The first day of the NCAA tournament was nothing short of exciting. Rhode Island kicked off the tournament with a nail biting overtime victory over Oklahoma. Tennessee avoided any upset complications by dominating Wright State. Kansas struggles early but eventually ran away with a 76-60 victory over sixteenth seeded Penn. Tournament favorite Duke then proceeded to do what was expected and routed Elon. Loyola-Chicago then gave us our March Moment when they hit a game-winning three pointer at the buzzer to upset sixth seeded Miami (FL). Defending runner-ups Gonzaga barely avoided a tragic upset to UNC Greensboro in the opening round. Seton Hall was able to be productive on offense and outdueled NC State 94-83 in one of the more prolific first round games. Keita Bates-Diop was a star and led Ohio State to a close 81-73 victory over a popular upset pick in South Dakota State.
Top seeded Villanova started off the evening cap with an expected 87-61 victory over Radford. Kentucky narrowly pulled away from Davidson late to win 78-73. Texas Tech used late game momentum to storm past Stephen F. Austin 70-60 and avoid a major upset. Houston star Rob Gray gave us more of the March Madness we needed when he hit a game-winning circus layup over multiple San Diego State defenders with less than two seconds left.
Virginia Tech and Alabama began the late night cap with a very exciting back and forth basketball game, that Collin Sexton eventually took over and led the Tide to an 86-83 win. Third seeded Michigan avoided an upset with a rather boring 61-47 win over Montana. Sixth seeded Florida ended any hopes of a cinderella run from First Four winner St. Bonaventure, by locking up the Bonnie’s and playing 40 minutes of great basketball in a 77-62 win. The first day of tournament action closed off with a dominant performance in the Arizona-Buffalo game, but not by the team you would’ve expected. Buffalo dominated Arizona in the entire game and wound up beating a popular Final Four Pick in the Wildcats by 21 Points. Buffalo plays extremely hard nosed basketball and they’ve taken America by storm.
So there’s the quick recaps of all the games on opening day. We’ve got much more basketball to come today and I’ll be sure to release another recap tomorrow morning. But I’m here to give full previews and predictions of each Saturday second round game. Let’s get right into it!
#1 Villanova vs. #9 Alabama
(12:10 p.m. EST, CBS, Pittsburgh, PA)
Preview: The ninth seeded Alabama Crimson Tide will take on the first seeded Villanova Wildcats in the opening game of the second round. Villanova dominated Radford and Alabama narrowly edged Virginia Tech in first round action. Villanova is one of the most talented teams in the country led by stars Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges. Villanova will have to shoot the ball well and Brunson must win the head to head matchup versus Collin Sexton. They will have to force Alabama into tough shots and play forty minutes of Villanova basketball. Collin Sexton will have to show up in a big fashion if he wants to lead the Tide to a massive 9v1 upset on day three.
Pick: #1 Villanova 85, #9 Alabama 77.
#2 Duke vs. #7 Rhode Island
(2:40 p.m. EST, CBS, Pittsburgh, PA)
Preview: The second seeded Duke Blue Devils absolutely obliterated Iona in their opening round game. It was overwhelming and Duke easily advanced to the second round. Rhode Island had a much tougher game and squeaked out an overtime victory over Oklahoma. If Duke’s Offense continues to be as efficient as it’s been, Rhode Island stands absolutely zero chance to upset the Blue Devils on Saturday. If Duke struggles offensively, the Rams will have to consistently be able to score on the offensive end and make sure that every possession counts. But Duke is just way too hot right now.
Pick: #2 Duke 93, #7 Rhode Island 78.
#5 Kentucky vs. #13 Buffalo
(5:15 p.m. EST, CBS, Boise, ID)
Preview: Buffalo shocked the world last night with a massive upset over Arizona. They dominated Arizona and advanced to play Kentucky in round two. Kentucky narrowly edged a hot shooting second half Davidson team in their own first round game. Buffalo plays some of the hardest basketball I’ve ever seen and they’re arguably one of the more underrated teams in the second round. Kentucky is obviously way more talented, and some of their NBA level talent should be the difference maker in this one. Kevin Knox will dominate against a Buffalo team that I expect to keep it close but eventually fall to the Big Blue Nation.
Pick: #5 Kentucky 73, #13 Buffalo 66.
