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After watching Maryland-Baltimore County make history, there’s no reason to go conservative on bold predictions for the round of 32. Six double-digits seeds advanced. Among the Cinderella programs, who’s built to reach the Sweet 16?
Overall, No. 13 became a lucky digit in the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament. In each regional, the No. 4 seed either went down in an upset or had a significant scare. Auburn and Gonzaga barely escaped defeat—both with four-point victories.
For those who saw parity as a myth during March Madness, think again and take a look at the upcoming matchups. A roster with more than one hot hand can knock off a higher seed having an off day as witnessed in the opening round.
Did we see multiple fluke victories, or do these underdog programs continue to earn respect as legitimate threats to the powerhouse schools?
Let’s take a look at two matchups with high upset probability and a No. 2 seed that will overcome adversity to advance.
No. 7 Nevada Upsets No. 2 Cincinnati
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After Nevada’s victory over Texas, head coach Eric Musselman celebrated with his players, but he also said they didn’t play their best game. The Wolf Pack had to erase a 14-point deficit to win 87-83 in overtime.
Nonetheless, it’s an adverse situation the players may use as motivation going forward. During the regular season, this group shot nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc but struggled early against Texas’ perimeter defense before finding their sweet spot down the stretch.
Cincinnati beat a lesser Georgia State team but only scored 68 points. The Wolf Pack put the same amount of points on the scoreboard in regulation after a slow start. If Nevada’s shot falls early, it’ll pressure the Bearcats to keep pace.
Despite boasting the second-best defense in points allowed across the nation, Cincinnati must answer to the Wolf Pack’s upperclassmen, who can heat up at any point. Nevada will start quickly and finish on a strong note.
Prediction: Nevada 76, Cincinnati 70
No. 2 Purdue Perseveres Without Isaac Haas
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Senior center Isaac Haas’ fractured elbow deals a massive blow to Purdue’s title chances—even that’s an understatement. Head coach Matt Painter can’t replace the 7’2″ big’s presence in the paint, but Matt Haarms, who’s the same height, will at least have an opportunity to step into a bigger role.
As a freshman, Haarms won’t look as polished on the offensive end, but he averaged more blocks per game than Haas at 2.1. The Boilermakers can still defend well on the interior. Additionally, they must contest Bulldogs senior forward Kelan Martin behind the three-point line. He lit Arkansas up on 5-of-11 shooting Friday en route to a 79-62 victory.
Offensively, guards Carsen Edwards and Dakota Mathias should focus on attacking Butler’s perimeter defense that allowed a 37 percent conversion rate during the regular season. Despite Haas’ absence, the Boilermakers still have a senior-laden starting unit to keep the group composed in a high-pressure situation. Purdue’s hot hands and cooler heads prevail in this contest.
Prediction: Purdue 71, Butler 66
No. 13 Buffalo Goes to the Sweet 16
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Buffalo went 15-of-30 from downtown in its 89-68 upset victory over Arizona Thursday. Junior guard C.J. Massinburg carried his regular-season sharpshooting into the tournament, hitting five three-pointers.
For the Bulls, it’s more than just Massinburg. As a team, they rank 12th in three-pointers made. On the other end of the spectrum, Kentucky doesn’t shoot particularly well from a distance. Head coach John Calipari‘s group knows how to slow the game down and draw fouls to add points at the free-throw line. The Wildcats rank second in attempts at the charity stripe.
Defensively, Bulls head coach Nate Oats should drill a simple concept into his players’ minds: contest shots but avoid the fouls.
Against a decent shooting team that’s converting less than 50 percent from behind the line, the Wildcats’ style won’t produce a blowout. If there’s a slow start for the Bulls, Oats should continue to encourage his players to put up shots.
A scoring streak would force Kentucky to respond, which may lead to poor shot selection. With that formula, the Bulls win a tight game, sending the program to its first Sweet 16.
Prediction: Buffalo 78, Kentucky 72
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