Eight teams will punch their ticket to the Sweet 16 on Saturday, as round of 32 play kicks off in the 2019 NCAA tournament. There is no shortage of storylines.
The teams taking the court on Saturday are the ones that advanced on Thursday. Go read Mike Rutherford’s full wrap-up of day one of March Madness if you missed anything. It includes the three best games, three biggest disappointments, five cheers and jeers, and the best dunks and quotes from the opening day of the tournament.
The round of the 32 matchups on Saturday offer even more intrigue. These are five questions that will determine the day.
Can Wofford shock Kentucky without P.J. Washington?
Kentucky obliterated No. 15 seed Abilene Christian in its opening round matchup without star forward P.J. Washington, who was a surprise injury scratch after spraining his foot. Things will not be so easy against Wofford in the round of 32, because Wofford is really good.
The No. 7 seed Terriers took care of business against Seton Hall in round one, the same Pirates team that upset Kentucky in overtime on a neutral court in Dec. Wofford may be fighting out of the Southern Conference, but every metric indicates this is one of the best teams in the country:
- Wofford is No. 18 overall on KenPom’s rankings
- The Terriers’ offense is No. 9 in the country
- Wofford is a great three-point shooting team, led by star guard Fletcher Magee. Kentucky is just average at defending the three.
Kentucky has a size advantage, yes, but Cameron Jackson (6’8, 250 pounds) and Keve Aluma (6’9, 230 pounds) at least give Wofford a chance to compete in the front court. Magee splashed seven threes in his March debut. Teammates Nathan Hoover and Storm Murphy are also capable of getting hot from deep.
Without Washington’s inside-out scoring ability to serve as the primary option offensively, the Wildcats could have their work cut out for them. Wofford is no Cinderella — they’re too good for that.
Can LSU continue to win without Will Wade?
While Tennessee and Kentucky have been Final Four favorites out of the SEC all year, it was LSU who took home the league’s regular season title. The Tigers were asserting themselves as one of the most dangerous teams in the country before a school suspension for head coach Will Wade hit after heavy allegations he was caught on an FBI wiretap discussing payments to players.
LSU’s tournament opener against Yale was a mixed bag: they looked great at times, but let the Ivy League school back into the game late. On Saturday, the opponent is Maryland, a capable if erratic Big Ten team led by a stud center in Bruno Fernando.
Let’s be clear about one thing: LSU is loaded. The school got its money’s worth with that roster. Tremont Waters is a high-IQ point guard with deep shooting range who can control a game. He’s surrounded by elite athletes with positional size who fly around the court. Even still, Maryland is good enough to pull the upset.
LSU is ranked No. 20 overall on KenPom. Maryland is No. 24. The Tigers are a three-point favorite, but this game feels close.
The Tigers are one of the biggest Jekyll and Hyde teams in this field given the instability on the bench. Maryland is no pushover despite a shaky recent history in the tournament. This one could be fun.
How does Ja Morant fare against Florida State?
The entire country found out what NBA scouts have known all season on Thursday at the NCAA tournament: Ja Morant is a stud. There’s a reason Zion Williamson might be the only player drafted ahead of the Murray State point guard come June.
Morant was electric against Marquette, finishing with a triple-double (17 points, 16 assists, 11 rebounds) in the win. It’s worth noting that the Golden Eagles had been struggling entering the tournament, and lacked the defensive edge to contain the incredible raw talent of Morant. Florida State is a different story.
The Seminoles are experienced, having gone to the Elite Eight last year. They also have imposing physicality, with positional size and strength at every spot on the floor. Morant might have been able to dance around Marquette, but Florida State is going to fight back.
Can the 175-pound point guard hold up against one of the most physical teams in America? It’s easy to sleep on the Noles within a crowded SEC, but head coach Leonard Hamilton has this program turning into one no one wants to see in March.
Does Villanova’s March magic continue?
This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Villanova after losing its four best players from last year’s national championship team. While the Wildcats have indeed taken a step back, they still won Big East regular season and conference tournament. Now, they’re a win against Purdue away from crashing the Sweet 16 again.
The Wildcats still being this competent is a huge testament to head coach Jay Wright. You aren’t supposed to win conference and make the second weekend of the NCAA tournament in a rebuilding year, but Villanova is challenging those notions.
Purdue, the three-seed facing a No. 6 seed in ‘Nova, is beatable. Star guard Carsen Edwards has to do everything for the Boilermakers on offense. If he goes cold, the Wildcats could keep dancing right into the Sweet 16.
Which Kansas team shows up?
The Jayhawks were No. 1 in the preseason polls before enduring a disappointing season that included injuries, inconsistent guard play, and the mysterious late season exit of one of the team’s best scorers. Kansas didn’t even win the Big 12 in the regular season this year, which it had done 14 straight years before.
Just when we were ready to write off the Jayhawks, KU came out and and looked dominant against Northeastern in an 87-53 first round win.
The Jayhawks get Auburn today, a team that nearly choked away a win against New Mexico State amid a crazy finish in round one. The Tigers are physical and talented, but Kansas should beat them if they play their best game. The problem is no one really knows which Kansas team is going to show up.
Making the Sweet 16 would salvage an otherwise nightmare season for Bill Self by his own lofty standards. Only Bruce Pearl and the Tigers are standing in the way.
Here’s the full Saturday schedule (*game time approximated):
- East: No. 3 LSU vs. No. 6 Maryland, 12:10 p.m. (CBS)
- Midwest: No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 7 Wofford, 2:40 p.m.* (CBS)
- West: No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 10 Florida, 5:15 p.m. (CBS)
- West: No. 4 Florida State vs. No. 12 Murray State, 6:10 p.m. (TNT)
- West: No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 9 Baylor, 7:10 p.m. (TBS)
- East: No. 2 Michigan State vs. No. 10 Minnesota, 7:45 p.m.* (CBS)
- South: No. 3 Purdue vs. No. 6 Villanova, 8:40 p.m.* (TNT)
- Midwest: No. 4 Kansas vs. No. 5 Auburn, 9:40 p.m.* (TBS)