NCAA Basketball Tournament 2013: Underdogs That Will Earn Sweet 16 Upsets

Jonathan IrwinContributor IIMarch 28, 2013

Mar 24, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Florida Gulf Coast Eagles players huddle before the start of game against San Diego State in the third round of the NCAA basketball tournament at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eileen Blass-USA TODAY Sports
Eileen Blass-USA TODAY Sports

The first two rounds are over, and the NCAA basketball tournament has finally hit the rounds that actually mean something. First up, the Sweet 16.

At this point it can be assumed that the pretenders have been weeded out from the competitors. Which almost seems crazy, since five teams remain in the field whose seeding is sixth or higher.

It has certainly been a year for Cinderella stories, but can these underdogs continue to prevail throughout the weekend?

While some may fall, others will find a way to win. Turning our attention towards the Sweet 16, here's a look at some underdogs that will continue their storied tournament runs this weekend.


Of all the remaining teams in this year's tournament, none are playing more team-oriented basketball than Michigan.

No one has been able to slow down the Wolverines, who continue to find ways to spread the court. They have four players averaging double-digit points per game, three of whom have at least 20 shots in the tournament—the fourth has 19.

As a result of their selfless offense, the Wolverines have averaged 74.5 points a game in the team's first two rounds of play.

Defensively, Michigan has been dominant. Opponents have yet to score more than 60 points in a game during the tournament, with the Wolverines posting an average margin of victory of 20 points.

Michigan takes on Kansas in the Sweet 16, with both teams representing each others' biggest challenge to date in the tournament.

The Jayhawks stumbled out of the gate in the round of 64, barely escaping Western Kentucky. They seemed to have gotten things back on track in the round of 32, topping North Carolina, 70-58.

Kansas hasn't been quite as good as Michigan on offense, but it's still averaging 67 points a game.

The big difference for the Jayhawks has come on defense. Tournament opponents are averaging only 57.5 points a game, and senior center Jeff Withey has a ridiculous 22 rebounds and 12 blocks.

Even so, it's hard to overlook how good the basketball Michigan is playing has been. Don't forget the Wolverines were considered one of the top teams this year before an ugly stretch in February.

Now it looks like Michigan is back to playing like the team that opened up its 2012-13 season by going 16-0. That's a scary thought for anyone still in the tournament, especially Kansas come Friday.

The Jayhawks are bound to put up a fight, but by spreading the ball around the Wolverines have just too many weapons to be stopped.

Michigan State

There's not a huge difference between Michigan State's No. 3 seeding and Duke's No. 2, but it is still considered the underdog going into the two teams' Sweet 16 matchup.

If any team is going to be on upset alert during this round of the tournament, it has to be Duke.

Michigan State has been on a tear through its first two games. The Spartans are averaging 67.5 points a game, and most recently decimated Memphis 70-48 in the round of 32.

That was a Memphis team that averaged 74.5 points a game in the regular season, and yet it was held to less than 50 by Michigan State.

That doesn't bode well for Duke, which had one of the most efficient offenses in college basketball this season.

The Blue Devils posted a 47.7 field-goal percentage in the regular season and shot 40.3 percent from three-point range. That's translated to the tournament, with Duke averaging 69.5 points per contest through its first two games.

The real issues throughout the Blue Devils' regular season came on defense. They lacked physicality at times, which led to inconsistencies on that side of the court.

That's where Michigan State will win this game. Not only does it play tighter and more physical than Duke, but it also has the offensive efficiency to capitalize on its shutdown defense.

Through the Spartans' first two games, three different players are averaging double-digit points per game. Two of those are shooting 50 percent from the field—the third is shooting 47.4 percent.

One of those standout scorers is freshman guard Gary Harris, who is not only shooting 50 percent from the field, but is also shooting 50 from three-point range.

Michigan State has looked nearly unbeatable so far in the tournament, and its defense has been unmatched. Duke may threaten at times, but in the end there's no way the Blue Devils find a way to get past the Spartans.

Florida Gulf Coast

This year's biggest Cinderella story will continue.

No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast faces a huge challenge Friday against No. 3 Florida, but one way or another the Eagles will prevail.

FGCU has already faced bigger opponents than Florida, so it has nothing to fear from this Sweet 16 matchup.

Sure, the Gators have a stellar defense, but so did Georgetown, and it lost to FGCU, 78-68, in the round of 64. And even though San Diego State's not at quite the same level, it's no slouch on defense either.

The Aztecs fell to the Eagles, 81-71, in the round of 32.

Florida won a lot of games this season, but its biggest losses have come against opponents it was supposed to beat. If the Gators underestimate another opponent, hubris will once again lead to their downfall.

Meanwhile, the Eagles have nothing to lose. They're the underdog, no one expects them to win and yet they continue to do so and surprise team after team.

All in all FGCU is going out there and playing complete basketball. The Eagles have two players averaging over 20 points a game in the tournament and three with at least 10 total rebounds.

It hasn't always been pretty or dominant, but all of FGCU's tournament games have ended the same way: a win. That trend will continue for at least one more round this Friday.

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