The whirlwind NCAA tournament second round certainly delivered, as upsets and dramatic finishes stole the show. And with the field narrowed down to 32 teams, the third round is set to tip off on Saturday.
All Your Bracket Essentials:
No. 11 Dayton, No. 12 Harvard, No. 12 North Dakota State and No. 14 Mercer were the big second-round surprises on Thursday and Friday, but will have their work cut out for them this weekend as they attempt to reach the second week of March Madness.
Is there another Florida Gulf Coast among them, or will the favorites regain control in Round 3?
Let's take a look at Saturday's tournament schedule and some predictions for the day's most anticipated matchups.
|2014 NCAA Tournament 3rd-Round Day 1 Schedule|
|Date||Matchup||Time (ET)||TV||Live Stream|
|Sat, March 22||(9) Pittsburgh vs. (1) Florida||12:15 p.m.||CBS||March Madness Live|
|Sat, March 22||(5) Saint Louis vs. (4) Louisville||2:45 p.m.||CBS||March Madness Live|
|Sat, March 22||(7) Texas vs. (2) Michigan||5:15 p.m.||CBS||March Madness Live|
|Sat, March 22||(12) North Dakota State vs. (4) San Diego State||6:10 p.m.||TNT||March Madness Live|
|Sat, March 22||(11) Dayton vs. (3) Syracuse||7:10 p.m.||TBS||March Madness Live|
|Sat, March 22||(7) Oregon vs. (2) Wisconsin||7:45 p.m.||CBS||March Madness Live|
|Sat, March 22||(12) Harvard vs. (4) Michigan State||8:40 p.m.||TNT||March Madness Live|
|Sat, March 22||(7) Connecticut vs. (2) Villanova||9:40 p.m.||TBS||March Madness Live|
South Region: No. 1 Florida Over No. 9 Pittsburgh
The overall top seed Florida Gators may have looked uninterested and sluggish in their 12-point win over No. 16 seed Albany on Thursday, but keep in mind they've won 27 straight games and were due for a lackluster performance.
Expect Billy Donovan's SEC champions to be wide awake on Saturday afternoon against No. 9 Pittsburgh, especially after the Panthers walloped the Colorado Buffaloes by 29 points in the second round.
Florida's ability to turn defense into offense quicker than anyone and the Gators' senior leadership will be the differences in this game. Pittsburgh has struggled to score points throughout the season, and will find baskets tough to come by against Florida's swarming defense.
Regardless of which team comes out on top, if a recent trend continues, fans will likely wind up being glued to this game, per South Bend Tribune's Tom Noie:
According to Covers.com, the Gators will be five-point favorites on Saturday.
West Region: No. 12 North Dakota State Over No. 4 San Diego State
The Bison needed overtime to get past fifth-seeded Oklahoma on Thursday night, but are playing with tremendous confidence and belief after stunning the Sooners. Therefore, watch for Saul Phillips' North Dakota State squad to continue its memorable run with an upset win over fourth-seeded San Diego State in Spokane, Wash.
It's unlikely that Lawrence Alexander will net 28 points on 10-of-15 shooting again, but if the Bison can continue to crash the glass and get to the foul line they'll be awfully tough to beat.
The Aztecs showed several weaknesses in their narrow win over 13th-seeded New Mexico State and could easily have been eliminated in the second round. Steve Fisher's team will have to convert better inside the arc to stay alive.
And as North Dakota State head coach Saul Phillips points out, the Bison found a new way to win in the second round, prevailing despite a poor game from Taylor Braun. The senior guard fouled out in overtime with 11 points, per SI.com's Lindsay Schnell:
It’s only fitting that for as many games as Taylor's picked us up and led us to victory, our guys respond by picking him up. I can believe it happened, I just can’t believe how it happened.
With Braun likely to return to form on Saturday and his teammates having gained enormous confidence after their second-round win, the Bison are a legitimate Cinderella.
East Region: No. 4 Michigan State Over No. 12 Harvard
Tommy Amaker's Harvard Crimson were a popular upset pick ahead of their second-round win over fifth-seeded Cincinnati on Thursday, but they'll be a massive underdog against fourth-seeded Michigan State, who many like to reach North Texas and cut down the nets this spring.
The Spartans got a career-high and MSU-tournament-record 41 points from senior center Adreian Payne on Thursday against No. 13 Delaware, they'll likely ride the big man again on Saturday night, per NBA.com basketball insider Adam Zagoria:
Meanwhile, the Crimson's struggles at the foul line and inability to wreak havoc from beyond the arc are likely to haunt them. Harvard missed 11 free throws against Cincinnati and went 0-of-6 from downtown in the second half after knocking down six threes in the opening half.
On the other hand, Michigan State went 10-of-19 from long-range in the second round and beat up the Blue Hens on the boards, outrebounding Delaware 42-24.
With Tom Izzo's team boasting advantages across the board, watch for the Big Ten tournament champions, led by Payne, to squash Harvard's upset bid on Saturday night in Spokane, Wash.
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