These teams are not bringing their best into the Tourney. How much will it hurt them?
Plenty of cases can be made for the anatomy of an upset and all the great things about potential Cinderellas.
At the same time, maybe not enough of the focus goes to the other half of the upset, the losing team heading back from the NCAA Tournament with its championship dreams shattered.
Certainly, plenty of lower seeded teams are talented enough and good enough on a particular day to win, but a handful of major programs are courting an upset. With the way some of these teams finished the season, they’re practically begging to lose early.
For the teams we’re breaking down as potential upset targets, we’re looking primarily at teams seeded seventh or higher that could lose their first game or teams seeded fourth or higher that could lose in the round of 32. Why not the No. 8 seeds? The 8-9 game is practically a toss up anyway, and No. 9 seeds historically have the advantage at 56-48 all time against the No. 8s.
A quick reaction to the exercise: The South region topped by Florida may be the most chaotic, starting with the injury to Kansas’ Joel Embiid and the slump to finish the season.
Meanwhile, the West region topped by Arizona appears to have the most chalk with only one team (Baylor) on our list for an early loss.
In true NCAA Tournament fashion, then, the favorites will rule the South and the West will destroy your bracket.
SOUTH REGION (No. 1 seed Florida)
Round of 64 opponent: Eastern Kentucky
Without Joel Embiid around the rim, Kansas’ defense has been a problem, allowing 92 points to West Virginia (1.26 points per possession) and 94 to Iowa State (1.2 per possession). Eastern Kentucky is one of the better 3-point shooting teams in the field, and upsets by No. 15 seeds are far less rare than they used to be. If EKU can’t pull the mammoth upset, then the inside-out duo of Alex Kirk and Kendall Williams at New Mexico could give KU trouble.
No. 3 Syracuse
Round of 64 opponent: Western Michigan
Even before Syracuse’s first loss of the season, that shocker to Boston College, the offense for the Orange had started to slip. Since Feb. 15, Syracuse averaged less than a point per possession (95 per 100). Only Virginia Tech averaged worse during that span in the ACC. The Syracuse slump helped Virginia get a No. 1 seed and NC State claim a bid, while serving as the season highlights for Boston College and Georgia Tech. Western Michigan and either Ohio State or Dayton are plenty capable knocking out Syracuse.
No. 4 UCLA
Round of 64 opponent: Tulsa
This is perhaps the top-four seed that has received the least amount of attention this season despite Kyle Anderson’s phenomenal close to the year. Maybe it’s East Coast bias, but maybe it’s because UCLA’s most recent loss was by 18 to a Washington State team that just fired its coach. UCLA didn’t win the second leg of a Pac-12 road game this season, so the round of 32 game is just as problematic. At New Mexico and Iowa, UCLA coach Steve Alford has presided over three losses to double-digit seeds in his last four trips to the Tourney.
No. 5 VCU
Round of 64 opponent: Stephen F. Austin
In one of the most fascinating first round games, VCU faces the hottest team in the country not named Wichita State. Regardless of opponent, VCU may not be the team you remember making NCAA Tournament runs in years past. Even though the Havoc defense is still creating problems, the Rams have the lowest-rated team in offensive efficiency of the Shaka Smart era. Stephen F. Austin forces turnovers at a rate similar to VCU.
No. 6 Ohio State
Round of 64 opponent: Dayton
Ohio State finished the season with a pair of encouraging wins over Michigan State and Nebraska before a 72-69 loss to Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament. But this is also a team that lost five of six in January and dropped back-to-back games to Penn State and Indiana. The Buckeyes lack shooters, which is something Dayton has in Jordan Sibert. Incidentally, Sibert started his career at Ohio State in a signing class with Jared Sullinger, Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft.
EAST REGION (No. 1 seed Virginia)
No. 5 Cincinnati
Round of 64 opponent: Harvard
Harvard was the upset few people pegged last season when the Crimson defeated No. 3 seed New Mexico. Now, Harvard, with nearly every key player back, is one of the most trendy upset picks. If Harvard can shut down Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati has few other options to score.
No. 6 North Carolina
Round of 64 opponent: Providence
Providence is a classic case of a team that either has all the momentum after winning the Big East tournament or spent all its energy trying to get into the NCAA Tournament in the first place. The Friars have their offensive issues, but you won’t find a game with a greater disparity at the free throw line: Providence is second nationally at 78.1 percent while North Carolina is 344th at 62.5 percent.
No. 7 Connecticut
Round of 64 opponent: Saint Joseph’s
UConn is a flawed enough team to lose to the Atlantic 10 Tournament champions. Shabazz Napier can be wild with his shot, and the Huskies have been at a size disadvantage all season. St. Joe’s counters with a pair of senior 6-8 forwards in Ronald Roberts and Halil Kanacevic.
WEST REGION (No. 1 seed Arizona)
No. 6 Baylor
Round of 64 opponent: Nebraska
This may not be the time to start picking against Baylor, given that the Bears have reached the Elite Eight in the last two Tournaments in even-numbered years (while missing the Tournament in the last three odd-numbered years). But Baylor is notoriously streaky and will be facing a Nebraska team with plenty of big wins on its ledger this season. The Bears can’t neither afford center Isaiah Austin to return to one of his funks nor poor free throw shooting.
MIDWEST (No. 1 Wichita State)
No. 1 Wichita State
Round of 64 opponent: Cal Poly or Texas Southern
First off, there’s no way Wichita State will lost its game against the No. 16 seed. How the Shockers will hold up against the winner of the No. 8-9 game is another matter. Kentucky would be the more talented team on the floor if the Shockers face Big Blue in the second game, but Kansas State is a tough opponent, too, especially in the defensive end.
No. 5 Saint Louis
Round of 64 opponent: NC State
The offense has been a liability for Saint Louis all season, even as the Billikens won their first 12 games in the A-10. Saint Louis averages 1.01 points per possession and less than a point per possession in conference play. That didn’t start to bite the Billikens until late in the season when they lost four of their last four, including the A-10 tourney opener against St. Bonaventure.
No. 6 UMass
Round of 64 opponent: Iowa or Tennessee
UMass is seeded here largely because of a non-conference resume that included wins over Nebraska, New Mexico, BYU and Providence. While that’s impressive, consider UMass was inconsistent in A-10 play, going 11-7. This is a team that often struggles to find its shot, which could spell trouble against Iowa or Tennessee.