Duke vs. Arizona
Now that Kyrie Irving looks to be fully healthy and ready to play a full complement of minutes, Duke is the biggest favorite in this round. The Blue Devils are winning 82.3 percent of simulations with Smith, Singler, and Irving being projected for 49.7 points combined. Arizona’s problem in this game is its defense namely in that it doesn’t force turnovers or defend inside the three-point line. The Wildcats allow their opponents to shoot better than 50 percent inside the arc while the Dukies are 17th in the nation in 2P%. It’s just not a good match-up.
San Diego State vs. UCONN
This game is forecasted to be the biggest coin flip of the round with Connecticut winning just under 52 percent of simulations. The Aztecs had never won a tournament game before this season, and are now playing their toughest opponent of the season. They previously gave up 98 points to Jimmer Fredette over 3 games, and Kemba Walker is just a big of a scoring threat. Steve Fisher likely won’t be able to use bigger defenders like Malcolm Thomas and Kawhi Leonard against Walker either like he was against Fredette. Walker likes to attack much more off the dribble, and might be the quickest player in the nation. If SDSU isn’t able to play effective team defense to force Walker to rely on his teammates, it likely won’t advance.
Wisconsin vs. Butler
The Badgers are probably the biggest beneficiaries in the tournament from upsets. They started the tournament as the fourth favorite in the Southeast at 10 percent, but are now the most likely team to reach the Final Four out of the region at 30.8 percent. They are winning 55.6 percent of simulations against Butler, and play the kind of efficient style that just wins basketball games. The key match-up here will be between guards Jordan Taylor and Shelvin Mack, both of whom are capable of breaking out for 25+ points. Neither team is projected to turn the ball over much (16.1 combined) so every possession will be crucial in this contest.
Florida vs. Brigham Young
While Florida as the 2-seed is just the third favorite to win this region, it is still very close to its competitors at 25.5 percent. BYU is favored to win this game coming out on top in 53.8 percent of simulations with Jimmer Fredette scoring 32.2 points on average. The big thing to watch here will be BYU’s shooting against Florida’s defense. BYU is projectd to shoot just 40 percent from the field, but be +4.6 points on the free throw line. Florida meanwhile is projected to shoot a robust 48 percent from the field. The Gators have shot 52.6 percent in the tournament while hitting 14 three-pointers. If that hot shooting continues, Florida might just be able to pull away from BYU, and use its superior size to control the boards and the game. Jimmer probably needs to not only score, but to attack and get to the free throw line to get Florida’s big men in foul trouble. Chandler Parsons has been dominant without scoring much notching 17 points, 12 rebounds, and 15 assists in the two games. He will probably be the toughest match-up for the Cougars playing inside-out at 6-foot-10.
Kansas vs. Richmond
The Rams are the one true Cinderella in this tournament having won neither the regular season CAA crown nor the tournament title. They also had to beat USC just to enter the main draw. Their reward for reaching the second weekend is top-seeded Kansas which is a heavy favorite to win this game, and to win the region. The Jayhawks are winning 76.9 percent of simulations making them the second most likely team to advance to a regional final. They are also the biggest favorites to reach the Final Four at 56 percent by virtue of three double-digit seeds remaining. If Kansas were to make it to Houston it will have only had to face a 16, 9, 12, and 10/11.
Florida State vs. VCU
While this is the only game between two double-digit seeds, it could be just as competitive as those between top seeds in the other regions. The Seminoles are the favorite at 62.6 percent behind possibly the best defense remaining in the tournament. Star Chris Singleton played only 26 minutes in the first two rounds coming back from injury, but he is expected to play a much more prominent role in this game. With him, the Florida State defense gets that much tougher. The real question is if the Noles offense will be the revved up machine it was against Notre Dame, or the mediocre one from the regular season and in the opener against Texas A&M. VCU will need to continue its elevated level of play in the tournament, and keep the pressure up against FSU which is prone to turnovers.
Ohio State vs. Kentucky
Kentucky started the tournament as one of the strongest 4-seeds, but now it goes up against what appears to be the dominant team in the tournament: Ohio State. The Buckeyes have only lost twice this season, and won their previous two games by an average of 30.5 points. Of course, last year Kentucky was the dominant team winning its three tournament games by more than 25 points on average, and then lost in the regional final. Ohio State though looks to be as complete a team as there is, and is winning 58.7 percent of simulations. Neither team is particularly deep with the starting fives loaded with top-rate talent. The big difference categories are turnovers and assists. The Buckeyes are sharing the ball much better in simulations as well as taking care of the ball. They are projected to commit four fewer turnovers than the Wildcats. That gives them the likely edge in this game.
North Carolina vs. Marquette
This game looks like another showcase for freshman Harrison Barnes. He is projected for 21.3 points and 6 rebounds as the Tar Heels are winning 62 percent of simulations. North Carolina is shooting 49 percent in simulations compared to just 43 for Marquette. The Golden Eagles will need to press their projected advantage in turnovers (+4.6) to offset the superior shooting and scoring for UNC.