Holy crap! What an opening weekend of NCAA Tournament games it’s been! Michigan State, the popular choice for many to win the whole thing, lost to an underrated Middle Tennessee State squad in what might go down as the biggest upset in NCAA Tournament history. On top of that, we’ve seen buzzer beaters, non-buzzer beaters, classic games, and too many upsets to count.
This might just be the wildest, craziest opening round in NCAA history. There’s no way that the rest of the tournament can live up to that. Alas, it should still be a damn good time, and here are my picks for the eight Round of 32 games that will take place today.
(11) Wichita State (27-8) vs. (3) Miami (12:10/11:10 am CT, CBS)
There’s just something about Wichita State and March these days. Just like Gonzaga, Butler and VCU, all of whom will be playing this weekend, the Shockers have established themselves as a yearly threat to make a deep tournament run. With Ron Baker, Fred VanVleet and Evan Wessel preparing for each game knowing that it could be their last, the team dominated Vanderbilt in their unnecessary play-in game, and then did the same to Arizona on Thursday. Now, they play an upstart Miami squad that will be looking to prove that it is a title challenger.
Speaking of Miami, the Hurricanes have faced the ACC gauntlet all year, winning games against Duke and various other high-end teams. Point guard Angel Rodriguez has continued to step up and play well under pressure, Sheldon McClellan is a guarantee to reach 20 points these days, and Tonye Jakiri is a consistent double-double threat. They will be the offensive team, while Wichita State will have to take the defensive approach. I think Miami can and probably should win, but there’s no way I’m going to pick against the Shockers. Somehow, someway, I see them prevailing. Prediction: Wichita State 76, Miami 68.
(12) Yale (23-6) vs. (4) Duke (21-10) (2:40/1:40c, CBS)
In a week full of crazy upsets, Yale is the squad that kicked off the festivities. They played Baylor hard and held on for a 79-75 win, thanks to Makai Mason’s 31 points. They are a feisty, defensive-minded team, just like Wichita State. If they are to pull off the upset, it will have to be with an extremely defensive approach.
Meanwhile, it’s debatable whether Duke should even be here or not. They beat UNC Wilmington early on Thursday, but it was in large part to the refs, as well as a surprising performance from Marshall Plumlee. Plumlee scored a career-high 23 points, 15 more than his season average. Grayson Allen struggled, but wound up with 17 of the team’s whopping 43 free throw attempts.
Honestly, Duke should win this one, and should do so without the ref’s help. But, Yale can dirty things up. Alas, I see Allen stepping up, Brandon Ingram should have a solid game, and Duke will likely win by about ten points. Prediction: Yale 66, Duke 75.
(5) Indiana (26-7) vs. (4) Kentucky (27-8) (5:15/4:15c, CBS)
Finally, we get a game with two single-digit seeds. What more is that it’s a bitter rivalry that never should’ve been abandoned. In a matchup between two of the most storied programs in NCAA basketball history, the Big 10 regular season champion Indiana Hoosiers, led by senior guard Yogi Ferrell, will take on Wooden Award candidate Tyler Ulis, his backcourt teammate Jamal Murray, and the SEC conference tournament champion Kentucky Wildcats. This should be a hotly-contested game, and is genuinely must-watch. In a crazy tournament where there aren’t enough words to describe the pure insanity of it all, both teams surprisingly won both their opening round games with ease. Here, a Kentucky loss would be far from shocking. Still, while my heart may be rooting for Indiana, I’ll have to go with the Wildcats here. Prediction: Indiana 74, Kentucky 81.
(12) Arkansas-Little Rock (30-4) vs. (4) Iowa State (23-11) (6:10/5:10, TNT)
In the final afternoon game of the day, Iowa State will follow up an upset-avoidance by taking on a team that, well, just pulled off an upset. Little Rock pulled off a furious second-half rally against Purdue on Thursday, prevailing in double-overtime by an 80-75 margin. Team leader Josh Hagins had one of the greatest performances in NCAA Tournament history, recording 31 points, seven rebounds, six assists and five steals, including the deep three-pointer to send the game into overtime, and outscoring the entire Purdue team 27-26 down the stretch.
That said, Iowa State is not an average offensive team. As evidenced by their shootout win against Iona on Thursday, they are an offensive juggernaut. Georges Niang continued to remind the college basketball world that he’s a force to be reckoned with, scoring 28 points, while underrated point guard Monte Morris’ 20-point, eight-assist, three-steal performance proved that he is a truly special player. I see them doing much f the same against Little Rock, and while an upset is definitely possible, I don’t see it happening. Prediction: AR-Little Rock 76, Iowa State 88.