Previewing Saturday's Most Intriguing Round of 32 Games
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The Round of 64 is in the books, and we are down to 32 teams remaining in the NCAA Tournament. With a historic first day during which there were five games decided by a single-point (the record for one-point games in an entire NCAA tournament is six), including two upsets of 3 seeds, the games have been super exciting thus far.
To keep your adrenaline pumping for Saturday's games, I've taken key numberFire analytics (specifically nERD) to preview Saturday's most anticipated and best statistical games.
Notre Dame (3 seed, 14th in nERD) vs. Butler (6 seed, 19th in nERD)
The Fighting Irish survived a close one against 14 seed Northeastern on Thursday. They now take on a gritty Butler Bulldogs team, who got by Texas. The key question for Butler is the status of team leader Roosevelt Jones, who suffered a sprained knee on Thursday.
Contending with the best offensive team in the country for Butler means neutralizing star guard Jerian Grant, someone who can take over a game, especially in transition. Notre Dame outscored Northeastern 22-2 in transition and 17-0 on turnovers, while causing 16 turnovers. Butler's leading scorer Kellen Dunham (16.8 points per game) figures to make Grant work on both ends.
Butler turned the ball over only five times against Texas and held the Longhorns to 33.3% shooting from the floor. They are a good defensive team that brings a "lunch-pail" mentality on both ends. On offense, they will want to be aggressive and get to the free throw line like they did 28 times against Texas, because their 34.0% shooting wasn't much better than Texas'.
Both teams lost the rebound battle in the opening round and will look to shore that up on Saturday.
Georgetown (4 seed, 21st) vs. Utah (5 seed, 8th)
As the last game of the night on Thursday, many of you probably didn't see much of Georgetown's win over Eastern Washington. The Hoyas withstood a big comeback effort against one of the highest scoring teams in the country. They will be facing a completely different animal in Delon Wright and the Utah Utes on Saturday.
While the Utes are the lower seed after on going 4-4 down the stretch, our power rankings love them as one of the best offensive and defensive teams in the country. Utah demonstrated why defensively on Thursday night by holding an upstart Stephen F. Austin team almost 30 points under their scoring average in a 57-50 win. Our incredible numberFire Live tool showed how dominant Jakob Poeltl was against the shorter Lumberjacks (18 points, 8 rebounds and 5 blocks) for the Utes.
The key matchup to watch is Wright, who had 8.2 Win Shares this season (second-best in the country) against Georgetown's leading scorer D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera (16.5 points per game, 86.1% free throw percentage) who had 25 points and 8 rebounds in the opener. A secondary matchup to watch is Poeltl against Georgetown senior center Joshua Smith (6'10", 350 pounds), who averages 10.8 points in only 20.6 minutes per game.
The Hoyas will hope to stroke the three like they did on Thursday night going 11-23 (47.8%) while Utah seeks a similar performance in defending the three 5-26 (19.2%).
North Carolina (4 seed, 9th) vs. Arkansas (5 seed, 25th)
Another 4 versus 5 matchup we really like is North Carolina, who narrowly escaped a tough Harvard team, against Arkansas, who escaped Wofford in the 5 versus 12 game, surprisingly played at Wofford's slow pace. This game figures to be fast-paced as both the Tar Heels and Razorbacks like to move it.
Frontcourt play is key as the Tar Heels lead the country in rebounding, two point field goals attempted and made, and assists. The athletic frontcourt of North Carolina features three players averaging in double figures (four overall). For Arkansas, they are essentially a two-man show, between sophomore 6'11" forward Bobby Portis (23.5 points and 11.8 rebounds per 40 minutes), who had 15 points and 13 rebounds against Wofford, and versatile 6'6" Michael Qualls (20.9 points and 7.0 rebounds per 40 minutes).
To beat the versatile Tar Heels, the high-scoring Hogs will need to pick up the scoring (and pace) as they got held 21 points under their per-game average against Wofford. They also must create turnovers (they ranked eighth overall this year) as they only forced eight against Wofford.
To win, North Carolina will have to limit their turnovers (17 against Harvard) and defend better on the perimeter as Harvard's Wesley Saunders dropped 26 on them.
Arizona (2 seed, 2nd) vs. Ohio State (10 seed, 15th)
If our metrics are right, you can throw the seeds out the window for the Arizona versus Ohio State matchup. Arizona, every bit the deep and talented powerhouse, is elite on the defensive end. The Wildcats face a really tough test in stopping Ohio State'sall-world freshman guard D'Angelo Russell.
Arizona has plenty of options to defend Russell (6.9 Win Shares), who scored 28 points against VCU's "havoc" defense in an overtime win. The most likely candidate is one of the best defenders nationally in Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Jefferson's size (6'7"), speed, and wing-span (7'1") should make every bucket tough for Russell. Jefferson contributes on offense too -- his opening-round nERD of 51.49 ranked ninth overall in the first round.
On offense, Ohio State is as consistent as you can get, but on defense, they will have a really tough task in defending Brandon Ashley (who missed 2014 NCAA Tournament with a broken foot) and Arizona's huge frontcourt as the Buckeyes are fairly small. Oft-maligned Buckeyes center Amir Williams doubled his 6.4 points per game average in the first round with 13 points. An encore will be essential.
For Arizona, the Wildcats hope to have all five starters in double-figures again like their blowout win over Texas Southern on Thursday. Arizona shot 60.4% from the field and 24-27 (88.9%) from the free throw line.
In spite of being a highly rated offensive team with above average pace, look for star point guard T.J. McConnell to slow the tempo down perhaps against the Buckeyes to take advantage of the Wildcats' size up front.