The Runner Sports

2017 NCAA Tournament: Round Of 32 – Day 2

While most were out drinking green beer and feigning some obscure Irish lineage, the 2017 NCAA Tournament chugged along Friday. Round one concluded, and chalk remained safe for the most part (Saturday had something else to say). The higher seeded team went 12-4 Friday, bringing the Round of 64 total record to 26-6. While upsets have been few and far between, games have been close and exciting…for the most part. The Round of 32 play Sunday should bring some more tantalizing matchups, and a few of the top teams need to play better to avoid finding themselves headed home instead of to the next leg in weekend two.

#1 Kansas Jayhawks vs #9 Michigan State Spartans (Midwest)

The consensus was this wasn’t supposed to be a good Michigan State team. Miami was supposed to roll over them, and Tom Izzo was supposed see a first-round exit for the second year in a row. Problem? Nobody told Michigan State that. Getting out to a slow start Friday, sputtering to a 5-17 deficit, the Spartans rallied off a 20-2 run and never looked back. The Hurricanes would never lead again.

The Jayhawks were entirely untested in their opener with UC Davis, topping the Aggies 100-62, one of three triple-digit showings in the first round. The Jayhawks put on an aerial assault, lobbing eye-popping alley-oops all throughout. Rumor has it Cirque Du Soleil will have a few scouts present for Sunday’s game.

The Jayhawks are athletic, feature a balanced attack, and are expected to make a Final Four run. I know my bracket certainly features them there. The problem? Michigan State doesn’t seem to a care about a damn bit of it. They’re injury depleted, inexperienced, and teetering on falling off a cliff at any moment. Initially wowed by the Jayhawks’ beatdown, I left Sparty’s game immediately texting a friend saying, “Watching that Michigan State game definitely makes me feel like they might knock em [Kansas] off.”

You ever just get that feeling about a pick? That’s what I’m mulling over on this Kansas game. By every measure on paper Kansas should run Sparty out of the house. For whatever reason, I’m taking that special feeling, the tingle in my hip.

Prediction: Michigan State

#1 North Carolina Tar Heels vs #8 Arkansas Razorbacks

The Tar Heels were one of three sides to put 100 points on the board in the opening round. Anything short of a Final Four should be a disappointment to this squad, as a national title is very much in the running.

The Big East found themselves quickly down to one team in this field. Meanwhile, most, including myself, were quick to write off much of the SEC not titled Kentucky. SEC schools went 4-1 in the first round, and won every game they were the higher seed in. The Big East, meanwhile, won just one game, Butler the lone rep going forward. Controversy might maim much of the Razorbacks’ first-round win discussion, but Arkansas did plenty well in that tightly contested bout.

Arkansas wants to run you out of the house, and the Tar Heels will happily oblige the desired pace. North Carolina features a deep lineup that’s even better when Joel Berry and Justin Jackson find the hardwood.

The Razorbacks will likely go where Moses Kingsley goes. He was a crucial component in Friday’s win with 23 points on 10-of-13 shooting while pulling down 6 boards and adding 4 blocks. When he’s MIA, so are the Razorbacks.

North Carolina has topped this matchup each of the last two times they met in the NCAA Tournament, winning in 2008 and 2015. There’s not a ton of reasons why they should be unable to find themselves punching tickets to the next weekend.

Prediction: North Carolina

#2 Duke Blue Devils vs #7 South Carolina Gamecocks

Troy featured a minimal obstacle for the Blue Devils, who won 87-65. South Carolina found a mean rally in the closing second half of their opener with Marquette, winning 93-73.

South Carolina has as much of a home court advantage you can find as a 7th seed in the NCAA Tournament. And they’ll take every advantage they can get. They fed off the crowd while stepping on Marquette’s throat in the closing minutes. They broke an all-time school NCAA Tournament record with their 93 points. The Eagles did the Gamecocks plenty of favors, however, panicking despite five minutes on the clock, forcing a series of poor shot choices; forcing five consecutive threes, missing all of them.

Duke won’t force options that aren’t connecting. Coach K is the master of versatility, always adapting to what’s thrown his way. And it’s not easy to be two steps ahead of him, and South Carolina probably needs to be a solid five in front.

While the Gamecocks have defended the three well, Duke has some sensational shooters on hand. Sellout to defend the perimeter, and they’ll dump it down to Jayson Tatum.

SC just can’t let this game steamroll early. They’ve got to be within chipping distance, because the first bit of separation will silence a heavy home crowd and they just don’t have the scorers to make a big comeback.

Prediction: Duke

#2 Louisville Cardinals vs #7 Michigan Wolverines

Jacksonville State’s shooters kept the Gamecocks around much longer than Rick Pitino and the Cardinals would have liked. Despite being one of the nation’s better perimeter defenses, Louisville allowed Jacksonville to connect on 53% from long range. Louisville can’t afford to just sag and ask the Wolverines to beat them from deep. Michigan shot 16-29 from behind the arc against Oklahoma State with fiery afternoons from Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin; they’ll look to attack from there again in this game.

