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March Madness Crib Notes For Saturday’s Games

The teams that play on Saturday are the survivors of the wild opening day1 of this year’s NCAA men’s tournament. No matter how many harmonic means, linear regressions and bootstrapped standard errors we applied to the data, we couldn’t find a way to make it say Saturday’s games would be as thrilling as Thursday’s were. But the data didn’t say that for Thursday either! It’s March Madness — there’s always a chance of chaos.

Read on for more of what to look for in the NCAA tournament Saturday.


South Regional

No. 5 Utah vs. No. 4 Georgetown at 7:45 p.m. on CBS

Both teams were heavy favorites in their opening games, but Utah struggled to put Stephen F. Austin away. The FiveThirtyEight model says not to worry about that — the advanced metrics love Utah because of its great defense and efficient offense. The model says Utah should win this matchup 71 percent of the time.

No. 14 UAB vs. No. 11 UCLA at 12:10 p.m. on CBS

This isn’t a basketball game, it’s a glass-slipper competition. Who will become Cinderella? The UCLA Bruins, which most talking heads said didn’t belong in the tournament, or the UAB Blazers, which put together the third-most surprising upset since 2011, according to FiveThirtyEight’s past models. This year’s model likes UCLA to win (67 percent favorite), thanks to UCLA’s strength of schedule during the regular season, and its higher offensive and defensive ratings.


West Regional

No. 10 Ohio State vs. No. 2 Arizona at 5:15 p.m. on CBS

As D’Angelo Russell goes, so go the Buckeyes. Bloodied but still breaking ankles, Russell led a furious charge as Ohio State came back against VCU to stage the upset. It won’t be so easy against Arizona, which has the third best defense in the country, according to Ken Pomeroy. That Arizona has the ninth-best offense probably won’t help the Buckeyes either; the Wildcats have an 81 percent chance of moving on to the Sweet 16.

No. 14 Georgia State vs. No. 6 Xavier at 6:10 p.m. on TNT

Somebody get Georgia State’s coach, Ron Hunter, a stool with some armrests. After his son, R.J. Hunter, hit the game-winning shot in Georgia State’s game against Baylor, Hunter tumbled out of his stool and right into a thousand highlight reels. The good news for Georgia State: Our model likes them in this game more than it did in the last (and our model gave them a decent shot on Thursday). The problem: The Panthers still only have a 30 percent chance of beating Xavier.

No. 5 Arkansas vs. No. 4 North Carolina at 8:40 p.m. on TNT

This No. 5 vs. No. 4 matchups looks like it should be a taut contest based on the seeds. But the FiveThirtyEight model thinks North Carolina is twice as likely to win as Arkansas. The Razorbacks come from a worse conference, have a poor defense and struggled against No. 12 Wofford. Then again, North Carolina didn’t have a great game against Harvard, either. But the model takes the longer view — the fundamentals favor UNC.


Midwest Regional

No. 8 Cincinnati vs. No. 1 Kentucky at 2:40 p.m. on CBS

Godspeed, Cincinnati. Take your 6 percent win probability and make the best of it.

No. 6 Butler vs. No. 3 Notre Dame at 9:40 p.m. on TBS

Butler’s already pulled off one upset this tournament, even though it beat a team with a worse seed. No. 11 Texas was slightly favored to beat the Bulldogs, but Texas flamed out as it did for most of the season. Butler has a bigger challenge ahead of it in playing Notre Dame, though. The Irish are favored to win 62 percent of the time, perhaps because of their offense, which was third in the country, according to Ken Pomeroy. Butler’s defense is also in the top-10, though, making this a matchup of contrasting strengths.


East Regional

No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 8 N.C. State at 7:10 p.m. on TBS

No team on Thursday looked better than the Wildcats, who devoured the sacrificial lambs of Lafayette. That victory — by 41 points — helped raise Villanova’s chances to win it all by 4.3 percentage points. They looked that good. N.C. State did not look great, needing a last-second shot to overcome a middling LSU squad. The model expects Villanova to run away with this one — the Wildcats are an 88 percent favorite.

Footnotes

  1. Not counting the play-in games.

Chadwick Matlin is a senior editor at FiveThirtyEight.

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