There are still a few weeks until the 2014 NCAA tournament begins, but it’s not too early to start speculating about how the marquee event will shake out.
While it’s tough to predict the winner of the 68-team tourney and practically impossible fill out a perfect bracket, it isn’t as tall of a task to identify a few teams that are likely to be upset in the opening rounds.
Let’s take a look at a handful of squads that simply aren’t playing their best basketball this March and need to turn things around in a hurry before they are on the wrong end of a Cinderella story.
Iowa State Cyclones
The Cyclones were one of the best success stories of the early portion of the 2013-14 campaign, but they’ve recently fallen off and hit a rough patch at the worst time.
Iowa State is in the midst of a two-game losing streak and was downright embarrassed by Baylor on Tuesday night. The visiting team lost 74-61, getting to the line for only two total foul shots and giving up five three-pointers to Brady Heslip, the Bears' senior marksman.
That sort of lackluster perimeter defense has to be more concerning than ISU head coach Fred Hoiberg is letting on. However, he didn’t seem worried when he spoke with reporters after the game, according to the Associated Press, via ESPN.com: "We'll be fine. Hey, we lost two road games in the Big 12 Conference. We're not the only team that that's happened to."
What should be even more worrying for Cyclones fans is the fact that the team failed to eclipse 70 points for the first time all season.
This is a group that averages 82.4 points per game, the 10th-best mark in the entire country, and it missed that 70-point mark by a whopping nine points thanks to Baylor’s defense.
Give the Bears credit, but also look for upcoming opponents to use that blueprint to keep Iowa State from winning in the tournament and to send this ranked program home early.
Cincinnati has played extremely well for most of the 2013-14 campaign, at one point winning 15 straight games and earning recognition as one of the hottest teams in all of basketball.
However, like many schools exhausted from the long grind, the Bearcats have hit a late-season lull and what may be rock bottom.
They went on a two-game losing streak and dropped three of their last five contests heading into Thursday night’s game against Memphis.
Cincinnati’s recent performance against the UConn Huskies was also concerning. The team travelled to Storrs and lost 51-45 in pitiful fashion. The Bearcats shot just 27.1 percent from the field and turned the ball over 20 times in what was easily their worst performance of the entire year.
Head coach Mike Cronin was fuming during the contest and at one point had to be restrained by players from going off on an official, per this SportsCenter clip:
It’s not hard to understand why Cronin was about to blow his top, as his players simply couldn’t get an open shot to drop and had no semblance of ball security. He ripped into his squad after the game, telling reporters:
We’ve got a bad attitude right now. We have no humility. We’re arrogant and we got taught a lesson. Why? Accolades, people thinking that we’ve accomplished something. Man, the season’s just starting. You play bad, you’re going to lose, man. I saw it coming all week I told them in there I’m not coming out here and making excuses. I did everything I could all week. I’m frustrated with my team right now…
Cronin has every right to be disappointed with his players, as they are failing him at the wrong time. This group has to turn it around in time for the American Athletic Conference tournament; otherwise, it could be making a run toward a quick exit in the NCAA tourney.
The Bearcats have the talent to win it all, but they won’t be able to realize that if they keep shooting a pitiful percentage and failing to take care of the orange.
It takes only a small stretch of poor play to get upset in the tournament, and this team doesn’t seem to have the focus right now to avoid that.
The Bluejays’s inaugural Big East season went quite well, as the team is currently sitting at 23-6 and ranked No. 13 in the country with one game left to play.
However, should Creighton fail to win that finale against Providence, it will be riding a three-game losing streak into the conference tournament and looking ripe for an upset during March Madness.
The school’s current two-game losing streak comes down to poor shooting and ineffective defense, two key areas that must be shored up before the season is on the line during the one-and-done tournament.
According to ESPN’s John Gasaway, via Dirk Chatelain of Omaha.com, the Bluejays defense is not getting the stops it did for much of the season and is allowing opponents to score at will.
Gasaway noted that Creighton is giving up 1.17 points per possession in the last three games, which is ridiculous when you consider that this unit has held the opposition to an average of 0.85 points per possession during the 2013-14 campaign.
Shooting is also an issue for the Bluejays, as they failed to connect on even 40 percent of their field-goal attempts in losses to both Xavier and Georgetown.
It seems that these opponents have figured out a way to keep Creighton off balance. Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports tweeted that Ethan Wragge is the key to the team’s success:
The Musketeers kept the senior sniper in check as well, limiting him to just nine points on 3-of-10 shooting.
If Wragge can’t find his range and the team defense is struggling as a whole, Creighton’s tournament appearance is going to be a quick one.