Nothing can quite match the nonstop excitement of the NCAA tournament's opening slate of games, but the next round can try.
The 16-game days are behind us, but I guess an eight-game day is good enough. There's still basketball occupying the tube from noon to midnight, only onlookers now are limited to focusing on just one or two games at a time.
All Your Bracket Essentials
Saturday's slate presents a No. 1 seed, three No. 2 seeds, two No. 4 teams viewed as main contenders, a couple Cinderella hopefuls and a whole lot of looming chaos. As much as you may want to step away from the TV screen and go outside, fresh air will have to wait until the weekend is over.
Here's a look at all of Saturday's March Madness along with odds, updated as of Friday, courtesy of Vegas Insider. Few brackets remain intact, so let's start over and pick these third-round bouts.
No. 4 Louisville (-9) vs. No. 5 St. Louis
After getting all it can handle against Manhattan, it's surprising to see Louisville hold such a lofty betting advantage over a stout St. Louis squad.
The Cardinals trailed the Jaspers late in the second half and were stuck in a 60-60 stalemate with two minutes remaining, but they finally found their shooting stroke with their season on the line. While Manhattan deserves credit for matching its famed opponent's tenacity, St. Louis is capable of playing a similar style.
If St. Louis fails to cover or match the spread, it'd mark the first time it lost by double digits this season. The Billikens have suffered their six losses by an average of 5.8 points, and before saying the Cardinals are much better than those opponents, consider that two of those close defeats came against Wichita State and Wisconsin.
According to KenPom.com, St. Louis ranks No. 8 in adjusted defensive efficiency, above Manhattan's No. 35 ranking. While its lack of offensive prowess will prevent an upset, don't be surprised if St. Louis hangs close in a single-digit loss.
Prediction: Louisville 68, St. Louis 60
No. 3 Syracuse (-7) vs. No. 11 Dayton
At one point this season, Syracuse held the nation's No. 1 ranking and an undefeated record. But after losing five of its last seven games heading into the tournament, most onlookers are waiting for the Orange to receive an early exit.
It sure didn't happen against Western Michigan, who fell to a 40-21 deficit at halftime. With four starters scoring 14 or more points, Syracuse offered up a reminder of how well it played during its 25-0 start.
A dangerous No. 11 seed awaits after Dayton knocked off No. 6 Ohio State to open the second round. One way to look at it is Syracuse receives a break by getting the lower seed. Then again, what's stopping the Flyers from winning again after besting the Buckeyes?
There's a personal touch to this matchup as Syracuse's Tyler Ennis played AAU ball with Dayton's Dyshawn Pierre. As relayed by The Post-Standard's Donna Ditota, their connection makes Ennis well aware of Pierre's capabilities as a versatile scorer.
"I'm kind of familiar with his game," Ennis said. "He's one of the most underrated players in the country. He always hits big shots. He's kind of like me — even-keeled, quiet."
Underrated and quiet described Dayton well as a whole, but its March Madness run will end as Syracuse continues to rights the ship.
Prediction: Syracuse 75, Dayton 64
No. 2 Villanova (-3.5) vs. No. 7 Connecticut
Villanova is riding the wave of a huge victory, while Connecticut clawed its way past the second round, but don't be surprised if the Huskies find their way into the Sweet 16.
The blowout did not come without its concerns. It took a while before Villanova kicked into gear during the second half, and the team converted just four of its 23 three-point attempts.
Perhaps Villanova, like Syracuse, is also peaking at the right time after a strong finish. But skepticism around the Wildcats doesn't exclusively result from their Big East loss to the unassuming Seton Hall. Its season-long play against top performers should raise some eyebrows.
They beat a freshmen-laden Kansas squad during the season's opening month, but the Wildcats failed to earn another signature victory, something all the cool kids now call big wins. Creighton laid out two 20-plus beatings while Syracuse won by 16 when the two schools faced off late in December.
It didn't show too well during its 89-81 victory over St. Joseph's, but UConn possesses a top-notch defense whose 95.6 defensive rating ranks 26th in college basketball. Taking the glass-half-full approach, the Huskies also proved they can score their way to victory, shooting 45.5 percent from the floor and getting 24 points from Shabazz Napier.
Vegas must harbor some comparable doubts considering Villanova enters the contest as just a slight favorite. Anyone paying attention knows some top dog is likely to fall, and Villanova looks like the most vulnerable one about to spar with a dangerous foe.
Prediction: Connecticut: 73, Villanova 69
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