Ranking the Round of 32 games by watchability

Just like Thursday’s post, but for the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Rankings are based on a combination of quality offense + closeness of the matchup + interesting players + whatever other factors I cook up.

These are not meant to be taken too seriously.

Sunday

Five Basketballs

1. (8) Loyola Chicago vs. (1) Illinois (12:10 PM ET, CBS)
2. (11) Syracuse vs. (3) West Virginia (5:10 PM ET, CBS)
3. (9) Wisconsin vs. (1) Baylor (2:40 PM ET, CBS)

This is flawless scheduling by Turner; the three best games of the day are all on the network everyone has and will all be over by about 7:30 PM ET, meaning early Monday risers probably won’t have to fret about missing an instant classic. Loyola is the second-highest rated sub-2 seed in the field behind USC and will give Illinois all they want for 40 minutes. Syracuse’s Buddy Boeheim is the hottest shooter left in the Tournament and could single-handedly burn West Virginia down. Wisconsin/Baylor is a game that sounds unappetizing on paper but is quietly a matchup of #4 vs. #12 in KenPom. Again, worth remembering just how brutal a path Baylor has even with Ohio State out of the field.

Four Basketballs

4. (6) Texas Tech vs. (3) Arkansas (6:10 PM ET, TNT)
5. (10) Rutgers vs. (2) Houston (7:10 PM ET, TBS)

Both of these are pretty good games, but neither quite have the firepower to be must-watches. The first half of Texas Tech’s game on Friday was absolutely miserable to watch, and the 26-23 halftime score felt generous. Arkansas looked a lot better in the second half against Colgate, but they were similarly brutal for a solid 15-20 minutes. Worth noting that this is the single closest projected scoring margin (~0.2 points) of this round, though, so you’re pretty likely to get some sort of a good finish. Meanwhile, Rutgers is not a fun team to watch, but Rutgers has some good storylines that helped push them to this level. Houston may also be without a great player in Dejon Jarreau, so this could be closer than expected. I’m hoping not.

Three Basketballs

6. (15) Oral Roberts vs. (7) Florida (7:45 PM ET, TruTV)
7. (13) North Texas vs. (5) Villanova (8:45 PM ET, TNT)
8. (12) Oregon State vs. (4) Oklahoma State (9:40 PM ET, TBS)

Again, brilliant decision-making by Turner; the three least-interesting games of the day are all slammed together at the end when not many people will be watching. Oral Roberts/Florida is the best of the three for the obvious reason of everyone rooting for a 15 seed to make the Sweet Sixteen. North Texas/Villanova has a similar factor to it, but I don’t know that people can rally behind UNT the same way they did Oral Roberts. Critically, Oral Roberts simply plays a much more fun style of basketball. Lastly, I think only fans of both teams will be terribly invested in Oregon State/Oklahoma State. It’s a three-basketball affair because of Cade Cunningham alone; if it had been Virginia or Purdue in this game instead, I would have considered a one-basketball rating.

Monday

Five Basketballs

1. (8) LSU vs. (1) Michigan (7:10 PM ET, CBS)
2. (5) Colorado vs. (4) Florida State (7:45 PM ET, TBS)
3. (7) Oregon vs. (2) Iowa (12:10 PM ET, CBS)

Three bangers. LSU/Michigan is the most important game of Monday because LSU is finally appearing interested on defense at the most critical time of the season. If they’re willing to invest in that for a full 40 minutes, Michigan is in serious trouble. Colorado/Florida State is just your garden-variety excellent game between a pair of very good basketball teams. Oregon/Iowa features two top 15 offenses and, strangely, an Oregon team that will be playing its very first game of the Tournament. All three are must-watches.

Four Basketballs

4. (14) Abilene Christian vs. (11) UCLA (5:15 PM ET, TBS)
5. (13) Ohio vs. (5) Creighton (6:10 PM ET, TNT)
6. (6) USC vs. (3) Kansas (9:40 PM ET, CBS)
7. (10) Maryland vs. (2) Alabama (8:45 PM ET, TNT)
8. (8) Oklahoma vs. (1) Gonzaga (2:40 PM ET, CBS)

Monday just has much more interesting action than Sunday, which isn’t the fault of the Sunday participants at all. It’s just that pretty much all of these games worked out in really good fashion. Abilene/UCLA is fascinating; the Wildcats shot horrendously against Texas but won because they forced 22 turnovers and got a zillion offensive rebounds. Ohio/Creighton is another garden-variety fun fixture between two good offenses that features multiple unique storylines. USC is the highest-rated sub-2 seed in the entire field at #8 on KenPom and is quickly closing in on actual 2-seed Iowa to be the second-highest rated team in their region. Maryland/Alabama would have been a better game with UConn in it, but it’s still pretty good. Lastly, Oklahoma/Gonzaga being the worst game of the day tells you how good this day is. Oklahoma beat four Top 10 teams this year, and Gonzaga has the very best team in the sport, but someone had to be last.

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