Thursday, March 20, 2014

Thursday's Most Likely Tournament Upsets

As a fun last-minute exercize, just to mess with your head as you're thinking about making some last minute changes to your bracket, I decided to take a look at the 16 games on the slate today and rank them in terms of their potential for upsets. I took two things into consideration when making these rankings. First, I considered the seed differential. A 9 seed beating an 8 seed or a 7 beating a 10 doesn't qualify as that big of an upset, so those games automatically dropped down my rankings. Secondly, I considered the likelihood of the upset happening. Basically, sorry Albany. Though a victory over Florida would possibly qualify as the biggest NCAA Tournament upset of all time, the likelihood of it actually happening is incredibly small, so you're going to get ranked behind Pitt-Colorado, where the 9th-seeded Panthers are actually favored over the 8th seeded Buffaloes.

1. (12) NC State over (5) St Louis
7:20pm on TNT

Statistically speaking, 12 seeds have won more than 25% of their opening round games, which basically means that at least one 12-5 upset has happened every year. NC State boasts the most dynamic scorer in the nation in TJ Warren and St Louis has lost 4 of their last 5 games. I know I keep hammering on this fact, so hopefully it sinks in -- even though St Louis won 13 games in conference play, only 3 of those wins were by more than 8 points. That's a recipie for an upset right there.

2. (12) Harvard over (5) Cincinnati
2:10pm on TNT

Harvard topped #3 seed New Mexico last year and return 5 of their top 6 scorers from that team. What makes me waiver on locking this in as the top possible upset is that Cincinnati is brutally tough on the defensive end, ranking in the top 25 in the nation in steals and blocks. Cincinnati isn't a great offensive team, but they will give Harvard's shooters problems on the defensive end.

3. (13) New Mexico State over (4) San Diego State
9:57pm on truTV

The Aztecs have a great win over Kansas on their resume and are a talented athletic group that can look like the Harlem Globetrotters at times. The only thing they lack is size, which is something New Mexico State has in bunches with 7'5" center Sim Bhullar. If the Aggies can do what New Mexico did in the Mountain West Championship game and slow down San Diego State and force them to paly a half-court game, they will have a chance to pull the upset.

4. (11) Dayton over (6) Ohio State
12:15pm on CBS

This one has a very real chance of happening. Dayton has been one of the hottest teams in the A-10 down the stretch and Ohio State has been up-and-down all season. The Buckeyes are a hard team to figure out - sometimes they look like one of the best in the Big Ten when they are executing efficiently on offense and getting steals on defense (like in their 18-point comeback against Nebraska) and other times they look totally outmatched (like when they got down to 18 against Nebraska). This game is in Buffalo and you have to believe Dayton will be fired up to take on their in-state rivals.

5. (13) Manhattan over (4) Louisville
9:50pm on TNT

If you're planning on staying up late tonight, be prepared to crap your pants when Manhattan keeps it close against Louisville. The Jaspers are coached by Rick Pitino's former assistant Steve Masiello who has molded Manhattan's game after Pitino's style of coaching. Both teams will press and both teams can score in transition. This has the feel of an up-and-down game that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Ultimately, Louisville is the bettter team, but don't be surprised if this one stays close for a while.

6. (12) North Dakota State over (5) Oklahoma
7:27pm on truTV

Oklahoma quietly finished in 2nd place in the Big XII this year, but in North Dakota State they draw the best shooting team in the nation (51% FG%). If the Sooners aren't tight on the defensive end, they could wind up in a shootout with the Bison (which wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, as Oklahoma is 7th in the nation in scoring). Both teams can score and both will go 8 or 9 players deep on their bench, so this is another one that could come down to the wire. As we know from tournaments past, never give an underdog a shot to win at the buzzer, or magical things will happen.

