11 Tennessee vs. 6 UMass, 2:45 pm ET, CBS
Something I mentioned at some point in the last dozen posts somewhere is that each year there's been a First Four, exactly one of the winners from it has gone on to win at least another game. With NC State going down last night, it's up to Tennessee to keep that going.
From an advanced stats standpoint, this game is a mismatch in the opposite way the seeds imply. Tennessee is actually up to ninth in the KenPom ratings, while UMass is 50th. In fact, the Minutemen are easily the lowest rated team above the 8 line, with No. 37 Texas (7-seed) being the next closest. Of course the Vols are No. 338 out of 351 in the luck category, which kind of explains the 12 losses despite the top ten rating.
UMass comes in on a bit of a slide, as it hasn't defeated a team with a winning record since taking down VCU 80-75 on February 21. Plus with an offensive efficiency rank of 98th, it's not the most gifted offensive team UT has faced of late (Iowa is No. 4; Florida is No. 16). The Vols hang their coonskin hats on their defense, so this should work out for them. If they can keep UMass out of transition and stay out of foul trouble, they should win by double digits.
Then again, little has been quite that simple for this team this year.
9 Kansas State vs. 8 Kentucky, 9:40 pm ET, CBS
This game is also a mismatch in the SEC team's favor, though not as big as the other one (it's No. 17 vs. No. 43). K-State could have a bit of a home crowd feel with the game in St. Louis, but few fan bases in any sport travel as well as Big Blue Nation does.
The purple Wildcats are really not much of a balanced team. Even more than UMass is, it's a defense-first outfit. KSU was just 2-8 this year when its opponent scored at least 70 points in regulation, and its last three games heading into the Big Dance were losses where it gave up more than 70. Take those out of the record, and you're left with a team that went 18-4 when holding opponents to under 70 in regulation.
Kentucky, on the other hand, was just 5-6 this year when failing to score at least 70 in regulation. That means it was 19-4 when hitting 70 before 40 minutes are up. Clearly, that is going to be the thing to watch during this one. If the blue Wildcats can keep on pace to score at least 70, then things are looking up. If they only get to, say, 28 by halftime, it's not the end of the world, but it is definitely cause for concern.
If the Kentucky shooters can recalibrate their vision from dome to arena better than Florida's did, they will probably be all right in this one. If they can't, then "one and done" will apply to more than just Julius Randle's UK career.