10 Things to Watch on Day 2 of the NCAA Tournament
I don't know about you, but by the time the second day of March Madness rolls around, I'm a little disoriented. I'm more settled into the all-day viewing schedule, but I'm simultaneously feeling spoiled to get a second full-day slate and feeling sad that the games lighten up after Day 2.
Either way, it's important to maximize the joy we can get from watching the Round of 64 before we're down to 32 teams left dancing.
These 10 storylines can help ramp up the fun on Day 2.
Jarrett Culver's Takeover Potential
Sophomore guard Jarrett Culver has the ability to take over the NCAA Tournament on both ends of the floor. Culver, Big 12 Player of the Year and a likely lottery pick in the upcoming NBA draft, ranked top-10 in both defensive rating and defensive win shares in 2018-19, via Sports-Reference. Culver also sports a 31.2% usage rate and is a key reason for Texas Tech's 3 seed in the West Region. Via numberFire Live, the Red Raiders have a 74% chance to knock off the Northern Kentucky Norse. We should expect Culver to take home the in-game MVP slot and post one of the best performance scores of the opening round.
Kansas State Without Dean Wade
The Kansas State Wildcats drew the 4 seed in the South Region, earning them an opening-round matchup with California-Irvine. They'll likely have to fend off the Anteaters without senior forward Dean Wade, who injured his right foot in the Big 12 tournament. Wade posted an effective field goal percentage of 53.8% and an offensive rating of 118.4 this season, more than 10 points better than any other player on K-State, and he did so with a 22.4% usage rate. He's a big loss for the Wildcats, who would square up with either Wisconsin or Oregon with a win. It's possible Wade could return for the Round of 32.
Virginia's Response Against a 16 Seed
There's no need to be hyperbolic here, but Virginia is trying to bounce back the very next year after having lost to the Maryland-Baltimore County Retrievers, the first time a 16 seed beat a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. That's going to add extra pressure on the Cavaliers, who rank third in the nation via our power rankings. The Gardner-Webb Runnin Bulldogs are 170th. Sure, the Cavs are known for a plodding pace and an elite defense, but they're the third-best offense in the tournament, too. Virginia, 29-3 on the season, is 87% likely to advance.
Buffalo's Merit as a 6 Seed
The Buffalo Bulls are an intriguing squad and will be tested by Arizona State after the Sun Devils' play-in win. Buffalo drew the 6 seed in the West Region after a 31-3 season out of the MAC. Via KenPom.com, they rank inside the top 30 in the nation in both adjusted offense and adjusted defense. They're also 18th in our nERD-based power rankings. It's very possible they're a little underrated, per the advanced numbers, even with the 23rd overall seed. The Bulls are led by senior guard C.J. Massinburg (18.3 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.2 steals per game plus a 132.1 offensive rating).
The Surging Oregon Ducks
The Oregon Ducks have won eight straight games, including a 20-point win over the Washington Huskies in the Pac-12 Championship game. And they've done it without 7'2" center Bol Bol. Kenny Wooten has stepped up in Bol's absence (posting 5.2 blocks per 100 possessions, compared to 5.4 for Bol) to help anchor a top-20 adjusted defense in the country (91st percentile). Oregon's offense grades out in the 64th percentile, however, and they'll need to find ways to score against the Wisconsin Badgers' third-ranked adjusted defense. Via numberFire Live, Oregon has a 37% chance to knock off Wisconsin.
Duke's Three-Point Shooting
Of course, we have the chance to watch Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett lead a high-powered Duke Blue Devils team toward the national title, but we probably won't learn much about those two against the North Dakota State Bison. What we could see, though, is whether or not the Blue Devils can increase their three-point efficiency during a title run. As a team, Duke ranks 339th in three-point field goal percentage (out of 353 squads). Now, they're just 198th in three-point attempt rate (the percentage of field goals coming from beyond the arc) and 54th in rate of unassisted threes. They can probably reach the Elite Eight without any change in profile, but an inability to change could spell the end of Duke's run in the event they ever fall behind over the next month.
North Carolina's Legitimacy as a 1 Seed
The North Carolina Tar Heels have a pretty rough draw from a few angles. The third overall seed, UNC actually grades out fifth in our rankings, and they'll match up with a Kentucky Wildcats team that beat them 80-72 on a neutral court in December in the Elite Eight -- if they get there. On the way could be a date with either Kansas in Kansas City or an underrated Auburn Tigers team. How they handle a weak Iona Gaels team (211th in our power rankings with a nERD score grading out 2.83 points worse than the NCAA average team) could help Tar Heels backers feel confident or Tar Heels faders feel scared.
Tacko Fall Against VCU
That's it. Just Tacko Fall. The 7'6", 310-pound senior center for the Central Florida Knights will square up with the Virginia Commonwealth Rams' stingy defense, which ranks seventh in the nation, via KenPom.com. Fall shot 75.4% on two-point attempts, third-best in the nation, and 80.1% at the rim. Seeing how he matches up with a suffocating, full-court defense is just going to be fun.
Can Iowa State Avenge the Aaron Craft Game?
I'm not a big believer in how games from years ago impact a game that features new players and coaches, but back in 2013, we saw this same matchup yield a buzzer-beating three from Aaron Craft. It's a convenient storyline between an Iowa State Cyclones team that drew the 24th overall seed -- despite sitting 15th in our power rankings and 16th via KenPom -- and an Ohio State Buckeyes team that is 41st overall in the seeding (38th in our nERD metric and 44th via KenPom). Our numberFire Live platform pits this one as a 72%-likely win for the Cyclones in their redemption attempt.
Justin Robinson's Return for Virginia Tech
After missing 12 games with a foot injury, Justin Robinson is set to return for the Virginia Tech Hokies, the 4 seed in the East Region. The Hokies boast a top-10 offense among tournament teams and rely primarily on the three-point shot (they're 35th in three-point attempt rate). Robinson's 122.3 offensive rating ranks him just third on his own team. Virginia Tech is 78% likely to top the Saint Louis Billikens, and the 12th-ranked team in our power rankings could be a tough out with Robinson back.