread the floor to facilitate good looks. Arizona’s array of big men such as Lauri Markkanen (15.7 ppg) and Chance Comanche aren’t afraid to come out on the perimeter, but Miller can also go smaller at times with super-athletic freshman wing Kobi Simmons, who did a nice job off the bench against North Dakota. Arizona is loaded with talent and has enough scoring threats of its own, led by sophomore guard Allonzo Trier (17.3 ppg), to go basket-for-basket with Saint Mary’s.
  • Why Saint Mary’s (29-4) will win: According to the efficiency statistics, the Gaels are much better than a No. 7 seed. In fact, they’re 14th nationally in the Pomeroy ratings and 24th according to Sagarin, which means this could be viewed as a coin-flip game. The Gaels will test Arizona’s defensive discipline, and they might have an advantage at center with Jock Landale (16.9 ppg, 9.4 rpg), who will get the ball every time he’s isolated on 7-footer Dusan Ristic, who struggles at times guarding the post. If Arizona doubles, Landale is very good at getting the ball out to the wings, where Saint Mary’s has three 40%-plus shooters from the three-point line, led by Calvin Hermanson (13.1 ppg, 44.1%). If those shots go in, Arizona could be in trouble.

3. No. 4 Florida vs. No. 5 Virginia (East Region)

‚ÄčTime, TV: Approx. 8:40 p.m., TNT. Site: Orlando.

  • Why Virginia (23-10) will win: With forward Isaiah Wilkins out sick, Virginia went to a five-guard system that kept North Carolina-Wilmington off balance. The Cavaliers’ trademark defense will be needed, but so will a similar offensive effort.
  • Why Florida (25-8) will win: The Gators advanced to the second round with the balance that has carried them this season. Forward Devin Robinson tied a career-high with 24 points, and guards Kasey Hill and Chris Chiozza each had 14. At times, Florida looked effortless in its execution and getting to the basket. More of that, and the Gators will be playing next weekend.

4. No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 8 Northwestern (West Region)

Time, TV: 5:15 p.m. ET, TBS. Site: Salt Lake City.

  • Why Gonzaga (33-1) will win: Now that the Zags got the opening-game jitters out of their system — they shot just 8-for-30 from the three-point line against South Dakota State — they’ll be ready to roll. Don’t count on guard Nigel Williams-Goss, who averages 16.6 points, missing wide open shots like he did Thursday (4-for-13, nine points). Defensively, Gonzaga’s length can be stifling for teams that try to get the ball inside, and Northwestern sometimes struggles to score anyway. Between Johnathan Williams and Przemek Karnowski, the Bulldogs should be able to expose Northwestern’s average interior and advance to the Sweet 16 for the third consecutive year.
  • Why Northwestern (24-11) will win: The pressure is totally off the Wildcats, who not only got into the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history but won their opening-round game against Vanderbilt. Point guard Bryant McIntosh played like he had nothing to lose against the Commodores, making 10-for-16 from the field (he is just a 40.6% shooter for the year) and stepping up late at the free-throw line like the senior he is. Northwestern certainly didn’t look afraid of the moment Thursday, and defensively they’ll devise a good plan to guard Gonzaga’s most dangerous scorers and force Williams, who is uncomfortable shooting outside the paint, to beat them. If he can’t, the Wildcats have a shot.

5. No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 8 Wisconsin (East Region)

Time, TV: Approx. 2:40 p.m. ET, CBS. Site: Buffalo.

  • Why Villanova (32-3) will win: The Wildcats are playing to be the first repeat champions of the NCAA tournament since Florida in 2006 and 2007. They trailed 16-seed Mount St. Mary’s for most of the first half Thursday but dominated from there, holding an opponent to 65 or fewer for a 22nd time this season. Kris Jenkins, who hit the game-winner in last season’s championship game, struggled Thursday but the Wildcats found offense elsewhere as Dante DiVincenzo posted his first career double-double with 21 points and 13 rebounds.
  • Why Wisconsin (26-9) will win: The Badgers are tournament tested. They are the only team in the nation to reach the Sweet 16 for the last three seasons and their victory against Virginia Tech was their 12th NCAA tournament win since 2014, most in the nation. Bronson Koenig is red-hot: He scored a career-high 28 points Thursday, including 8-for-17 from three-point range, several with a hand in his face. And the Badgers are taking care of the ball. They had just eight turnovers against Virginia Tech and have committed fewer than 10 in seven of their last nine games.

6. No. 4 Purdue vs. No. 5 Iowa State (Midwest Region)

Time, TV: Approx. 9:40 p.m. ET, TBS. Site: Milwaukee.

  • Why Purdue (26-7) will win: The Boilermakers have never lost an NCAA tournament game in Wisconsin, the victory vs. Vermont improving their record in the Dairy State to 3-0. Also working in Purdue’s favor is its size: two starters 6-8 or taller and 7-2 Isaac Haas playing significant minutes off the bench. That translates into a plus-6.9 rebounding margin, and that physicality can be a tough adjustment for smaller teams.
  • Why Iowa State (24-10) will win: The Cyclones have seemingly endless options on offense. Stop Monte Morris, and Deonte Burton will get you. Shut him down, and Naz Mitrou-Long and Matt Thomas will make you pay. Corral them, and Donovan Jackson is waiting on the wing. That depth also allows them to adapt to different paces, too. They can play slow and deliberate but they can run and gun with the best of them, too.

7. No. 4 West Virginia vs. No. 5 Notre Dame (West Region)

Time, TV: 12:10 p.m. ET, CBS. Site: Buffalo.

  • Why West Virginia (27-8) will win: The Mountaineers have never lost an NCAA tournament game in Buffalo — they’re now 3-0 there — and they are on a scoring roll. Their 86 points against Bucknell give them 2,873 on the season, just 11 points shy of the school record set in the Jerry West era of 1959. They’re even getting points in unexpected places. Lamont West scored 15 points Thursday, nearly tripling his season average. Five Mountaineers scored in double figures for just the second time in their high-scoring season.
  • Why Notre Dame (26-9) will win: ND has the luck of the Irish this St. Patrick’s Day weekend — Princeton missed a potentially game-winning shot in the closing seconds Thursday — and survived with just 60 points, its fewest in an NCAA tourney win since 1987. The Irish have the second-best assist-to-turnover ratio in the country (behind UCLA) and continued to take care of the ball vs. Princeton with just six turnovers. And they have a knack for winning close games thanks to their status as the nation’s best free-throw shooting team at roughly 80%.

8. No. 3 Florida State vs. No. 11 Xavier (West Region)

Time, TV: 6:10 p.m., TNT. Site: Orlando.

  • Why Xavier (22-13) will win: Junior guard Trevon Bluiett has averaged 19.1 points in the eight games since he returned from an ankle injury, and the Musketeers know they can rely on him. In their first-round upset of Maryland, they got key contributions around Bluiett — including a career-high 18 points from Sean O’Mara. Xavier’s ability to get to the Sweet 16 likely will depend on the ability to score points around Bluiett.
  • Why Florida State (26-8) will win: Against a Florida Gulf Coast program still known as Dunk City in the first round, Florida State showed that might be located farther north. While the Seminoles outpaced FGCU there, it was scoring more than half their points in the paint that will be critical. FSU has size Xavier cannot match, with 6-10 freshman phenom Jonathan Isaac, 7-foot-1 Michael Ojo and 7-foot-4 Christ Koumadje. Use that and avoid the erratic play that has plagued them, and FSU will be playing next week.

By Nancy Armour, Rachel Axon, Erik Brady, Dan Wolken

 

 

 

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