While the first round of the NCAA Tournament inevitably produces both unexpected upsets and predictable blowouts, things tend to tighten up a bit in the second round. Just by winning a game, even the least known teams have already proven they belong in March Madness.
That means there’s plenty of anticipation on the first weekend of the tournament, as bigger names begin to face off against each other, while dangerous mid-majors get another shot at knocking off college basketball royalty. Here’s a look at a few of the best March Madness games on tap for Saturday.
Baylor (-5.5) vs. North Carolina
Baylor’s national title defense will see its first true test on Saturday, as the Bears take on a blue blood in North Carolina. Both teams enjoyed blowouts in the first round. Baylor easily dispatched an overmatched Norfolk State team 85-49, while the Tar Heels blasted Marquette 95-63 in what had promised to be a competitive 8 vs. 9 matchup. UNC will have to play just as well on Saturday to have a chance against the Bears, who are allowing just 63.2 points per game on the season.
Providence (-3) vs. Richmond
Maybe Providence will finally get some respect now that they’ve successfully turned back a challenge from South Dakota, one of the darling upset picks of the first round. Then again, they’re only three-point favorites over No. 12 Richmond, which scored one of the bigger upsets of the first round by beating Iowa. Expect a low-scoring contest here, but don’t be surprised if Providence continues to justify their seed – and defy their critics – by posting a solid victory.
UCLA (-2.5) vs. Saint Mary’s
Two West Coast stalwarts face off in an intriguing 4 vs. 5 second-round matchup. Saint Mary’s had little trouble with Indiana, knocking off the Hoosiers 82-53 on Thursday. Meanwhile, UCLA has a tougher time with Akron, winning just 57-53 on a day where the Bruins struggled from the field, shooting just 35.2 percent. Don’t expect UCLA to struggle nearly that much again. But Saturday’s matchup could still be a grind, with two teams that play at a relatively slow tempo facing off in a tight contest.
Murray State (-8.5) vs. Saint Peter’s
Saint Peter’s picked up the biggest upset of the first round (at least at the time of this writing) by beating Kentucky 85-79 in overtime. The 15th-seeded Peacocks won’t get much of a reprieve from tough competition in the second round, however, as they’ll take on a Murray State team that won its own overtime contest against San Francisco. The No. 7 seed Racers are now 32-3 on the season, and look to be a tough out in March Madness – and likely too much for Saint Peter’s in this matchup.
Gonzaga (-10.5) vs. Memphis
Gonzaga struggled a bit early against Georgia State, but had absolutely no trouble in the second half in route to a 93-72 win. Meanwhile, Memphis looked strong throughout in its opening 64-53 win over Boise State. Yes, the Bulldogs are a prohibitive favorite here. But Jalen Duren makes the Tigers a dangerous foe, especially if Memphis can manage to keep the pace of play reasonable and not let Gonzaga turn this into a track meet. Expect Gonzaga to win, but Memphis may well cover the rather large spread.