The final day of the most wonderful weekend of the year draws to a close with eight second-round matchups unfolding from noon to midnight. The past three days have featured buzzer-beaters, busted brackets, questionable calls, and the Loyola Ramblers. With so many matchups on tap today, it can be difficult to know which one to watch. That’s where I come in.
Tier 4: You Know Which Team’s Going to Advance
(5) West Virginia vs. (13) Marshall, 9:40 PM EDT, TBS
Press Virginia handled 12-seed Murray State on Friday, while the Thundering Herd of Marshall shocked the Shockers of Wichita State, setting up an intra-state matchup. Marshall will look to become the second double-digit seed to advance to the second weekend, but it isn’t happening. The Herd may still be in the game at halftime, but WVU will pull away and move on.
Prediction: West Virginia 76, Marshall 62
(2) North Carolina vs. (7) Texas A&M, 5:15 PM EDT, CBS
The reigning national champions are back and looking to take care of business once again. While I don’t see the Tar Heels cutting down the nets in San Antonio, there’s little doubt that they’ll make it out of the second round.
Prediction: North Carolina 82, Texas A&M 68
Tier 3: Consider Watching, but Don’t Change Your Plans
(2) Cincinnati vs. (7) Nevada, 6:10 PM EDT, TNT
This is one of the more intriguing matchups of the day, as the Wolf Pack will try to upset a tough Bearcats squad. I certainly don’t expect Cinci (is it Cincy?) to dominate from the opening tip, but in all likelihood, Nevada’s season will come to an unfortunate end around 8 p.m. tonight. That being said, this is March, and anything can happen if you don’t show up on a given night. Just ask Tony Bennett and his top-seeded Virginia Cavaliers, who will be watching the rest of the tournament after their historic loss on Friday.
Prediction: Cincinnati 77, Nevada 71
(3) Michigan State vs. (11) Syracuse, 2:40 PM EDT, CBS
The Orangemen of Syracuse look to join the Loyola Ramblers as 11-seeds dancing in the Round of 16 but face a much harder path in doing so. While the Tennessee Volunteers appeared to be slightly overseeded, Michigan State is a bona fide No. 3 seed and should present a difficult test.
Prediction: Michigan State 79, Syracuse 69
(2) Purdue vs. (10) Butler, 12:10 PM EDT, CBS
Purdue will be without senior center Isaac Haas, one of the most dynamic players in this year’s tournament, for Sunday’s matchup, but Butler’s guard Paul Jorgenson is also questionable, listed as a game-time decision. Ultimately, the Boilermakers are a far deeper team than the Bulldogs and can pull off a victory without Haas regardless of whether or not Jorgenson plays. Yes, it will be a tougher matchup, but in the end, Purdue will triumph.
Prediction: Purdue 70, Butler 63
Tier 2: History in the Making
(9) Kansas State vs. (16) UMBC, 7:45 PM EDT, truTV
In a matchup for the ages, giant-killer UMBC looks to become the first 16-seed to reach the Round of 16. The Wildcats of Kansas State will make history no matter what happens on the court today, becoming the first 9-seed to wear its home jerseys in a first-weekend game, and only the second ever (after 9-seed Wichita State against 13-seed LaSalle in the 2013 Round of 16). While some may believe that destiny is on the Retrievers’ side, I’m inclined to predict a return to earth for the six-time national chess champions. Who knows? Maybe I’m just bitter because I owe my friend a week of lunches now that UMBC beat Virginia. Calzones sure aren’t cheap.
Prediction: Kansas State 78, UMBC 62
Tier 1: Must-see TV
(1) Xavier vs. (9) Florida State, 8:40 PM EDT, TNT
Somewhat surprisingly, the Musketeers ended up with a No. 1 seed on Selection Sunday. While Xavier’s been great this year, it hasn’t necessarily achieved the level of dominance associated with the top seed line. Throw in the fact that the ‘Noles are out for revenge exactly one year after being stunned by this same Xavier squad, and you have a potential upset brewing. I’m not that high on Xavier this season, and in no way expect them to reach San Antonio.
Prediction: Florida State 72, Xavier 71
(4) Auburn vs. (5) Clemson, 7:10 PM EDT, TBS
The co-champions of the SEC meet tonight in a battle of Tigers hoping to punch their tickets to the Midwest Regional Semifinals. ESPN’s BPI has this as the closest game of the day, giving Clemson a 51.5%-48.5% advantage. If you watch one game on this Sunday (and shame on you for only watching one), make sure it’s this one. While Xavier-FSU may lead to some of the classic madness of March, Auburn-Clemson will face little competition for the title of best basketball game of the day.
Prediction: Clemson 76, Auburn 74