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 second round of the NCAA tournament gets underway Saturday with eight games, starting just after noon ET.
Here’s how we rank the day’s games.
1. No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 7 Wofford (2:40 p.m.ET, CBS). The Wildcats will likely be without leading scorer and rebounder P.J. Washington for a second consecutive game (he’s resting a foot injury), and they’ll be meeting a potent Terriers offense that’s fueled by 3-point marksman Fletcher Magee, who enters Saturday’s contest just four treys away from Steph Curry’s single-season NCCA record. Kentucky guards Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson will have to shoulder the offensive load and hopefully frustrate Wofford’s backcourt arsenal.
2. No. 4 Florida State vs. No. 12 Murray State (6:10 p.m. ET, TNT). The Seminoles are one of the most elite teams in the country, having played in the shadows of No. 1 seeds Duke, Virginia and North Carolina all season long. They’ll face a mid-major led by one of the tournament’s most electric stars, Ja Morant, who dazzled with a triple-double in the Racers’ drubbing of Marquette in the first round. Morant injects energy into his teammates with his unselfish playmaking, and he’ll cause headaches for Florida State’s guards. FSU coach Leonard Hamilton compared Morant to Magic Johnson and Nate Archibald for how he relishes “making the game easy for his teammates.” Size will be where the Seminoles have the upper hand and where they figure to take full advantage.
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3. No. 4 Kansas vs. No. 5 Auburn (9:40 p.m. ET, TBS). The Jayhawks hammered first-round opponent Northeastern while Auburn barely survived its first-round thriller vs. New Mexico State. Now both hard-to-read teams will bump heads with a Sweet 16 trip on the line. Double-double machine Dedric Lawson gives this inexperienced Kansas team a backbone, while the Tigers can go spurts where they look like a Final Four threat and other spans where they nearly blow a seven-point lead in the final minute vs. NMSU. Auburn’s guards should have the edge in this game, and Bruce Pearl will need them to show it.
4. No. 3 LSU vs. No. 6 Maryland (12:10 p.m., CBS). Both teams looked shaky in their near-upsets in the first round. LSU staved off Yale, while Maryland survived Belmont. The Tigers are one of the most talented teams in the tournament, but they could falter when hit with adversity as coach Will Wade remains suspended and their leader’s absence plays a role with their psyches. Mark Turgeon’s Terrapins were sporadic throughout the regular season and are sporting the youngest roster of the 32 teams remaining. But the Belmont win figures to give the Terps much-needed confidence in a nothing-to-lose scenario as the underdog against the SEC regular-season champ.
5. No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 10 Florida (5:15 p.m., CBS). The Wolverines pulverized Montana in the first round and now draw a double-digit-seeded Gators squad that’s hitting its stride at just the right time. Florida had to play itself off the bubble and has been going with a sense of urgency for the last month. Coach Mike White will try to offset Michigan’s dynamic offense by using an array of different defenses as he did to offset Nevada in the first round. Zavier Simpson is the key for Michigan, as his play running the point and ball-hawking on defense drive this team.
6. No. 3 Purdue vs. No. 6 Villanova (8:40 p.m., TNT). Both teams aren’t as good as they were last year, when Purdue bowed out early in the Sweet 16 and ‘Nova won the national championship. But they’re both eyeing the Sweet 16 with rosters good enough to get there. Purdue’s Carsen Edwards is a gifted offensive player who’s been in a shooting slump, and ‘Nova’s key player will be Phil Booth, who had 20 points to lead all scorers in ‘a first-round win over Saint Mary’s.
7. No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 9 Baylor (7:10 p.m., TBS). The Zags rekindled the well-oiled machine that is their nation-leading offense in a 38-point rout of Fairleigh Dickinson after a loss to Saint Mary’s in the West Coast Conference tournament final in which Gonzaga went cold for 47 points. Can a defensive-minded Baylor squad contain this high-octane offense in the same fashion? It’s highly unlikely. First-team All-American Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke are two multidimensional forwards that make coach Mark Few’s offense run effortlessly. Baylor coach Scott Drew has turned this team into a contender while overcoming injuries, and the Bears are one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the whole bracket. Limiting second-chance points will be critical for the ‘Zags.
8. No. 2 Michigan State vs. No. 10 Minnesota (7:45 p.m., CBS). In a Feb. 9 regular-season matchup between these two Big Ten foes, the Spartans were clearly the better team in a 79-55 rout. But much has changed since then and there are higher stakes Saturday. Michigan State overcame injuries and claimed the Big Ten regular-season and tournament titles, but looked extremely beatable in a near-catastrophe against No. 15 seed Bradley. Minnesota, meanwhile, showed is prowess in a convincing first-round win over Louisville, a result that comes on the heels of a Big Ten tournament upset over Purdue. Stopping do-everything guard Cassius Winston will be priority No. 1 for Richard Pitno’s Gophers. MSU big man Nick Ward has been playing limited minutes as he eases back from injury, but his normal production might be the difference-maker Saturday.
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