March Matchups has been loaded with surprises so far. Are more on the horizon for the next round?
We’re breaking down everything you need to know for No. 4 Providence vs. No. 1 Kansas and No. 8 North Carolina vs. No. 4 UCLA. Also, we’ve got some NBA insight for Saturday’s showdown between the Nets and the Heat.
Uncover the key stats and angles before tonight’s big tournament action.
No. 4 Providence Friars vs. No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks
Friday, March 25 | TV: TBS
Providence rolled past No. 13 South Dakota State and No. 12 Richmond, but the going gets much tougher against No. 1 Kansas. The Friars have advanced primarily on the strength of their defense. Now they’ll have to stop a Jayhawks team that’s put up a combined 162 points over their two tournament games against Texas Southern and Creighton. Kansas has a well-balanced attack, with four players averaging double figures in scoring, led by guard Ochai Agbaji and his 19.3 points per game. After two No. 1 seeds went down last night between Gonzaga and Arizona’s shocking defeats, Kansas will be on high alert to avoid the same fate.
Bolstered by their offensive depth, the Jayhawks are riding a seven-game winning streak. With the trio of Nate Watson, Al Durham and Jared Bynum, the Friars do have the scoring to keep up, but their inconsistent offense hasn’t always answered the call, like in their 85-58 loss to Creighton in the Big East tournament. Kansas’ offense has excelled in transition, ranking top 50 in the nation, so Providence will need to play half-court offense and limit its turnovers. The Friars have a chance to keep this game closer than expected but overcoming the Jayhawks’ edge in overall talent will be a tough task.
No. 8 North Carolina Tar Heels vs. No. 4 UCLA Bruins
Friday, March 25 | TV: CBS
UCLA is on upset watch against North Carolina after the Tar Heels dethroned No. 1 Baylor in a second-round overtime thriller. UNC has scored a combined 188 points over its first two tournament games, with senior forward Brady Manek erupting for a combined 54 points while averaging 50% from three-point range. The Bruins have struggled against opponents that boast a strong rebounding percentage, which could play to the Tar Heels’ advantage, due to their strong frontcourt. The Tar Heels have averaged over 40 rebounds in five of their last seven games. UCLA will have to rely on its defensive prowess and limit UNC’s second-chance opportunities to survive.
Both squads are 8-2 over their last 10 games, with the Tar Heels averaging 83.4 points per game, a cut above the Bruins’ 68.4 points per game over that same stretch. Keep a close eye on the status of UCLA forward Jaime Jaquez Jr., who sprained his right ankle in the Bruins’ win over St. Mary’s. UCLA’s second-leading scorer is listed as day-to-day, but he was able to participate in drills at Thursday’s practice, and he’ll likely attempt to play. Whether his injured ankle will hold up throughout this contest remains to be seen. Any limitations will be a big plus for North Carolina, since Jaquez is also UCLA’s leading rebounder.
Brooklyn Nets vs. Miami Heat
Saturday, March 26 | TV: NBA TV
The Heat are clinging to the top spot in the East heading into a fast-paced showdown with the Nets. Both teams are 6-4 over their last 10 games, but the Heat have won all three of their head-to-head matchups with the Nets this season. The Nets will be on two days of rest, while the Heat will be on the second game of a back-to-back, as they play the Knicks on Friday night. Heat guards Duncan Robinson and Victor Oladipo might be rested against the Knicks, which means they should be available for Saturday’s game with the Nets.
Kyrie Irving has been red-hot in the month of March, averaging 38.8 points per game over five contests. That includes 60-point and 50-point showings on the road against the Magic and Hornets, respectively, but the Heat pose a much tougher defensive test. Durant has also stuffed the stat sheet lately, topping 35 points, five assists and five rebounds over his last three games. Durant in particular has found success against Miami this season, with point totals of 31 and 25. Elsewhere on the player prop hunt, Heat center Bam Adebayo is averaging 24.3 points per game against the Nets this season.