5 Things to Watch on Day 3 of the NCAA Tournament, Presented By The Belko Experiment
This is the time of the season we've all been waiting for, but one of the best sports weekends of the year is already half over.
Fortunately, we have another action-packed day on tap today.
Here are the five things to watch as you enjoy the third day of the tournament.
1. The Loaded East Region
It's only the Round of 32, but the top half of the East Region gives us some pretty high-end matchups. Villanova, the region's top seed, takes on 8 seed Wisconsin, and 4 seed Florida battles 5 seed Virginia. The Wildcats, Gators and Cavaliers are all in the top 10 of our power rankings.
For the Badgers, Bronson Koenig was the star of the show, scoring 28 points on 8-of-17 shooting from downtown (yes, he shot 17 treys). They weren't all open looks, either.
Bronson Koenig nails the ðŸ‘Œfrom DEEP! #Wisconsin #MarchMadnesspic.twitter.com/Rqe8jUq1Q8
â€” LeadingNCAA â„¢ (@LeadingNCAA) March 17, 2017
After a slow start, Villanova routed Mount St. Mary's in the opening round while Wisconsin squeaked past Virginia Tech. Nova put five players in double figures, and they were led by Donte DiVincenzo, who scored 21 points and snared 13 boards, both of which were team highs.
Led by the nation's fourth-ranked offense, per our numbers, our models give the Wildcats a 69% chance to win the game, but the Badgers' trio of Koenig, Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ is more than capable of pulling off the upset.
In the 4-5 game, we get a Final-Four-caliber clash between Virginia and Florida. Our rankings have the Gators as the country's fifth-best team while the Cavaliers check in 10th. Both teams excel defensively, according to our numbers, with Virginia's defense ranking 4th and Florida ranking 11th.
In the first round, the Gators pulled away from East Tennessee State in the second half, sparked by Devin Robinson's 24 points and 7 rebounds. Virginia edged out North Carolina-Wilmington, 76-71, in its opener, with London Perrantes and Marial Shayok netting 24 and 23 points, respectively.
2. Mid-Tennessee Magic
A year after knocking off Michigan State in a 15-2 shocker, Middle Tennessee pulled off another first-round upset over a Big Ten school, this time upending Minnesota in a 12-5 tilt. The Blue Raiders will put their March magic to the test against Butler, a school which came to prominence as a Cinderella but is now one of the big boys.
Mid Tennessee placed four guys in double digits in the win over the Gophers, hitting 7 of 13 from beyond the arc and committing a meager 8 turnovers.
Butler, meanwhile, topped Winthrop by a score of 76-64, holding a 42-27 edge on the glass. The hot shooting of Avery Woodson -- who scored 18 points, all of which came on three-pointers (6 of 10) -- fueled the Bulldogs. Super sub Kelan Martin added 10 points and 8 boards in just 17 minutes off the bench.
After beating the Spartans a year ago, the Blue Raiders were destroyed by Syracuse in the second round. We give them a decent shot to advance to the Sweet 16, with our models expecting a Butler win just 56% of the time.
3. Can the State of Indiana Stay Unbeaten?
Speaking of Butler, Thursday was a busy day for schools from Indiana. The Bulldogs were one of three Hoosier State teams to win on Thursday, with Notre Dame and Purdue also advancing to the Round of 32. Another state school, Indiana, made some news of their own Thursday as the Hoosiers decided to part ways with Tom Crean in a risky move.
Notre Dame, a 5 seed, is aiming for its third straight Elite 8, and it started that journey in nail-biting fashion, holding off 13 seed Princeton for a 60-58 win in their opening game.
The Irish have a much tougher matchup today as they take on 4 seed West Virginia. The Mountaineers sit sixth in our power rankings, boosted by the nation's seventh-ranked defense. WVU is the favorite, and our models see them moving on 56% of the time.
Purdue got a challenge from Vermont, but the Boilers registered an 80-70 victory, getting 21 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals from Vince Edwards. Big Ten Player of the Year Caleb Swanigan did his double-double thing with 16 points and 14 boards, adding 4 dimes and 3 blocks.
Awaiting Purdue in the Round of 32 is Iowa State, who picked up an 84-73 win over Nevada on Thursday. We see the Boilermakers taking this one 55% of the time, and our projections have this as the day's tightest contest.
4. A Clash of West Coast Powers
But that's not really the case at all. In fact, per our power rankings, the Wildcats and Gaels are separated by a mere six spots.
You can't really take the metrics to the bank for Arizona because Allonzo Trier, one of the 'Cats top players, has only played 16 games this year due to a wacky suspension. When he's played, he's been excellent. Trier is averaging 17.3 points, 5.1 boards and 2.7 assists per game, and Arizona is 14-2 since he returned to the court, including a 100-82 win over North Dakota in the Round of 64.
The Gaels are absolutely legit, though. St. Mary's has a top-10 offense (3rd) and defense (9th), per our metrics, and they've only lost four games this season, three of which came at the hands of Gonzaga. The Gaels topped Virginia Commonwealth, 85-77, in their tourney opener, with five players pouring in at least 12 points.
5. Can Northwestern Win Again?
Northwestern waited a long time to get into the big dance, but they didn't have to wait long for their first crazy March moment. The Wildcats, trailing by one late in their opener, were the beneficiary of a fortunate break when Vanderbilt's Matthew Fisher-Davis purposely fouled Bryant McIntosh, mistakenly thinking the Commodores were down and needed to foul.
Matthew Fisher-Davis fouls Northwestern's best player up one pic.twitter.com/P2jPMle9MI
â€” Sports Illustrated (@SInow) March 16, 2017
McIntosh hit the two freebies (emphasis on freebies), and Northwestern held on for the win. McIntosh was the driving force all game, finishing with 25 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals while hitting 10 of 16 shots.
Northwestern's reward is a matchup with top-seeded Gonzaga. According to our models, the Zags are the country's best team, coming in with the top-ranked defense and second-ranked offense -- just about as good as it gets.
With a remarkable 33-1 record, Gonzaga is the clear favorite here. Our game simulator sees the Zags winning by 14, and our algorithms have them beating the Wildcats 79% of the time, making them the day's biggest favorite by a significant margin.
It's March, though, so you never know, and Northwestern will likely be playing with a new lease on life after Thursday's lucky break.