NCAA tournament: Arkansas-UNC, Notre Dame-Butler headline action-packed Saturday

The field for the Round of 32 is complete. Spoiler alert: It’s quite chalky.

Only five lower-seeded teams pulled upsets Thursday or Friday, the lowest number for the first full round since 2007. On the one hand, that made for an unusually uneventful Friday after a sizzling start Thursday. On the other hand, it means the next round is packed with intriguing matchups.

In-state foes Kansas and Wichita State, the Nos. 2 and 7 seeds in the Midwest, will meet for the first time since 1993 in a game many feel is the first realistic chance that a No. 1 or 2 seed could go down. That is, if East seventh seed Michigan State doesn’t beat the Shockers to the punch and bounce No. 2 seed Virginia for a second straight year.

But those games aren’t ’til Sunday. The first Sweet 16 berths will be decided 24 hours earlier. Let’s get primed for Saturday’s action.

Game of the day: Arkansas-North Carolina. Sick of the boring, grind-it-out, 56-55 games so prevalent in college basketball? Both the Razorbacks and Tar Heels rank in the Top 20 nationally in adjusted tempo, according to The score is much more likely to be 85-80 than 65-60. It’s also a potential breakthrough moment for Arkansas coach Mike Anderson, who last reached the Sweet 16 in 2009 while still at Missouri, and an important one for Tar Heels boss Roy Williams, whose team has not reached the Sweet 16 for an interminable (by UNC standards) three years.

Close second: Notre Dame-Butler. The Irish entered the tourney as many pundits’ darlings following their ACC tournament championship but were fortunate to survive No. 14 seed Northeastern. The sixth-seeded Bulldogs entered the tourney as a popular pick to be upset because Butler plays in the Big East and people seem unwilling to accept that the Big East is still a pretty good conference. The Bulldogs beat another ACC foe, North Carolina, early in the season, but they don’t have a superstar like Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant.


Cinderella Watch: Xavier-Georgia State. Georgia State is shaping up to be the 2015 version of Florida Gulf Coast, only instead of a coach who married a Maxim model, the Panthers’ coach is the star player’s father and he, you know, fell out of his chair. R.J. Hunter’s shot and Ron Hunter’s tumble against Baylor will likely be a March Madness highlights fixture for many years, but the 14th-seeded Panthers’ legacy will reach another level entirely if they knock off No. 6 seed Xavier to extend their stay for another week.

Matchup within a matchup: Ohio State-Arizona. No, not Thad Matta vs. his former Xavier assistant Sean Miller. It’s two stud freshmen and soon-to-be-lottery picks, Buckeyes point guard D’Angelo Russell and Wildcats forward Stanley Johnson. Russell scored 28 points against VCU. Johnson had 22 points and five rebounds against Texas Southern. You won’t see two players of this caliber square off in more than a handful of games the rest of the way.

Is this real life? Back on Nov. 28, the day after Thanksgiving, UCLA beat UAB 88-76 in the seventh-place game at the Battle 4 Atlantis. Nearly four months later, they’ll play for a spot in the NCAA Sweet 16. The Blazers entered the Conference USA tournament 16-15 before going on a run to win the league tournament. The Bruins entered Selection Sunday at 20-13 and widely considered to be NIT-bound. Now one of the two will reach the South Region semifinals.

Will Georgetown finally make it back to the second week? Head coach John Thompson III reached the Sweet 16 in 2006 and Final Four in ’07 but hasn’t made it out of the first weekend since then. He’s got a golden opportunity against a talented but offensively limited Utah team.

Can N.C. State slow down Villanova? Jay Wright’s 33-2 Wildcats have won four of their last five games by scores of 105-68 (St. John’s), 84-49 (Marquette), 69-52 (Xavier) and 93-52 (Lafayette). The Wildcats are projected to win by double digits again when they face the 21-13 Wolfpack, but the No. 8 seed has beaten Duke and won at North Carolina.

How much will Kentucky win by this round? Cincinnati has trouble scoring 60 on Tulsa, much less the 35-0 Wildcats. But those looking for some sign that the No. 1 overall seed may soon face resistance can take solace in this: The entire Midwest region held serve in the Round of 64. Maryland or West Virginia awaits next week.

But first, let’s get through Saturday.