7. (14) Western Michigan over (3) Syracuse
2:45pm on CBS

This one is entirely dependent on which Syracuse team shows up for the Big Dance. Will it be the one that rattled off 25 straight wins to start the season and was the #1 ranked team in the nation? Or will it be the one that lost home games to Boston College and Georgia Tech? Western Michigan has a great inside-out duo of Shayne Whittington (16.3 PPG, 9.1 RPG) and guard David Brown (19.4 PPG). Syracuse's zone presents a tough matchup for anyone and if the Orange get back to form with Ennis driving, Cooney getting open looks from deep, Fair creating his own shots, and the Grant/Christmas/Keita trio dominating the inside, they are going to be a tough team to beat.

8. (10) Arizona State over (7) Texas
9:40pm on CBS

These are two incredibly evenly matched teams, so it would be hard to call this one an "upset." Both teams like to bang on the inside and have shot-blockers and rebounders that can be game-changers. This is probably one of the most literal "toss-up" games, so it's hard to call a 50-50 game much of an "upset" (especially given the closeness in seeding) which is why this falls right in the middle of the list.

9. (10) St Joseph's over (7) Connecticut
6:55pm on TBS

Yesterday was the Feast Day of Saint Joseph. Today, in all likelihood, will be a feast day for UConn. Even though St Joe's won the A-10 tournament, I have a hard time seeing them handling the defensive pressure that UConn will put on them. The Hawks had an answer for VCU's press, but UConn's length and athleticism on the defensive end is something else entirely.

10. (15) Milwaukee over (2) Villanova
9:25pm on TBS

This ranks so highly because I really don't know what to make of Villanova. I thought they were one of the top teams in the nation (and the committee did too, giving them the #5 overall seed in the tournament), but their loss to Seton Hall in the opening round of the Big East Tournament scares me. Milwaukee is hot and essentially playing with house money right now after beating top-seeded Green Bay in the Horizon league semi-finals and Wright State in the title game. No one expected the Panthers to rise from their 5th place finish in the regular season to win the conference title, and Villanova has been known to struggle in tournament openers before (see: Robert Morris).

11. (13) Delaware over (4) Michigan State
4:40pm on TNT

Sparty finally got everyone healthy and looked like the dominant team that started the season when they ran through the Big Ten Tournament. Delaware was the best team in the CAA all season and has a trio of scorers that can cause problems for any team in Devon Saddler (19.7 PPG), Davon Usher (19.4 PPG) and Jarvis Threatt (18.1 PPG). The Blue Hens play fast and can score, so they have a chance to keep it close against Michigan State, but ultimately Sparty is just better.

12. (9) Pittsburgh over (8) Colorado
1:40pm on TBS

You might be wondering why this game is so far down the list when Pitt is favored to win. As I said at the outset, seeding differential played a factor in my rankings, so I'm not saying that this is an unlikely upset (far from it, I fully expect Pitt to win by double-digits) but that it really doesn't rank high on the "upset" scale.

13. (10) BYU over (7) Oregon
3:10pm on truTV

This would be somewhat surprising given that BYU just lost their best all-around player Kyle Collinsworth to an ACL injury. Collinsworth was 2nd on the team in scoring, 1st in rebounding and 1st in assists. Oregon is getting hot at the right time and should breeze through this game. BYU is one of the top scoring teams in the nation, but it's hard to say how they will adapt to life without Collinsworth on the floor.

14. (15) American over (2) Wisconsin
12:40pm on truTV

A lot of people seem down on Wisconsin, but this is a well-coached team that was as high as #3 in the nation at one point this season and finished second in the Big Ten. Wisconsin plays one of the best team games in the nation and shares the ball incredibly well. The only way American wins this is if Jesse Reed (47% from behind the arc) goes off.

15.(15) Wofford over (2) Michigan
7:10pm on CBS

The Wolverines are playing some of their best ball of the season and Wofford is...well, Wofford.

16. (16) Albany over (1) Florida
4:10pm on TBS

As I said at the outset, if this actually happened it would probably be the biggest upset in Tournament history. But it's simply not going to happen.

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