We had all hoped that the chalk-heavy first round meant that we would have some spectacular games in the second round, and we had a taste of that yesterday. Wisconsin/Villanova was the standout game, of course, but Gonzaga/Northwestern and a couple of other games were also excellent.
In a lot of ways, however, Saturday was just an appetizer for Sunday. Kentucky/Wichita State is the headliner, but Louisville/Michigan and Michigan State/Kansas are both high quality games between elite programs, and we have several other potentially really fun match-ups. Get ready to make a dent in your couch today.
Yesterday ATS: 4-4-0
2017 Tournament ATS: 22-20-2 (52%)
2016 Tournament ATS: 36-30-1 (55%)
2010-15 ATS: 220-167-11 (57%)
Louisville (-3.5) over Michigan: If Michigan shoots the lights out like they did against Oklahoma State, obviously they can win this game, but if the shots aren't falling at above season average rates, they don't match up well against Louisville. The Cardinals are ferocious defensively in the paint and will make it difficult for Derrick Walton to be as effective as he usually is with the dribble drive. Louisville should also be able to take advantage of Michigan's small front line on the glass. Meanwhile, Louisville is vulnerable against teams that attack and draw contact (Louisville was dead last in the ACC in defensive FTRate), but Michigan is just not that style of team.
Kentucky (-4.5) over Wichita State: This is a potential Revenge Game for 8-seed Kentucky knocking off 1-seed Wichita State three seasons ago, although none of the regulars on Wichita State's roster actually played in that game. As good as Wichita State has been, I'm worried about Kentucky's length here. Wichita State is a 40% three-point shooting team, but Kentucky's perimeter defense is good at running teams off of the three-point line (as John Calipari teams almost always are).
Michigan State (+8) over Kansas: Both of these teams had uncharacteristically good performances and surprisingly large blowouts in their first round games. This is an awfully big spread, however, against a Michigan State team that has clearly been playing their best basketball of the season over the last month, with a fully healthy and dangerous Miles Bridges, and with the development of a really nice freshman crop. In addition, Michigan State's strong defensive rebounding is going to put pressure on Kansas to hit outside shots. The Jayhawks certainly can shoot well (40.6% on threes this season), but if the shots don't fall then this is a game that they can lose.
Arkansas (+11) over North Carolina: Even if Joel Berry plays, it's unlikely that he'll be 100%. If we believe this late season Arkansas spurt (they've risen from 59th to 38th in the Pomeroy ratings over the last five weeks) then this is too large of a spread even for a fully healthy Tar Heels roster. Arkansas doesn't have any match-up advantages, but they're a solid team and I'd be surprised if they get completely trucked.
Rhode Island (+5.5) over Oregon: Defensively, Rhode Island matches up well with Oregon. The Ducks were 2nd in the Pac-12 in 3PA/FGA ratio and hit threes at a 42% clip, yet Rhode Island led the Atlantic Ten in both defensive 3PA/FGA ratio and 3P% (whichever of those you choose to believe matters). If Oregon is not scoring particularly efficiently, and with a defense that has obviously taken a significant hit without Chris Boucher, I wouldn't be at all surprised if Rhode Island wins this game outright.
Baylor (-6.5) over USC: USC has oddly been getting a lot of hype the last couple of days. I think it's because so many people really didn't see them play this season, being buried late at night and on the Pac-12 Network. And yes, they played well the last two games, but both games were decided in the final minute, and this is the same USC team that entered the NCAA Tournament having gone 2-9 vs KenPom Tier A/B teams since Christmas. Baylor's defense, and their length in particular, are a further difficulty level from either Providence or SMU. Baylor's elite rebounding (they led the Big 12 in both offensive and defensive rebounding efficiency) will challenge a USC team that was 10th in the Pac-12 in defensive rebounding rate.
South Carolina (+7.5) over Duke: I'm trying my best not to overreact to that tremendous South Carolina second half against Marquette, where they simply looked better than they've looked all season long. But my real match-up concern here is Duke's ability to handle South Carolina's pressure defense, which led the SEC in both steal and turnover rates. Duke, as talented as they are on offense, does not have a real point guard, and they will potentially struggle with turnovers. If the Blue Devils get hot behind the arc, however, I'm skeptical that South Carolina's offense will be able to repeat anything like the 1.29 PPP that they poured in against Marquette.
Cincinnati (+4) over UCLA: I picked Cincinnati to win this game outright, and so I'm going to stick with my pick here. There are three reasons for that. First of all, UCLA is overrated, as Pomeroy has this game basically a toss-up (though Sagarin has the spread closer to 4). Second, UCLA's dependence on outside shooting makes me nervous, particularly against a defense as long and athletic as Cincinnati. Third, Cincinnati is an elite offensive rebounding team (20th in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage), which could pose problems for a UCLA front line that is tall but not particularly physical. The counter-argument, of course, is that UCLA has the ability to put up points in bunches in a way that Cincinnati does not. If the Bruins get hot behind the arc, they can obviously defeat anybody.