Day one of March Madness brought only two upsets. Middle Tennessee, a 12 seed, upset fifth seeded Minnesota, and No. 11 Xavier upset No. 6 Maryland. And at this point no one should be surprised that MTSU won their game. An upset from the Raiders in March Madness should be a given. Although the amount of upsets was low, there were still some exciting games. Virginia and Notre Dame both barely escaped with wins against UNC-Wilmington and Princeton. And Vermont gave Purdue a run for their money for most of the game. Let us not forget that Northwestern won their first March Madness game in school history in what turned out to be a thriller against Vanderbilt. Saturday’s matchups offer a chance for Cinderella’s to make their presence known and the elite to show their strength, and that is what is on offer for this weekend’s first games.
|*||You should probably clear your schedule for this one.|
|#||Best game in its time slot (i.e. Noon, 12:30, 1 PM games)|
|!||Give this game second-screen consideration.|
# 12:10, CBS: No. 4 West Virginia (27-8) vs. No. 5 Notre Dame (29-6)
Why watch: Both Notre Dame and West Virginia had disappointing outings in their first game. Notre Dame narrowly escaped with a 60-58 win over No. 12 Princeton. Meanwhile West Virginia could not put away 13th-seeded Bucknell and only wound up winning 86-80. The two most worrying signs for each team is Notre Dame’s surprising inability to hit free throws and West Virginia’s slightly lack defense giving up 80 points to a 13 seed. Notre Dame is the best free throw shooting team in the country, shooting above 80% as a team, and they only shot 66.7% against Princeton. The Irish managed to get to the line 21 times, but they will need to be more consistent from the stripe if they want to beat West Virginia. “Press” Virginia was working their magic in the first half, leading 42-33, but the Mountaineers let up 47 points in the second half to keep Bucknell in the game. If West Virginia does let up that many points to Notre Dame then they will not be advancing to the second weekend. The Irish are a team that does not turn the ball over often and hits a lot of threes. So West Virginia need to play their best possible game to advance.
Prediction: 80-76 Notre Dame
! 2:40, CBS: No. 1 Villanova (32-3) vs. No. 8 Wisconsin (26-9)
Why watch: The No. 1 overall seed Villanova struggled in the first half of their opening game against Mt. St. Mary’s, leading only by one half at the intermission. But it did not take long for Nova to show why they are one of the favorites to win the tournament. Thanks to a 21 point outing from sophomore guard Donte DiVincenzo, Villanova extended their lead and won the game by 20 points. Before the tournament many people thought that Wisconsin was underseeded at No. 8 due to them being the runner-up in the Big 10 for both the tournament and regular season. But Thursday’s game against Virginia Tech almost justified Wisconsin’s seeding. Although the Badgers won by 10 points, they really did not put away a feisty Hokies team until the last five minutes of the second half. Wisconsin may have the size down low in Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ to give Villanova problems, but they cannot put give another inconsistent performance against the No. 1 overall seed.
Prediction: 80-70 Villanova
! 5:15, CBS: No. 1 Gonzaga (33-1) vs. No. 8 Northwestern (24-11)
Why watch: Every game for Northwestern after a thrilling two point victory over Vanderbilt is just a bonus. This is Northwestern’s first ever visit to The Big Dance and they should be celebrating every minute of it. They are going to play every game like it is the final, and that could potentially make them a dangerous opponent for Gonzaga. But the Zags will be playing with just as much intensity because they believe that this is their year to finally make it to the Final Four. Gonzaga pounded South Dakota State in a 66-46 victory, using their size and superior guard play to coast to an easy victory. The only negative in Gonzaga’s victory was that they were slow to get off the block. And depending on whether Northwestern can knock down their shots with the likes of Brian McIntosh, who had 25 in the victory against Vandy, and Scottie Lindsey, who had 14 against Vandy, will determine if an upset is on the cards.
Prediction: 72-60 Gonzaga
6:10, TNT: No. 3 Florida State vs. No. 11 Xavier (22-13)
# 7:10, TBS: No. 4 Butler (24-8) vs. No. 12 Middle Tennessee (31-4)
Why watch: These two teams probably had the most impressive wins over their respective opponents on Thursday. Butler had a comfortable 76-64 victory over Winthrop, and Middle Tennessee swept aside and overseeded Minnesota team 81-72. Middle Tennessee shot 7-13 (53.8%) from behind the arc and they will need to do the same thing if they want to earn another upset. Butler plays very good defense and they showed it off against Winthrop by holding them to shooting 40.3% from the field. But with the likes of Giddy Potts Reggie Upshaw leading the way, the Raiders of MTSU can certainly become this year’s Cinderella.
Prediction: 78-77 Butler
! 7:45, CBS: No. 2 Arizona (31-4) vs. No. 7 St. Mary’s (29-4)
Why watch: Arizona wrapped up the night-cap of Thursday’s tournament action by dropping 100 points on No. 15 North Dakota. Freshman sensations Rawle Alkins and Lauri Markkanen both had 20 points and Allonzo Trier continues to play well since returning from suspension, scoring 18 points. Those three players need to continue to produce that way if Arizona wants to make a deep tournament run because giving up 82 points to a North Dakota team is worrying. Especially when they are squaring off against St. Mary’s who shot 25-45 (55.6%) from the field against VCU. Expect a high scoring game between these two west coast teams.
Prediction: 89-79 Arizona
8:40, TNT: No. 4 Florida (25-8) vs. No. 5 Virginia (23-10)
* 9:40, TBS: No. 4 Purdue (26-7) vs. No. 5 Iowa State (24-10)
Why watch: It took Iowa State a little while, but they eventually separated themselves from a scrappy Nevada team about midway through the first half. While much like West Virginia, Purdue let Vermont hang around before they were able to overpower the Catamounts late in the second half for a 10 point win. However probably the most impressive part of Purdue’s win was the 21 points scored by junior forward Vince Edwards. Players like Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas are going to get all the attention because the two of them have the ability to dominate games. So it is important for the role-players like V. Edwards to show up, and that is exactly what he did. Once again Purdue will face an athletic team that will try to go pound-for-pound with them down low. The biggest difference between Iowa State and Vermont is ISU’s fantastic senior guard Monte Morris. Another player to look out for on the Cyclones is Deonte Burton. At 6-foot-5 he is listed at a guard, but plays much like Draymond Green does for the Golden State Warriors. Players on both teams have extensive tournament experience so expect this game to be a like a heavyweight fight with both teams trading blows.
Prediction: 84-80 Purdue