#3 Tennessee vs. #11 Loyola-Chicago
(6:10 p.m. EST, TNT, Dallas, TX)
Preview: LOYOLA! That’s what plenty of people screamed when the Ramblers hit a miraculous game-winning bomb from deep to beat Miami. Loyola-Chicago is truly a cinderella story, and expect to hear a lot about their long journey back to the Big dance. Tennessee’s story is great too however. Rick Barnes has revived both his coaching career and a Volunteers program that has been riddled by bad luck over the recent years. Lamonte Turner is a very good point guard and Admiral Schofield is the perfect counterpart for him. They create one of the more antagonizing combos in the tournament. Tennessee plays extremely good defense and I think that will be the ultimate factor in the Vols making their first Sweet Sixteen since 2014.
Pick: #3 Tennessee 69, #11 Loyola-Chicago 58.
#1 Kansas vs. #8 Seton Hall
(7:10 p.m. EST, TBS, Wichita, KS)
Preview: This game has me twisting and turning over the hopes of my bracket. Kansas has a history of going out early in the tournament when they are a top seed. I feel that Seton Hall is a talented enough basketball team to continue that tradition. But I also really think Kansas has something to prove and Bill Self is as hungry for a national championship as anyone. For Seton Hall, Angel Delgado cannot get into foul trouble and will have to take advantage of the Jayhawks big men. For Kansas, they will live and die off of Big 12 Player of the Year, Devonte’ Graham. Graham is a superstar guard in the College game and is arguably a top candidate for the Wooden Award. I expect Graham to have a monster performance and lead the Jayhawks to a statement win. ROCK CHALK!
Pick: #1 Kansas 88, #8 Seton Hall 71.
#4 Gonzaga vs. #5 Ohio State
(7:45 p.m. EST, CBS, Boise, ID)
Preview: A rematch from a blowout game earlier this season. Ohio State will most certainly have a rematch on its mind when it takes the court against the Zags on Saturday. Gonzaga blew the nails off the Buckeyes, 86-59, in November. But with that said, this is a very different Ohio State team now than what it was in the early stages of the regular season. Keita Bates-Diop has become a full blown star and leads a Buckeyes team that really only loses to Penn State. Kam Williams and C.J. Jackson compliment Bates-Diop to create a top team in the tournament. Mark Few’s Gonzaga program is always a tough out in the tournament and I think that his coaching experience combined with Killian Tillie and Jonathan Williams talent will propel the Zags to a close win.
Pick: #4 Gonzaga 75, #5 Ohio State 70.
#3 Texas Tech vs. #6 Florida
(8:40 p.m. EST, TNT, Dallas, TX)
Preview: For much of the Texas Tech Game last night, the Red Raiders were in danger, being countered by Stephen F. Austin each time down the floor. They eventually got on a run and took over the game in a 70-60 win. But it wasn’t without concern. Don’t get me wrong, as Texas Tech is a talented team led by star guard Keenan Evans, who can take over a game at any point. But they really concerned me last night. Florida however was extremely impressive defensively against St. Bonaventure in a 77-62 victory. Florida is a wildcard in the tournament for sure as there are multiple versions of the Gators that can show up. Chris Chiozza is a veteran point guard who was a key cog to the Gators Elite Eight run last year. Mike White gained valuable experience from that run and Tech’s head coach Chris Beard is new to the NCAA Tournament. Beard’s unexpected turnaround of the Red Raiders has been amazing but I’m taking the Gators in a semi-upset to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
Pick: #6 Florida 68, #3 Texas Tech 64.
#3 Michigan vs. #6 Houston
(9:40 p.m. EST, TBS, Wichita, KS)
Preview: Michigan used tough defense to avoid an upset against Montana while Houston used heroics from star Rob Gray to advance to the second round. Gray is tremendous and is almost sure to make an impact each game for the Cougars. He can score from anywhere and showed that he will put a team on his back late on the biggest stage of the sport. Michigan will need production from Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and star big man Moritz Wagner to keep pace with Gray’s scoring abilities. Michigan’s x-factor is junior guard Charles Matthews, who scored 20 points against Montana on 7 of 13 shooting. If he can score, Michigan will be in good position to win this game.
Pick: #3 Michigan 73, #6 Houston 71.