We love March Madness for many reasons, but none more than the upsets.
The fact that an unknown team from the middle of nowhere only has to beat a college basketball powerhouse once makes for a thrilling NCAA tournament. It's the Cinderella factor.
With the round of 64 set to tip off on Thursday and Friday, here we'll highlight the most threatening underdogs, teams capable of springing opening game upsets and capturing America's hearts and minds this March.
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The biggest reason why underdogs are able to pull off massive upsets in the NCAA Tournament is the three-point line, and Harvard is one of the best in America from behind the arc this season.
No. 14 Harvard will tip off its NCAA Tournament journey on Thursday night against third-seeded New Mexico in the West Region in Salt Lake City. But before you count out the Crimson against the Mountain West champs, realize that Harvard is the sixth-best three-point shooting team in college basketball.
Coached by former Duke Blue Devil Tommy Amaker, Ivy League champion Harvard is nailing more than 40 percent of its three-pointers as a team this year.
Keep an eye on guards Siyani Chambers and Laurent Rivard specifically. Those two players have combined for 114 made three-pointers this season and are each shooting better than 37 percent from downtown.
Harvard is also a phenomenal shooting team from inside the arc, however. The Crimson rank 12th in the nation this season with a field goal percentage of 48.2. The Lobos are favored but will be in serious trouble if Harvard can get to the foul line and knock down a high percentage of long-range shots as it so often does.
One of the hottest teams in college basketball heading into the round of 64 on Thursday is the Montana Grizzlies, who have won six-straight games overall.
The Big Sky Conference champions are a No. 13 seed in the East Region and will battle fourth-seeded Syracuse on Thursday night. Although Montana's best wins this season have come against Weber State (RPI 92), the Grizzlies are a legitimate threat to upend the Orange given their shooting prowess.
Montana ranks 22nd in the country in field goal percentage (47.4), 19th in three-point percentage (38.5) and fifth in free-throw percentage (76.8).
The Grizzlies will be without leading scorer Mathias Ward (14.8) the rest of the way but will still receive mighty contributions from talented upperclassmen Kareem Jamar and Will Cherry, who are each averaging roughly 14 points and four assists per game this year.
If Montana can get hot in San Jose, Calif. on Thursday and break Syracuse's zone defense, perhaps Wayne Tinkle's bunch will be marching on to the round of 32.
South Dakota State Jackrabbits
South Dakota State has already knocked off one giant this year, beating New Mexico on the road back in December behind a sensational performance from the country's fourth-leading scorer Nate Wolters.
Wolters is averaging 22.7 points, 5.8 assists and 5.6 rebounds per game for the Summit League champion Jackrabbits this year. The 6'4" senior guard is a game changer and is capable of propelling 13th-seeded South Dakota State past fourth-seeded Michigan in the South Region on Thursday.
But the Jackrabbits are much more than Nate Wolters. In addition to boasting valuable tournament experience after losing in the round of 64 a year ago, South Dakota State ranks seventh in the country in free throw percentage (76.3) and seventh in points per possession (1.14).
This is an efficient basketball team with an identity and a go-to player with a history of stepping up in big games.
Meanwhile, the Wolverines are just 6-6 over their last 12 games and are relying heavily on National Player of the Year candidate Trey Burke. Not that that's a bad thing, but if Burke struggles or Wolters finds his rhythm early, Scott Nagy's team will be in position to pull off an unthinkable upset in Michigan's backyard.
Remember, Michigan lost to 13th-seeded Ohio in the round of 64 in last year's NCAA Tournament.
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