7 Iowa Hawkeyes vs. 2 Villanova Wildcats - South Region
Tip-off: 12:10pm (all times Eastern), CBS (Verne Lundquist/Jim Spanarkel/Allie LaForce)
14 Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks vs. 6 Notre Dame Fighting Irish - East Region
Tip-off: 2:40pm (approximate), CBS (Verne Lundquist/Jim Spanarkel/Allie LaForce)
Game to watch: Notre Dame vs. SFA
Obviously, we'll all be watching Notre Dame, but we have a full preview of that one already, so I don't need to talk much about it. Iowa and Villanova doesn't strike me as all that sexy, other than two teams who haven't made it to the second weekend in much longer than their fan bases would like. I think it's finally time for Jay Wright to get back over that hump for the first time since his Final Four team in 2009, but pressure is certainly on and he and his Wildcats are not shying away from that.
Iowa is a pretty tough match-up, as the whole country saw what they are capable of during a mid-season run that vaulted them to the top five in just about every poll and ranking. Their late-season collapse was almost capped perfectly by a series of late-game blunders against Temple, but they managed to right the ship in overtime just enough to move on. The tournament is crazy. Maybe a team that hasn't even been playing at an NIT-level the last month can find a way to make it to the Sweet 16 (although, I suppose that applies to Notre Dame as well).
Early Evening Games:
10 Virginia Commonwealth Rams vs. 2 Oklahoma Sooners - West Region
Tip-off: 5:15pm, CBS (Carter Blackburn/ Mike Gminski/Jaime Maggio)
15 Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders vs. 10 Syracuse Orange - Midwest Region
Tip-off: 6:10pm, TNT (Brian Anderson/Steve Smith/Dana Jacobson)
13 Hawaii Rainbow Warriors vs. 5 Maryland Terrapins - South Region
Tip-off: 7:10pm, TBS (Spero Dedes/Doug Gottlieb/Ros Gold-Onwude)
Game to watch: Maryland vs. Hawaii
I've said it quite a few times before, but I have no faith that Maryland is actually any good. The Terrapins keep getting hyped up with a lot of supposed talent, but they keep disappointing on the big stage. For the 2nd straight year, they failed to make any noise at the B1G Tournament, struggled with their double-digit seed first round opponent, and just seem to be playing their worst ball at the wrong time. Can they actually break through to the second weekend and start to meet their hype?
Enter Hawaii, a top-50 KenPom team despite their 13 seed that more or less had their way with a depleted-but-talented Cal team in the second half on Friday. Hawaii also has a little added motivation in this tournament, as the team is banned from next year's postseason due to a series of NCAA violations under a former head coach. Can they keep this one from ending and send Mark Turgeon and the Terps home earlier than most expected when they were given a top 5 preseason ranking?
Late Evening Games:
11 Northern Iowa Panthers vs. 3 Texas A&M Aggies - West Region
Tip-off: 7:45pm (approximate), CBS (Carter Blackburn/ Mike Gminski/Jaime Maggio)
7 Wisconsin Badgers vs. 2 Xavier Musketeers - East Region
Tip-off: 8:40pm (approximate), TNT (Brian Anderson/Steve Smith/Dana Jacobson)
8 Saint Josephs Hawks vs. 1 Oregon Ducks - West Region
Tip-off: 9:40pm (approximate), TBS (Spero Dedes/Doug Gottlieb/Ros Gold-Onwude)
Game to Watch: Northern Iowa vs. Texas A&M
On paper, this set of games (and really this whole day) doesn't look great. That's what happens when chaos reigns in the first round. But you'd be crazy to sleep on this Northern Iowa team, which seems to have some magic to them after a miracle bounce in the MVC final got them into this tournament and a half-court buzzer-beater gave them the first round win over Texas. Ben Jacobson made some sort of deal with the devil that I don't think is set to expire yet.
And Texas A&M is a strange team to figure out. They won the SEC regular season and lost the SEC Tournament championship in overtime. They dominated Green Bay in the first round, one of the few teams to actually win convincingly. The only time they've given people a reason to doubt them was in late January-early February, losing 4 out of 5 games, with 3 of them on the road. Other than that, they look great. Yet here we are, and no one quite believes in Billy Kennedy's bunch, so this is a good chance to make people take notice.