The stakes increase with each passing round, and Saturday’s slate of games has the opportunity to be one of the highlights of the men’s NCAA tournament.
Saturday’s winners earn a spot in the Sweet 16, and the eight games feature some of the best teams and players in college basketball. Three No. 1 seeds in contention, the spotlight is on first-team All-American Jalen Wilson of Kansas, Alabama forward Brandon Miller, and Houston prospect Marcus Sasser.
Below is a list of Saturday’s eight games, ranked in order of their watchability.
No. 4 Tennessee vs. No. 5 Duke
Time / TV: 2:40 p.m. ET, CBS
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A game between the two highest ratings of the day, the Blue Devils are playing their best basketball this season, having plowed through the ACC tournament and fielding first-round opponent Oral Roberts with relative ease, bringing their winning streak to 10. But this game is all about defense.
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Tennessee is able to keep the score down, but must also limit Duke center Kyle Filipowski’s control of the paint if the Vols want to advance. The Volunteers ranked third in the NCAA in scoring defense, second in field goal defense percentage and first in three point defense percentage. Look for maximum TV exposure, especially among the Duke haters if the Blue Devils find themselves falling behind.
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 8 Maryland
time / tv: 9:40 p.m., TBS
There’s no doubt that all eyes will be on Miller, not only because he’s been in the news lately, but also because he played 19 minutes in the Crimson Tide’s opening-round win over Texas A&M Corpus-Christi and had a goose egg in the scoring column. Maryland will need another big game from Julian Reese, who ahead of Trips with 17 points, nine rebounds and three blocks in a win over West Virginia. If Alabama plays its A game, this game can get out of hand early.
No. 7 Missouri vs. No. 15 Princeton
Time / TV: 6:10 p.m. TNT
Play style is important sometimes, especially watching college basketball, but this Battle of the Tigers rivalry is interesting because of the seeds involved. Princeton is trying to become a fourth No. 15 only to make it past the second round, but if you’re looking for offensive fireworks, there are much better options out there. Princeton can unsettle opponents with its deliberate pace of play, but Missouri has outstanding offensive talent in Kobe Brown and Demoy Hodge that could make that point moot if the Tigers strike out like they did in the second half against Utah State.
No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 8 Arkansas
Time / TV: 5:15 p.m., CBS
Top seed Arkansas is playing in its third consecutive NCAA Tournament, and as good as it was against Illinois, the way the Razorbacks hit the ball simply wouldn’t work against Kansas. The Jayhawks had no issues with Howard in the first round, even without coach Bill Self, who is still recovering from a medical issue that caused him to miss the Big 12 tournament.
To have a chance, Arkansas must push the tempo for easy buckets, forcing the Jayhawks to defend in such a way that the Razorbacks get an open three-point look. Both teams have the ability to score up to the 80’s.
No. 1 Houston vs. No. 9 Auburn
Time / TV: 7:10 p.m., TBS
Sasser’s health is Houston’s biggest concern. Sasser left the first-round game after just 14 minutes against Northern Kentucky after re-injuring his groin, leaving the Cougars looking to replace his offensive production. He shot the Norse by 28% and lost by just 11, showing Houston was having problems putting it away.
Houston’s calling card is on the defensive end, especially against three-point line guarding, and Auburn is absolutely awful from deep. This is about Sasser availability. If he plays and is a little bit touching, Houston wins handily. But sports betting advocates sniff and give Auburn a chance at the auger, making for an interesting prime-time matchup.
No. 2 UCLA vs. No. 7 Northwestern
time / tv: 8:40 p.m., TNT
The Bruins have the talent to cut through the net in Houston, and the way they go about their business lets you know they’re well-trained and won’t get blown up. They can also care less about your three-point shooting and will simply tire you out on defense. Jaime Jacques Jr. and Tiger Campbell led a balanced Bruins offense and freshman forward Adam Bona may return from a shoulder injury.
Northwestern makes no mistakes, averaging fewer than 10 turnovers per game, but UCLA is second in the country in turnover margin, so something has to offer. The Wildcats need to jump on UCLA early for a snap, but that’s easier said than done.
No. 2 Texas vs. No. 10 Penn State
Time / TV: 7:45 p.m., CBS
A popular sleeper pick to reach the Final Four, Texas is riding high after the Big 12 championship and carried that momentum into an easy win over Colgate. Marcus Carr and Sir Jabari Rice, who both hit seven three-pointers in the first round, lead the offensive talent.
Penn State is one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the country (39% from 3-point range with 13 triples vs. Texas A&M). The Nittany Lions are one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in the country, so if they’re not solid shots, the Longhorns — backed by a deep bench — will get them out of the gym.
No. 5 San Diego State vs. No. 13 Furman
time / tv: 12:10 p.m., CBS
Nothing against the two teams involved, but no doubt people will tune in mostly because it’s the first game of the day. Furman beat Virginia on a late 3-pointer by J.B. Biggs with 2.2 seconds left, preceded by a critical error by Cavaliers guard Kehey Clark. Paladins features balanced scoring with four starters averaging in double digits.
San Diego State was stingy on the defensive end in its win over Charleston, resulting in the Cougars shooting 32%. The Aztecs weren’t much better at shooting, but this game could turn into a boring fest if the teams couldn’t put the ball in the basket.
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