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Breaking down each of Saturday's second-round matchups

March 18,2017 14:24

Northwestern happened, of course, but other than that there were many other games in which the higher seed prevailed in rather less dramatic fashion. The consensus was that the opening day of the NCAA tournament was a bit too calm. That shouldn't be a ...and more »

10:10 PM ETprintcommentThis may seem like a long time ago, but think back to Thursday. Northwestern happened, of course, but other than that there were many other games in which the higher seed prevailed in rather less dramatic fashion. The consensus was that the opening day of the NCAA tournament was a bit too calm.That shouldn't be a problem on Day 3. The good thing about higher seeds winning early is it sets up multiple high-stakes showdowns. Here are all of Saturday's games, ranked according to the degree by which I am giddy with excitement to see them ...1. Northwestern vs. GonzagaHistory vs. history. Northwestern took 78 years to get into the NCAA tournament for the first time. Now the Wildcats are breaking new ground with every game they play.Playing Tournament Challenge? Don't forget to check your brackets! Bracket busted? We have you covered with a Second Chance Bracket!Gonzaga is the No. 1 seed that lost in the round of 32 the last time the Bulldogs were seeded this high. Both programs want desperately to escape the confines of their history. Northwestern already has. For Gonzaga, the equivalent of what's been accomplished by Chris Collins' team will be a trip to the Final Four. Nothing less will suffice.If you thought the Zags looked a little off their game against South Dakota State, you're right. Mark Few's men are coming off their third-worst offensive performance of the entire season. The Bulldogs hit just 27 percent of their 3s, and, surprisingly, they launched a lot of attempts. Fortunately for Zags fans, the defense was simultaneously holding Mike Daum and the Jackrabbits to 46 points in a game played at a normal pace, otherwise things could have become interesting.Gonzaga's 2017 tournament so far is at least moderately interesting because, of course, Northwestern's defense is head and shoulders above South Dakota State's. Freed from battling the estimable likes of Caleb Swanigan and Ethan Happ in the Big Ten, Wildcats sophomore Dererk Pardon looked notably worry-free for a 6-foot-8 player tasked with checking a 7-footer like Vanderbilt's Luke Kornet. Pardon's clash with the likes of Przemek Karnowski and Zach Collins promises to be rather momentous, though the Bulldogs' D will have to contain Bryant McIntosh. The sophomore is coming off a masterful and, ultimately, decisive 25-point performance against the Commodores.2. Wisconsin vs. VillanovaHere it is, the matchup everyone says is "bad" for Villanova. Certainly Wisconsin punches far above the weight of what an overall No. 1 seed would ordinarily expect to see in a round of 32 opponent.Will the size and, more specifically, ability presented by Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes be too much for a Wildcats front line that's a little on the smallish side? Will the Badgers be able to feast on the offensive glass? Good questions. Actually Jay Wright's defense forced far more misses on 2-point tries than one might assume in Big East play, but it's also true that Nova was no world-beater when it came to defensive rebounding.One further strength-on-strength note: Villanova might be the best 2-point shooting team we've seen in a decade (if we ran a perfect experiment with all candidates for that honor brought together through time travel to play the exact same schedule). Wisconsin held Big Ten opponents to a mere 42 percent success rate inside the arc. Watch the 2s.3. Middle Tennessee vs. ButlerIs this game the new Butler vs. Butler? Kermit Davis keeps winning first-round games against Big Ten opponents (Michigan State a year ago, Minnesota on Thursday), and for Bulldogs fans the important thing to know about the Blue Raiders is that they are way better than they were when they stunned Tom Izzo and the Spartans.Giddy Potts and Reggie Upshaw are back from last season, but now they've been joined by Arkansas transfer JaCorey Williams. The 6-foot-8 Williams is the reigning Conference USA Player of the Year, and he has worn out opposing defenses in the paint all season long. Now consider that Williams was just 4-of-14 from the floor against the Golden Gophers, and MTSU still scored 81 points in 67 possessions. Kelan Martin, Avery Woodson & Co. would be well advised to strut their usual highly effective and low-low-turnover stuff on offense.4. Saint Mary's vs. ArizonaHow regionally appropriate. This season was the best of times for West Coast hoops, and with Saint Mary's and Arizona we have two of the five best teams from that general vicinity. The Gaels were naturally overshadowed by the spectacle of Gonzaga going undefeated until the end of February. The Wildcats happen to be the reigning Pac-12 regular-season and tournament champions.• Tournament bracket | PDF | GIF• Tournament Challenge: Check brackets• Best of NCAA tournament Day 2• Full NCAA tournament coverage• NCAA tournament schedule• Live NCAA tournament analysis• FiveThirtyEight: Win probabilities• 2017-18 outlook for eliminated teams• College basketball PickCenter• College basketball scoreboardTrue, that regular-season title was shared with Oregon, but give Sean Miller's bunch points for momentum. Arizona hasn't lost in three weeks, and Lauri Markkanen is again hitting his shots. That being said, extending this run will be no easy task for the Wildcats. SMC presents some Purdue-like qualities, with a dominant interior scorer (Jock Landale) surrounded by a coterie of highly effective yet somewhat underpublicized 3-point shooters (Calvin Hermanson, Evan Fitzner, Joe Rahon and Emmett Naar).5. Notre Dame vs. West VirginiaThe Mountaineers want to force turnovers the Fighting Irish are not likely to commit. Bad pairing for Bob Huggins' guys?In that one respect, sure, but there are other respects. West Virginia also wants offensive rebounds, for example, and Notre Dame is not well-equipped to contravene that desire. In ACC play the Irish ranked No. 12 in the league in defensive rebound percentage, and if Bonzie Colson doesn't pull down an opponent's miss, it's often the opponent who does so.6. Florida vs. VirginiaMike White and the Florida staff have learned some common-sense-but-still-valuable lessons from the tape of Virginia's far-from-easy 76-71 win over UNC Wilmington. The Seahawks took outstanding care of the ball, went after offensive rebounds and looked for opportunities in transition.Granted, it didn't quite get the job done, but it's the most promising three-pronged approach to the Cavaliers' perennially punitive half-court defense. As for the Gators, Devin Robinson looked outstanding against East Tennessee State. If the junior can come anywhere near that level of performance against Tony Bennett's team, he can likely do so against any defense in the field.7. Iowa State vs. PurdueThe bad news for Purdue is that Monte Morris committed four turnovers last game. If the senior's season stats are any indication, this means Morris won't give the ball away again until February 2019.Fortunately for Boilermakers fans, Matt Painter's team is reliable in what it brings to the court. Against Vermont, the Boilers again made a high percentage of their 3s, and Caleb Swanigan again posted a double-double. Those two things haven't always guaranteed a win (ask Painter about Michigan), but they do tend to prevent opponents from pulling away. Expect a close game.8. Xavier vs. Florida StateThe Musketeers weren't supposed to make it this far after losing Edmond Sumner to a torn ACL in January. Yet Chris Mack's team is still standing, thanks to big games from Trevon Bluiett and Sean O'Mara against Maryland.Now Xavier faces an even larger challenge than the Terrapins. Florida State is the tallest team in the field, and the Seminoles are likely aware that the Musketeers allowed opponents to make a whopping 56 percent of their 2s in Big East play. On paper this is a frightening matchup for Xavier ...But did I happen to mention that Mack's guys weren't even supposed to make it this far?

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