Louisville had the last laugh in 2013 when these two clashed in the NCAA Tournament title game. But Michigan is on a funky tear. Overcoming a scary aircraft encounter, they flew through the Big Ten tournament, and looked like they could compete with the best of them in their opener. They topped the best offense in the country after all.

If the Cardinals can tighten down their perimeter defense, they should be able to keep put an end to the Wolverines’ magical run. If they can’t lock that down, Michigan’s shooters will quickly bury them

Prediction: Louisville

#2 Kentucky Wildcats vs #10 Wichita State Shockers

Dayton has a legitimate gripe for the committee. The ideal situation probably should have been anything other than putting Wichita State at a 10. Which as metrics showed, was a mistake, to begin with, for whoever had to face them. It’s no longer a shocker when Wichita State torches a good team, but there still might be a surprise for this South region.

Kentucky is a perennial Final Four team, but if they play like they did Friday evening their tournament will quickly be over Sunday. Big ups to a debutante North Kentucky for not showing a bit of self-doubt, biting down and making Kentucky’s opener an actual matchup.

The Shockers have the chance to enact some revenge from a 2014 second-round showdown that knocked them out as a top-seeded team, ending what was a 35-game win streak.

Wichita State plays physical, and they’ll bump and bruise with the stable of hopeful future NBA stars the Wildcats harbor.

Kentucky might be feeling a bit too comfortable, although Friday’s affair might have been a wake-up call, unfortunately for the Shockers. It goes against my current bracket, but watching my first Elite 8 team go down today (and then another, plus one more), I’m headed towards team #bustedbracket here in a hurry anyways.

Prediction: Wichita State

#3 Baylor Bears vs # 11 USC Trojans

Baylor erased some dark demons when they buried New Mexico State without any major hiccups. USC extended the streak for First Four teams advancing to the second round to seven years with an exhilarating finish against SMU. It marks three straight first round exits for SMU.

The Trojans were knocking the threes down to push the Mustangs to the brink. In the second round, 11 seeds find a healthy bit of success, posting a 19-27 record. USC has a talented roster that at times just doesn’t piece it together. They’re certainly well-tested, but where USC has seen some flashy offenses in the Pac-12, a great defense might be relatively foreign, and the Bears can play some lockdown D.

Baylor used to be all about the blocks, but didn’t quite look like an impenetrable wall this season at times. They were very much in the faces of New Mexico State, coming away with 7 blocks on the night. Like an avalanche, getting those defensive stops feeds into scary momentum for that defense, so it’s best to not get that snow rolling.

USC snuck into this field and made the most of it, but the run likely ends here.

Prediction: Baylor

# 3 Oregon Ducks vs #11 Rhode Island Rams

Oregon continues to look just fine without Chris Boucher. Their interior defense held dearly, and even nearly doubled the Gaels’ in rebounding, 41-27. Rhode Island has plenty more strength and size to test his absence.

Again, 11s find some success in this predicament. Oregon has a scoring threat in Dillon Brooks, but without a true point guard, the Rams’ “havoc defense” is relentless for ball-handlers. Oregon might lack the outlet to move the ball with comfort.

While Oregon hung around in their Pac-12 tournament game with Arizona, it was clear that without Boucher they lose a bit of their physical edge, something Rhode Island could cash in against.

The Rams are playing with some fire, while Creighton was down a key player, they were far from impotent. It’ll be a close game, but the trio of Hassan Martin, Kuran Iverson, and EC Matthews prove to be too much. The Rams had all five starters in double figures, and they might repeat that.

Prediction: Rhode Island

# 3 UCLA Bruins vs #6 Cincinnati Bearcats

That high-scoring UCLA offense was in full effect Friday with crisp ball movement and break neck speed up and down the court. They’ll meet a pretty stingy Bearcats defense that loves to bump bodies, a recipe that could spell disaster for this lineup.

The Bruins have plenty of glitz and glam, but lose those ugly basketball battles. Kent State abused them on the offensives boards, pulling down 15. A fierce Bearcats team should surely look to do the same.

UCLA will get their baskets, that’s a guarantee. The question is how much can Cincy slow them down? They’re no slouches offensively, but won’t be able to go one for one.

After a scary tumble, Lonzo Ball was back in the second half and looked largely uninhibited by any possible injury. Falling on your tailbone/hip hurts like no other, but it’s also stingers that can get worse over a couple of days, so tracking Ball’s early spunkiness will tell a lot about how he’s truly feeling. Concern was obviously high, as coach Steve Alford put it, “I didn’t know if he was going to finish the game. I just wanted him to get up.”

The Bruins are much more than just Ball, but they’re a whole other monster to tame when he’s fully operating.

Prediction: UCLA

So how are your brackets doing? Saturday will likely have undone more than a fair share of us.

Tyler Arnold

Tyler Arnold

I am the editor-in-chief of The Runner Sports. I watch more sports than is probably determined healthy and enjoy talking about them all. I am a firm believer in there being a "dropped peanut surcharge" at the ballpark when it's a good throw. Thanks for the read.
Tyler Arnold