The NCAA tournament field has been sliced down to 32 teams vying for the championship crown.
A non-stop two days of games have provided overtimes, last-second finishes and exciting upsets for college hoops fans gleefully ignoring school and work duties. Many of them will now get to comfortably kick back and relax while the weekend churns out more basketball.
All Your Bracket Essentials
The third round is just as tough to project as the previous one. Should notching an upset instill confidence in the low-seeded underdog, or should its next opponent be grateful to avoid the highly regarded opponent?
Good question, me. Thanks, me. Now, let's answer my own question and more while looking at some of the weekend's most intriguing matchups.
Michigan State vs. Harvard
As a reward for upsetting Cincinnati, Harvard now gets Michigan State.
As far as No. 4 seeds go, Tom Izzo's Spartans are a darn good one. They finished the season No. 11 in the AP Top 25 after defeating Michigan handily in the Big Ten championship, yet they were saddled with an unfavorable fourth slot.
They rank 10th both in KenPom.com's team ratings and offensive efficiency, and they have a tournament-tested coach and roster. So as tempting as it is to roll with Harvard after its second straight round of 32 appearance, the Crimson's bus likely stops here.
Adreian Payne showed he is ready to play this March, scoring a career-high 41 points in Michigan State's victory over Delaware. Per SportsCenter's Twitter page, that puts him in prestigious company with a certain scoring machine from the Golden State Warriors.
The senior has upped his point tally in each year of his collegiate career, enhancing his average to 16.7 this season. After learning under Izzo for four years, Payne is taking over as the star on the bright stage.
Harvard won't lay down without a fight, but the club will bow out after receiving an unfortunate draw before the Sweet 16.
Prediction: Michigan State 78, Harvard 66
Creighton vs. Baylor
Neither Creighton nor Baylor is receiving much credit as a Final Four contender, but they'll at the very least offer an entertaining shootout.
KenPom.com touts Creighton as the NCAA's best offense, but Baylor does not stray far behind at No. 7. Neither team is touted as a top squad because of lackluster defenses, which means this game should feature a glutton of points.
All Bluejays' coverage revolves around Doug McDermott, the nation's leading scorer with 26.9 points per game. He manages to shoot an effective 52.5 field goal percentage despite taking 17.9 shots a game, so the senior isn't just padding his stats with a high volume of attempts.
While Baylor isn't a tournament mainstay, it succeeds when given a chance. Let's return to SportsCenter's Twitter account, which shared an interesting tidbit about Baylor's March Madness success.
Creighton has already made 342 three-pointers this season with an offense that surrounds McDermott with strong shooters. The deep ball makes a big difference in this type of high-scoring affair, so Creighton should advance if it can avoid going cold at the worst possible time.
Prediction: Creighton 84, Baylor 78
Mercer vs. Tennessee
Somebody is making an unexpected trip to the Sweet 16. That much is certain, but which double-digit seed will advance past the third round?
After falling short to Florida during the SEC tournament, Tennessee needed to sneak past Iowa in overtime of the play-in game just to make the field of 64. Once the Volunteers arrived, they proved they belong.
Despite playing the underdog role, Tennessee clobbered Massachusetts in an 86-67 victory. Jarnell Stokes and Jordan McRae each posted over 20 points while nobody on the Minutemen contributed more than 12.
Don't let the low seed fool you; Tennessee is really good. KenPom.com places the Vols among the top 10 in overall team efficiency, ranking 23rd in adjusted offense and 13th in adjusted defense.
According to head coach Cuonzo Martin, defense is the real key to the team's success. Per CBSSports.com:
They understand and I guess they realize when you defend at the level we're capable of defending at, these are the results behind it. They've really bought into it and embraced the fact that we can defend the way we defend because you can still score the ball, but scoring is a lot better when you can defend like this. They're just playing with confidence as a team. Everybody understands their role and just wants to win as a family.
Mercer should not be taken lightly after stunning Duke. The Bears overcame an onslaught of three-pointers to tame the Blue Devils in the second round's biggest upset.
But while Tennessee had all the makings of a strong sleeper before the tournament began, Mercer is still an enigma that had yet to play a ranked squad before Duke. Tennessee should enter the battle of underdogs as the favorite, which probably won't upset Mercer one bit.
Prediction: Tennessee 72, Mercer 61
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