“Madness” doesn’t begin to describe what we’re seeing this March. The NCAA tournament is as unpredictable as ever, and we should expect more of the same as the round of 32 comes to a close on Sunday.
Half of the Sweet 16 field has been decided, with a few big surprises. No. 9 Wichita State silenced No. 1 Gonzaga on Saturday night to secure its place in the fourth round of the tournament, while No. 12 Oregon upset No. 5 Oklahoma State and No. 4 Saint Louis, and now has a Sweet 16 matchup against Louisville on the horizon.
As exciting as Day 5 was, there’s still plenty of terrific basketball to be played. We’ll preview three of the best matchups to watch on Day 6 of the NCAA tournament.
No. 3 Florida vs. No. 11 Minnesota: 6:10 p.m. ET on TNT
Despite Minnesota’s lower seed, the Golden Gophers were a three-point favorite over No. 6 UCLA in the round of 64. With a 20-point blowout win over the Bruins, Minnesota proved it can’t be taken lightly in the third round.
Sophomore guard Andre Hollins was superb in the win, leading the Gophers with 28 points on 8-of-16 shooting and a 5-of-8 mark from behind the arc. He’ll look to build on the strong performance against Florida in the round of 32.
The Gators produced an impressive win of their own in the second round, topping Northwestern State 79-47. One of the better defensive teams in the nation, Florida held the Demons to just 15 points in the second half of play and got double-digit contributions from four players at the offensive end.
Florida is an eight-point favorite in this game, but don’t expect anything short of fireworks in the final minutes. Both teams have the ability to score plenty of points.
Senior guard Kenny Boynton will be the player to watch in this matchup. He had a quiet game against Northwestern State (11 points), but he averaged 12.3 points in the regular season and is fully capable of scoring 20-plus points in a given night, as he did five times in the first two months of the year.
Both teams have enough depth to make this a close contest, but expect the favored Gators to pull away in the final minutes.
Prediction: Florida 72, Minnesota 67
No. 2 Duke vs. No. 7 Creighton: 9:40 p.m. ET on TBS
Duke is just a 5.5-point favorite over the No. 7 Creighton Bluejays and their high-powered offense in the round of 32.
Led by junior forward Doug McDermott, Creighton bested No. 10 Cincinnati 67-63 in the second round of action. McDermott was fantastic as usual, dropping 27 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in 36 minutes.
Creighton enters the contest with the No. 18 offense in the country, and this game should prove to be an exciting shootout between two exciting offensive squads.
Duke wasn’t without its own offensive outpouring in the round of 64. With 26 points from senior guard Seth Curry and 23 from senior forward Mason Plumlee, the Blue Devils cruised past Albany 73-61.
Neither team plays exceptional defense, and with a bevy of offensive playmakers representing both squads, this game should come down to efficient shooting and fast-paced offensive play.
While Creighton may have the best scorer on the floor on Sunday, Duke’s balance and depth will be too much for the Bluejays to overcome. Curry, Plumlee and senior forward Ryan Kelly comprise a deadly three-headed offensive attack with the firepower to outpace McDermott and his Creighton squad.
Prediction: Duke 76, Creighton 68
No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 8 North Carolina: 5:15 p.m. ET on CBS
In Sunday’s marquee matchup, the No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks take on the No. 8 North Carolina Tar Heels for a Sweet 16 berth in the South Region.
Both teams escaped the round of 64 with close victories. Kansas eluded the No. 16 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers in a 64-57 win, while North Carolina outpaced the Villanova Wildcats for a 78-71 finish.
Kansas has a decided advantage in this matchup. While North Carolina is a better team than its No. 8 seed would suggest, the Jayhawks will be playing less than an hour from their home in Lawrence with a showdown against the No. 4 Michigan Wolverines on the horizon.
Kansas is a six-point favorite in this contest, and it certainly has the offense to cover the spread. Freshman guard Ben McLemore is a national-player-of-the-year candidate who has the potential to score 30 points in any contest, and senior center Jeff Withey was terrific in his 17-point effort against Western Kentucky in the second round.
While North Carolina features three 14-point scorers, the Jayhawks boast the No. 46 defense in the country, holding opponents to an average of 61.3 points per game. For the Tar Heels to have a shot at winning on Sunday, they will need consistent scoring from sophomores P.J. Hairston and James Michael McAdoo and junior Reggie Bullock.
Prediction: Kansas 78, North Carolina 75
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