SportsPulse: While Liberty and UC Irvine busted brackets around the country, Duke and Zion Williamson aced their first tournament test. USA TODAY’s Trysta Krick recaps day 2 and looks ahead to Saturday’s action.
The NCAA men’s basketball tournament tips off the second round Saturday with eight games across the four regions, beginning just after noon ET.
Here is everything you need to know regarding coverage, along with must-watch storylines heading into the opening weekend of March Madness.
– Playing his first NCAA tournament game, Duke’s Zion Williamson offered up an explosion of highlight-reel plays.
– In person, Murray State’s Ja Morant is better than advertised, and he’s advertised as the possible No. 1 overall NBA pick, ahead of Williamson.
– Three of four No. 12 seeds pulled off upsets in their first-round games.
No. 3 LSU (27-6) vs. No. 6 Maryland (23-10)
Jacksonville, East Region
Time, TV: 12:10 p.m. ET, CBS
Why LSU will win: The Tigers possess size and strength with senior forward Kavell Bigby-Williams and freshman forward Naz Reid, both of whom recorded double-doubles in points and rebounds in the first round. LSU needs more consistent guard play from sophomore Tremont Waters, junior Skylar Mays and freshman Javonte Smart, but they are capable as they showed down the stretch Thursday against Yale. LSU’s up-tempo pace can punish opponents.
Why Maryland will win: The Terrapins have the size to matchup with LSU with sophomore Bruno Fernando and freshman Jalen Smith. Maryland also plays the kind of defense necessary to advance with rim protection, rebounding and field-goal percentage allowed. Guard Anthony Cowan Jr. needs a better shooting game than he had against Belmont.
No. 2 Kentucky (28-6) vs. No. 7 Wofford (30-4)
Jacksonville, Midwest Region
Time, TV: approx. 2:40 p.m. ET, CBS
Why Kentucky will win: The Wildcats have talent with future NBA draft picks up and down the roster. Freshman shooting guard Tyler Herro is the go-to scorer with sophomore forward P.J. Washington’s status unclear (sprained foot). Freshman guard Keldon Johnson also provides three-point shooting for Kentucky, which has size to defend the rim and runs opposing shooters off the three-point line.
Why Wofford will win: The Terriers have great three-point shooting from senior shooting guards Fletcher Magee and Nathan Hoover and sophomore point guard Storm Murphy and strong interior play from senior forward Cameron Jackson. Wofford is deep, too. Coach Mike Young has no problem using 10-12 players, as he did in the first half against Seton Hall in the first round. The Terriers, who also play hard-nosed defense, are not in awe of the moment.
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No. 10 Florida (20-15) vs. No. 2 Michigan (29-6)
Des Moines, West Region
Time, TV: 4:15 p.m., CBS
Why Florida will win: The Gators should be entering Saturday’s matchup with plenty of confidence, having knocked off one of 2018’s biggest Cinderellas — Nevada — in the first round. That happened, despite Florida struggling in the final portion of the game. Offensively, Florida won’t scare many. But this Gators team can lock down opponents on the other end. Opponents make only 31.6% on their three-pointers, and Florida forces 22.6 turnovers per 100 possessions.
Why Michigan will win: Pick your poison. John Beilein’s squad can beat you in so many ways, which makes it difficult to prepare for in a tournament setting. The Wolverines looked convincing in Thursday’s 19-point blowout over Montana in the first round, and wing Charles Matthews (22 points and 10 rebounds) was the healthiest he’s been in nearly a month. Just one more thing for opponents to worry about.
No. 4 Florida State (28-7) vs. No. 12 Murray State (28-4)
Hartford, West Region
Time, TV: 6:10 p.m. ET, TNT
Why Florida State will win: The Seminoles aren’t flashy, but they’re hard to rattle. They went 31-of-37 from the free-throw line in a first-round win over Vermont and committed only seven turnovers. Mfiondu Kabengele (13.1 ppg) provides a scoring punch off the bench.
Why Murray State will win: Ja Morant is the star, coming off the NCAA tournament’s first triple-double since 2012, but this team is more than just Ja. Shaq Buchanan is a lockdown defender, and 295-pound forward Darnell Cowart can be a wrecking ball on the boards.
No. 10 Minnesota (22-13) vs. No. 2 Michigan State (29-6)
Des Moines, East Region
Time, TV: 6:45 p.m., CBS
Why Minnesota will win: The Gophers will be a hometown team of sorts in Des Moines, with Minneapolis less than a four hour drive away. If Minnesota shoots like it did in its Thursday win over Louisville (11 three-pointers made), it will have a shot against Michigan State. Especially if Michigan State shows up late to the game like it did in its win over Bradley (game was tight until the final minutes).
Why Michigan State will win: If the lone matchup between these teams is any indication — a 79-55 Sparty romp — Michigan State is clearly the better team. The Spartans are 11-1 in their last 12, and Cassius Winston (26 points vs. Bradley) is one of the finest players in this entire tournament.
No 1 Gonzaga (31-3) vs No. 9 Baylor (20-13)
Salt Lake City, West Region
Time, TV: 7:10 pm ET, TBS
Why Gonzaga will win: Killian Tillie is finally healthy and looking like his old self, which gives the Zags, who are already loaded with length and athleticism, even more depth. GU is excellent offensively and has been hitting its stride defensively, with a multitude of shot blockers waiting at the rim.
Why Baylor will win: BU coach Scott Drew told his team before its first-round win over Syracuse that they could take 40 3s if they wanted — if they do that against Gonzaga and get hot, they can win. The Bears will also need to crash the offensive glass, which they have done well all season.
No. 3 Purdue (24-9) vs. No. 6 Villanova (26-9)
Hartford, South Region
Time, TV: approx. 8:40 p.m. ET, TNT
Why Purdue will win: In their past seven games, the Boilermakers have held opponents to 29.9% shooting from three — and Villanova attempts more threes than almost any other team in the country. Matt Haarms, who is 7 feet 3, will also have a significant height advantage against the Wildcats’ bigs.
Why Villanova will win: The Wildcats are picking up steam at the right time. They’ve won six of seven, including three in a row decided by four points or fewer. Senior leadership matters in March, and Villanova has it with Phil Booth and Eric Paschall.
No. 4 Kansas (26-9) vs. No. 5 Auburn (27-9)
Salt Lake City, Midwest Region
Time, TV: Approx 9:40 ET, TBS
Why Auburn will win: The Tigers love to turn over their opponent, and that’s often easier to do when you’re playing inexperienced opponents. Junior guard Jared Harper is one of the fastest players in college hoops, and loves to push the pace and create offense for Auburn.
Why Kansas will win: The Jayhawks have a lot of youth but at this point, they’re experienced and likely won’t be intimidated by the big moment, partially because they don’t know any better. Dedric Lawson, the only upperclassman who starts, averages a double-double and is a load for other teams.
Contributing: Jeff Zillgitt, Zach Creiglow, Lindsay Schnell, Tom Schad.