Well, how about that for the first day in the second round? Sunday saw a No. 1 seed and title favorite fall to a school finding their magic again, a historic program in Syracuse going on another run as a double-digit seed, a No. 15 seed making the run of a lifetime and a handful of teams losing in heartbreaking fashion. Can Monday match the magic? Let’s look at and rank the eight games taking place to close the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
8. (8)Oklahoma vs. (1)Gonzaga
Oklahoma survived a scrappy affair with Missouri, but got the overall No. 1 team in the Zags, whose bench points would’ve only lost by 15 to Norfolk State. The Bulldogs did not come to Indiana to play around. They are here to finally overcome that last hurdle in the dash and be national champions. Even when freshman Jalen Suggs struggled, Anton Watson filled the void and had a big 17-point night off the bench. This Gonzaga team is special and I just don’t see the Sooners shooting at the rate the Zags do. Gonzaga wins BIG.
7. (10)Maryland vs. (2)Alabama
Maryland’s final regular-season game ended in a loss to Penn State. Now, they have a tourney win over UConn after shooting over 50% and holding the Huskies to just 32% from the field. The Mid-Atlantic turtles will have to control the pace against the speedy Crimson Tide, who struggled against the Rick Pitino-led Iona Gaels. Bama star John Petty didn’t do much, but Herb Jones came up big and Jahvon Quinerly was huge off the bench. They say styles make matchups and if you like a matchup of teams with polar-opposite paces, then this is the game for you. For Maryland to keep this close, they need to be much better on the boards after a -11 evening against UConn (allowed 22 offensive boards). I like another chalk victory here with Alabama winning by double digits.
6. (13)Ohio vs. (5)Creighton
Ohio survived the defensive chess match against the defending champs in Virginia, while Creighton held off a late surge from UC Santa Barbara after the Gauchos missed a floater at point-blank range. Jason Preston has been the star for the Bobcats, but Ben Vander Plas was the man against the Cavaliers. Creighton didn’t impress all that much. They only run eight players deep and if Marcus Zegarowski struggles, the Bluejays will fall into deep trouble. Expect a low-scoring affair here with the game coming down to who gets going from beyond the arc late.
5. (7)Oregon vs. (2)Iowa
Oregon will have their hands full in their first true game of the tournament after VCU was forced to go home after positive COVID-19 results for players on the team. The Ducks haven’t played in 15 days and are thrown into the fire against the 3-point barrage the Hawkeyes will bring Monday in the early afternoon. If Oregon wants a shot after the layoff, leading scorer Eugene Omoruyi will have to play tall against Luka Garza. Ducks have to keep Garza extended and not allow him to find easy shots underneath the basket. Chris Duarte and Will Richardson have to respond whenever Joe Wieskamp or Jordan Bohannon are money from 3-point range. Oregon is capable, but not playing in the first round could be their Achilles’ Heel and end the Pac-12’s unbeaten run in this year’s tournament.
4. (5)Colorado vs. (4)Florida State
They say Tad Boyle can’t coach in March, but here the Buffaloes are in the Round of 32 after a resounding performance against Georgetown. Colorado put on one of the best offensive performances you’ll ever see as they shot over 60% from the field and beyond the arc. Jabari Walker led the way with a 24-point performance and will have to bring the same hot hand against a strong Seminole defense. Florida State beat UNC Greensboro without making a 3-pointer. This won’t fly against the Buffaloes. Head coach Leonard Hamilton has to set up plays to find shots from beyond the arc, but if they can’t, this game could get out of hand quickly. I like Colorado in this one.
3. (8)LSU vs. (1)Michigan
One No. 1 seed has already fallen and this matchup could see a second No. 1 go home thanks to LSU’s powerhouse offense led by one of the best scorers in the nation in Cameron Thomas. This is a brutal matchup for Michigan, who nearly allowed Texas Southern to mount a comeback late. Sure, not having Isaiah Livers is detrimental, but the Wolverines could be more proof that the Big Ten Conference just isn’t as advertised. Michigan was inconsistent while shooting and struggled on the boards, which could prove disastrous against LSU. When the dust settles Monday evening, look for another No. 1 to fall.
2. (14)Abilene Christian vs. (11)UCLA
I wrote about the wrong No. 14 seed last week. Abilene Christian brought 40 minutes of hell against Shaka Smart and Texas, forcing 23 turnovers in one of the most shocking wins of the first round. However, ACU shot below 30% and will need to improve on that to hang with an underrated Big Three in the form of Johnny Juzang, Jules Bernard and Jaime Jaquez Jr. Juzang and Bernard will knock down the big shots while Jaquez uses his strength to attack the basket and create nightmares for opposing guards trying to overcome his physique. ACU will rely on their speedy and talkative defense, but ultimately, have to score consistently to combat the three stars of the Bruins.
1. (6)USC vs. (3)Kansas
Two powerhouses will go to war in the night capper as we get a dream matchup of bigs between future lottery pick Evan Mobley and David McCormack. Mobley could have a big day after the Jayhawks allowed Tanner Groves of Eastern Washington to do whatever he wanted. However, Tahj Eaddy, Drew Peterson and Ethan Anderson need to outplay Christian Braun, Marcus Garrett and Ochai Agbaji to earn the Sweet 16 trip. The final game of the second round is absolutely filled with stars and great one-on-one matchups, which should bring all the fireworks to make this game one of the best of the tournament.