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The NCAA’s tournament opening round has delivered a heavy dose of madness.
Thursday and Friday produced some nail-biting finishes, and a No. 4 seed got upended each day. According to ESPN Fantasy Sports, 48.2 percent of the site’s brackets lost a Final Four pick when Virginia suffered an astonishing loss to No. 16 UMBC.
Donte Ingram made Barack Obama and plenty of other supporters proud by sinking a game-winning three for No. 11 Loyola-Chicago. Later that evening, Buffalo avoided any theatrics by handing Arizona a stunning 21-point loss.
Both schools will look to spark a Cinderella run by advancing to the Sweet 16 on Saturday. Let’s look at the day’s full schedule and odds, courtesy of OddsShark, before examining each underdog’s chances.
Villanova (-11) vs. Alabama: 12:10 p.m. ET on CBS (Prediction: 80-67 Villanova)
Duke (-9.5) vs. Rhode Island: 2:40 p.m. ET on CBS (Prediction: 74-69 Duke)
Kentucky (-6) vs. Buffalo: 5:15 p.m. ET on CBS (Prediction: 75-70 Kentucky)
Tennessee (-5) vs. Loyola Chicago: 6:10 p.m. ET on TNT (Prediction: Tennessee 68, Loyola 65)
Kansas (-4.5) vs. Seton Hall: 7:10 p.m. ET on TBS (Prediction: 84-77 Kansas)
Gonzaga (-3.5) vs. Ohio State: 7:45 p.m. ET on CBS (Prediction: 72-70 Ohio State)
Texas Tech (-2) vs. Florida: 8:40 p.m. ET on TNT (Prediction: 71-67 Texas Tech)
Michigan (-3) vs. Houston: 9:40 p.m. ET on TBS (Prediction: 80-73 Michigan)
Kentucky vs. Buffalo
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A No. 13 seed defeating a No. 4 seed is unexpected enough, but Buffalo dominated Arizona while limiting DeAndre Ayton to 14 points.
Per ESPN Stats & Info, it marked the most lopsided March Madness upset in two decades:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, only one other underdog as large as Buffalo (+9.5) won by at least 20 points… Utah won by 25 points as a 10.5-point underdog in the 1998 Elite 8 … against Arizona,
The Bulls, however, are once again underdogs against the Wildcats. This time, OddsShark favors Kentucky to win by six points following a five-point triumph over Davidson.
Three-point shooting will determine whether Buffalo makes its first Sweet 16 appearance in school history. Variance behind the arc swung sharply in the Bulls’ favor when they made 15 of their 30 deep attempts against Arizona, which converted only two of 18 tries.
Davidson nearly won the same way, making 11 of its 33 threes. Kentucky, meanwhile, did not drain a single bucket from downtown.
Per CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein, none of its players were alive the last time the school recorded a goose-egg in the three-point column:
Jon Rothstein @JonRothstein
Kentucky’s win over Davidson was the first time in 1,048 games that the Wildcats didn’t make a single three-point field goal. Streak goes back all the way to 1988. #BBN
Buffalo will stun the world if those rates carry over into Saturday, but expect some regression to the mean on both sides. While Kentucky relies more on size than deep shooting, it still made 5.3 three-pointers per game during the season. It also stymied opponents to a 30.0 percent conversation rate, the nation’s fourth-best clip.
After combining for 67 points against Arizona, Wes Clark, Jeremy Harris and CJ Massinburg will need to shoot Kentucky out of the Taco Bell Arena. The trio has collectively averaged 47.5 points per game, so everything needs to align perfectly for the second straight game.
While Buffalo has established a clear blueprint to derailing a favorite, the volatile formula won’t work every time. Kentucky, which has won eight of its last nine games, should overpower the smaller opponent and elude the massive three-point divergence necessary for the Bulls to strike again.
Tennessee vs. Loyola-Chicago
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Whereas Buffalo cruised to the second round, Loyola-Chicago prevailed on a last-second shot. The Ramblers are still better equipped to stay alive.
For their standards, they slumped behind the arc against Miami. Boasting a 39.7 three-point percentage during the season, they hit eight of 21 (38.1 percent) opportunities. Although they allowed just 62 points, the Hurricanes shot 51 percent (25-of-49) from the court.
Rather than relying on an unsustainable performance, Loyola must find that extra gear against Tennessee. Another low-scoring stalemate is on the horizon, as the Volunteers rank No. 5 in KenPom.com’s adjusted defensive efficiency.
The Volunteers didn’t face much adversity in Thursday’s 73-47 rout over Wright State, who possess KenPom’s second-worst offensive rating (No. 252) among all March Madness participants.
Per the Associated Press’ Stephen Hawkins, Tennessee coach Rick Barnes praised his team’s performance:
“Overall we’ve got a group of guys that have embraced that talent of working hard, and they’ve—we’ve tried to create our own standard, our own identity in terms of how hard we think we can play on defense and on offense when we stay together and execute.”
That identity includes top-50 ranks in points allowed, assists, three-point percentage and blocks. Led by Lamonte Turner’s 19 off the bench, 11 players scored during the runaway first-round win.
Loyola also wields a balanced attack; five players have averaged at least 10.5 points per game. Registering 72.2 points per game despite facing one ranked opponent (Florida) during the regular season, it still may not possess the firepower needed to circumvent an elite defense.
Loyola will likely fall on the wrong end of another down-to-the-wire finish.
Note: Stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.