Villanova vs West Virginia, 7:27 pm, Friday, Boston
Clearly the best game on the board, and it’s not close. The best two point guards left in the tournament, Jalen Brunson and Jevon Carter, face off. (They played on the same AAU team.) The Wildcats are 11th-best in the country at not turning the ball over; West Virginia is #2 at forcing turnovers. Something will have to give. Biggest problem for West Virginia will be defending Villanova’s elite wing, Mikal Bridges. First to 80 wins?
Michigan vs Texas A&M, Thursday, 7:37 pm, Los Angeles
If you’ve seen each team’s first two games, you’d wonder why Ken Pom has Michigan winning by three and the Wolverines favored. Other than John Beilein, I can’t find one advantage for Michigan, which is here thanks to a buzzer beater. The Aggies are better inside with Tyler Davis and Robert Williams; have an inside-outside big to handle Mo Wagner (DJ Hogg), and the teams are about even in the backcourt.
Duke vs Syracuse, Friday, 9:37 pm, Omaha
Two teams playing a 2-3 zone, but one has offensive firepower (Blue Devils, #3 in Ken Pom) and the other has scored 60, 57 and 55 points in three close, ugly games so far. Michigan State, the #4 ranked offensive rebounding team in the country, grabbed 29 vs Syracuse. Duke is ranked #1 in that category, so expect a similar number. If Grayson Allen and Gary Trent hit 3’s early, expect a blowout. Coach K will have four days to prepare for the Syracuse zone. The Blue Devils are favored by 11.5.
Texas Tech vs Purdue, Friday, 9:57 pm, Boston
The Boilermakers could still get 7-footer Isaac Haas back – if he can find a brace that’s suitable for the NCAA – but they might be better served without him. The Red Raiders have tremendous athletes – Keenan Evans and freshmen Zhaire Smith and Jarrett Culver – but Purdue can match them with Vince Edwards and Carsen Edwards. Fun subplot: When Purdue lost to Arkansas Little-Rock in the first round in 2016, the coach who beat them? Chris Beard. He’s now at Texas Tech.
Loyola vs Nevada, Thursday, 7:07 pm, Atlanta
A good story, but casual basketball fans are unlikely to be able to name a player on either team. The most well-known person from either school? Probably a Chaplain. Loyola needed shots in the final :20 to beat Miami and Tennessee, but is well-coached and fundamentally sound. The Wolfpack rallied from down 14 down to beat Texas in overtime, then staged the 2nd-biggest comeback in NCAA Tournament history, rallying from 22 down with 11 minutes left to shock Cincinnati. For the first time in this tournament, Nevada comes in as a favorite (-2.5).
Florida State vs Gonzaga, Thursday, 10:07 pm, Los Angeles
This was the run FSU was expected to make last year, when they had two NBA players in the lineup. As usual, they’re athletic, go about 10 deep, and are streaky. A shocking 18-4 run beat Xavier in the 2nd round. The bench scored 45 points. The Zags have been somewhat bizarre in the tournament – Killian Tillie, scored 72 points in the three games prior to the tournament; he’s scored nine in two games. He shot 47 percent on 3-pointers this season; he’s 0-4 in the tournament. Meanwhile, freshman Zach Norvell hit the game-winning shot to beat UNCG; then, he had 28-12 against Ohio State.
Kansas vs Clemson, Friday, 7:07 pm, Omaha
Many people expected Clemson to struggle with New Mexico State; nobody expected Clemson to blow Auburn out in a game that was never close. Clemson has the athletes and depth to hang with Kansas, and Ken Pom’s advanced stats has this a narrow Kansas 72-70 win. Yet the Vegas line is -4, and expect that to go up. Kansas will have a decided home court advantage playing three hours from home. But the Jayhawks struggle defensively, and don’t shoot free throws well (213th). They barely covered vs Penn, and didn’t vs Seton Hall.
Kentucky vs Kansas State, Thursday, 9:37 pm, Atlanta
There’s no telling if Kansas State’s leading scorer, Dean Wade, will play. But they beat Creighton and UMBC without him so … no. This is Kentucky. UK is a 5.5-point favorite, and if you’ve seen any of K-State, you know Kentucky has more talent in every facet of the game. Creighton shot 33/26 vs the Wildcats; UMBC 29/27. Kentucky, as John Calipari did vs Davidson and Buffalo, will have his players attack the rim (32 FTA vs Davidson; 23 vs Buffalo). With Atlanta being a one hour flight or five hour drive from Lexington, this one has all the makings of a blowout.