The stakes get higher with each passing round, and Saturday’s slate of games has the chance 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 are in action, and the spotlight is on first-team All-Americans Jalen Wilson of Kansas and Alabama forward Brandon Miller, and potentially Houston’s do-everything guard Marcus Sasser.
Here’s the list of Saturday’s eight games ranked by how watchable they are.
No. 4 Tennessee vs. No. 5 Duke
Time/TV: 2:40 p.m. ET, CBS
A matchup of the two highest seeds of the day, the Blue Devils are playing their best basketball of the season, having rolled through the ACC Tournament and dispatching their first-round opponent Oral Roberts with relative ease, upping their winning streak to 10. But this game will be predicated on defense.
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Tennessee is capable of keeping the score low, but it also must limit Duke center Kyle Filipowski from dominating in the paint if the Vols want to advance. The Volunteers ranked third in the NCAA in scoring defense, second in field-goal percentage defense and first in three-point percentage defense. Look for maximum television exposure, especially among Duke haters if the Blue Devils find themselves down late.
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 8 Maryland
Time/TV: 9:40 p.m., TBS
There is no doubt all eyes will be on Miller, not only because he has been in the news lately, but also because he played 19 minutes in the Crimson Tide’s opening-round victory 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 led the Terps with 17 points, nine rebounds and three blocks in their win over West Virginia. If Alabama plays its A-game, this one can get out of hand early.
No. 7 Missouri vs. No. 15 Princeton
Time/TV: 6:10 p.m., TNT
Style of play sometimes matters, especially watching college basketball, but this matchup in the battle of the Tigers is intriguing because of the seeds involved. Princeton is attempting to become just the fourth No. 15 to make it past the second round, but if you are looking for offensive fireworks, there are far better options. Princeton can bog opponents down with its deliberate pace of play, but Missouri has outstanding offensive talent in Kobe Brown and D’Moi Hodge that can make that a moot point if the Tigers get rolling as they did in the second half against Utah State.
No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 8 Arkansas
Time/TV: 5:15 p.m., CBS
Arkansas is playing a No. 1 seed for the third straight NCAA Tournament, and as much good as there was against Illinois, the way the Razorbacks shot the ball simply will not work against Kansas. The Jayhawks had no issues with Howard in the first round, even without head 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 to get easy buckets, forcing the Jayhawks to defend in a way where the Razorbacks get open three-point looks. Both teams have the capability of scoring into the 80s.
No. 1 Houston vs. No. 9 Auburn
Time/TV: 7:10 p.m., TBS
The health of Sasser is the biggest concern for Houston. Sasser left the first-round game after only 14 minutes against Northern Kentucky after re-injuring his groin, leaving the Cougars in search of replacing his offensive production. The Norse shot 28% and only lost by 11, which shows you Houston had issues putting them away.
Houston’s calling card is on the defensive end, especially against guarding the three-point line, and Auburn is absolutely atrocious from deep. This is about Sasser’s availability. If he plays and is even a little bit effective, Houston wins easily. But the sportsbooks are sniffing around and giving Auburn a puncher’s chance, which makes for an intriguing prime-time matchup.
Kansas forward Jalen Wilson celebrates after a 3-pointer against Iowa State during their game at T-Mobile Center in Kansas City, Missouri, on March 10, 2023.
No. 2 UCLA vs. No. 7 Northwestern
Time/TV: 8:40 p.m., TNT
The Bruins have the talent to cut down the nets in Houston, and the way they go about their business lets you know they are well-coached and won’t self-implode. They also could care less about three-point shooting and will simply wear you down on defense. Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Tyger Campbell lead a balanced Bruins attack and freshman forward Adem Bona could return from a shoulder injury.
Northwestern doesn’t make mistakes, averaging less than 10 turnovers per game, but UCLA comes into the game ranked second in the nation in turnover margin, so something has to give. The Wildcats need to jump on UCLA early to have a shot at an upset, but that is 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 following its Big 12 championship and carried that momentum into an easy win against Colgate. Marcus Carr and Sir’Jabari Rice, who made seven three-pointers in the first round, lead the offensive talent.
Penn State is one of the best three-point shooting teams in the nation (39% from 3-point range with 13 threes vs. Texas A&M). The Nittany Lions are one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in the nation, so if they aren’t consistently hitting shots, the Longhorns – buoyed by a deep bench – will run 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 there is no doubt people are going to tune in mostly because it is the first game of the day. Furman beat Virginia on a late 3-pointer by JP Pegues with 2.2 seconds left preceded by an all-time blunder by Cavaliers guard Kihei Clark. The Paladins feature balanced scoring with four starters who average in double digits.
San Diego State was stingy on the defensive end in its win against Charleston, holding the Cougars to 32% shooting. The Aztecs weren’t much better at shooting, but this game could turn into a bore-fest if the teams can’t put the ball in the basket.
Follow Scooby Axson on Twitter @ScoobAxson
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: March Madness: NCAA Tournament games with Houston, Alabama, Kansas