Mercer beat Duke early on Friday to get the day off to a fantastic start, and things didn’t stop there.
From Stephen F. Austin’s miraculous four-point play at the buzzer — and the horrors of the VCU foul that set it up — to Providence’s Bryce Cotton nearly knocking off North Carolina by himself, to Memphis outlasting George Washington late, Friday provided excitement from its afternoon start to early Saturday morning finish.
Now, Friday’s winners head into Sunday matchups that promise as much intrigue as the games that created them. Here’s what you need to look out for Sunday so you don’t miss a second of crucial action, and are fully prepped for length water-cooler discussions Monday morning.
SUNDAY’S NCAA TOURNAMENT SCHEDULE
12:15: No. 2 Kansas vs. No. 10 Stanford (CBS)
2:45: No. 1 Wichita State vs. No. 8 Kentucky (CBS)
5:15: No. 3 Iowa State vs. No. 6 North Carolina (CBS)
6:10: No. 11 Tennessee vs. No. 14 Mercer (TNT)
7:10: No. 4 UCLA vs. No. 12 Stephen F. Austin (TBS)
7:40: No. 3 Creighton vs. No. 6 Baylor (truTV)
8:40: No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 8 Memphis (TNT)
9:40: No. 1 Arizona vs. No. 8 Gonzaga (TBS)
East: No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 8 Memphis in Raleigh, N.C., 8:40 p.m. (TNT)
Deep into the second half of their first-round game with Coastal Carolina on Friday night, Virginia looked ready to make dubious NCAA tournament history as the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed ever.
But with less than 10 minutes left, the Cavaliers rallied, morphing from candidates for the ultimate upset to nearly covering the 20-point spread. The victory earned them a shot at Memphis, which spoiled a NoVa-D.C. showdown when it knocked of George Washington on Friday evening.
If Virginia is to dodge the Tigers and earn a spot in its first Sweet 16 since 1995, the Cavaliers will need to slow down transition-happy Memphis, which averages 11 more points per game and double the number of steals as Virginia, and would do well to push the Cavaliers out of their patient, wear-down defense.
Midwest: No. 1 Wichita State vs. No. 8 Kentucky in St. Louis, M.O., 2:45 p.m. (CBS)
The Shockers provided the most emphatic first-round win of any of the No. 1 seeds, dismantling Cal Poly, 64-37, on Friday. In a region that features three of the last four national champions, the Shockers also caught another break as Mercer disposed of one of those perennial title threats — Duke — leaving Kentucky and Louisville as the main roadblocks to a Shockers’ region title.
Wichita State takes on the Wildcats on Sunday after Kentucky put down a late Kansas State comeback effort in the 8/9 matchup Friday night. Wildcats point guard Andrew Harrison hyperextended his elbow on a strange foul in the win, but said afterwards he plans to play Sunday no matter what. It was his brother Aaron (18 points), and forward Julius Randle (19 points) who carried Kentucky Friday, a display of the scoring depth that makes the Wildcats as likely a candidate to dispose of Wichita State as anyone.
West: No. 3 Creighton vs. No. 6 Baylor in San Antonio, T.X., 7:40 p.m. (truTV)
Perhaps this game should fall under the “upset alert” category of your viewing guide, but it’s tough to call the Big 12 runners up an upset alert against Creighton, which has lost to tournament teams San Diego State, George Washington, and Providence (twice), and lack a jaw-dropping signature win. That said, the Bluejays did knock off Baylor’s first-round opponent, Nebraska, with ease and tore apart Butler twice, all while averaging nearly 80 points per game.
That number should become relevant in Sunday’s matchup with the Bears, who average 75 points per game but have a much worse record than the Bluejays thanks in large part to the carnage of the grueling late January/early February portion of the Big 12 schedule, during which time Baylor lost eight out of 10 games at one point. They’ve steadied themselves, and whether they climb all the way back to a Sweet 16 berth will depend largely on how they handle Creighton scoring machine Doug McDermott (27.7 ppg).
East: No. 6 North Carolina vs. No. 3 Iowa State, 5:15 p.m. in San Antonio, T.X. (CBS)
It’s tough to say which outcome would be the “upset” we’re on alert for here, but regardless of any ambiguity, this should be a great game to watch. The Big 12 champion Cyclones lost seven games this season and avenged every last one of them by Big 12 tournament’s end, meaning that — at one point or another — Iowa State has beaten all comers this season.
North Carolina, on the other hand, has been up and down this year. The Tar Heels have picked up a handful of big wins, dropped a couple of surprising losses, then exited the ACC tournament after its first game before surviving a scare from Providence on Friday. Their upset work against Iowa State will be made easier by the fact that Cyclones’ third-leading scorer Georges Niang broke his foot in Friday’s win over North Carolina Central, perhaps clearing more space for the Tar Heels to operate inside than they might otherwise have found.
Still, Iowa State was the nation’s sixth-leading scoring team this season (82.9 ppg) against tough conference competition, and it will likely take a standout effort from the Tar Heels’ scorers like Marcus Paige and James Michael McAdoo for North Carolina to knock out the highest-scoring team in the tournament field.
Midwest: No. 14 Mercer vs. No. 11 Tennessee in Raleigh, N.C., 6:10 p.m. (TNT)
The winner of this game becomes a by-default upset threat when it takes on Michigan in the next round, but a berth in the Sweet 16 would be a surprise for either squad.
If Mercer can move past basking in the glory of its win over Duke, the Bears will have America behind them as they try to extend their Cinderella story past a few more midnights with a win over the Volunteers, who may actually pose a more challenging matchup to Mercer’s solid guards and experience than did Duke. Tennessee holds opponents to 61.2 points per game, which was good for top 20 in the country during the regular season. The Volunteers cruised by Massachusetts on Friday after beating Iowa to secure one of the final 64 spots. Most importantly, they beat their only common opponent with Mercer: USC-Upstate, 74-65. The Bears twice needed overtime to dispose of the Spartans with 63-60 and 78-75 (in 2OT) wins.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
Doug McDermott, Creighton: As long as the Blue Jays are alive in the tournament, McDermott will be a player to watch. The nation’s leading scorer will need another big game in the Round of 32 if the Blue Jays are to slide by high-scoring Baylor and into their first Sweet 16 since 1974. He’s scored fewer than 20 points only four times this season, 30 or more in 12 games, and has dropped 25 or more in 11 of his last 12 games.
Kyle Anderson, UCLA: The Bruins’ sophomore point guard had a quiet showing against Tulsa Friday, but he saturates stat-sheets with nearly 15 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists per game. At 6-9, he’ll have a major height advantage over every member of Stephen F. Austin’s backcourt, which features no player over 6-foot-4.
More NCAA tournament news
Contrast of styles for Virginia, Memphis
Hands-off approach for Memphis coach
Feinstein: Plenty to build on for GW after loss
Dayton stuns Syracuse, 55-53
Spartans hold off Harvard, 80-73
Gators, a No. 1 seed, roll past Pittsburgh
Michigan handles Texas with three-pointers
NCAA tournament basketball schedule
Bog: When D.C. public television showed college basketball
NCAA tournament bracket and historical database
Play The Bracket Challenge round-by-round
Photos: The best of the tournament | 68 teams, 68 facts