Teams Most Likely to Suffer an Early Upset in the 2014 NCAA Tournament

Brendan O'MearaFeatured ColumnistMarch 10, 2014

Teams Most Likely to Suffer an Early Upset in the 2014 NCAA Tournament

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    It's bracket filling time. Just about.

    Many folks look to see where the big upsets will come from in the early rounds. The coverage focusing on the first two rounds is on the illusion of major upsets. Yes, a few mid-majors topple the perennial superpowers and it adds a flair of excitement and energy to an afternoon watching ball and eating box after box of Girl Scout cookies.

    A No. 1 seed has never fallen in the first round, but No. 2 seeds have. Some records look bloated coming into the tournament, but the overall team's form may be in decline. Hello, Syracuse.

    The Orange could be resurgent or they could one of several teams that will be watching the Sweet 16 from the comforts of a dorm room. 

    The criteria for an upset will be whether a high-ranked team fails to reach the Sweet 16. Potential No. 8-9 matchups won't be considered. The focus will be on teams in the Top 25, the teams that likely will be in the top four seeds in a given region.

Syracuse

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    The Syracuse Orange started the year 25-0 and appeared to be the type of team capable of reaching deep into the NCAA tournament. Then the Orange lost. Again. Again. Again.

    It could be that the early streak exhausted the Orange or they weren't that good to begin with. Against teams in the RPI Top 25, the Orange are only 3-2

    They could steamroll through Rounds 1 and 2, but this team appears to be heading in an unsavory direction and will bow out sooner rather than later in the tourney.

Wichita State

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    A record of 32-0 is spectacular. 

    Let's break this down. The Shockers played a weak schedule. They had just one win against an RPI 25 team this season; that was on Dec. 1 against Saint Louis. They played just three games against teams ranked in the RPI Top 50. 

    Yes, the Shockers will be a No. 1 seed, but how far can they carry their regular-season momentum? And when will they lose? 

    According to Joe Lunardi's early bracket predictions, Wichita State could, conceivably, play Kansas State or Southern Methodist in the second round. Both teams have a combined record of 4-7 against teams in the RPI Top 25. That's eight more games against the toughest competition Wichita faced this year.

Duke

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    Duke is led by one of the most dynamic and explosive players in the country, this being Jabari Parker. The problem is that he's a freshman. While incredibly gifted and a lottery-pick lock, teams don't typically ride the freshman wave to a title. One exception is the 2003 Syracuse Orange led by Carmelo Anthony. 

    Duke has also been one of those teams that can implode early in a tournament. In 2012, No. 15 Lehigh beat No. 2 Duke. In 2007, Duke lost as the No. 6 seed to 11th-seeded VCU. And this year Duke has had some signature wins but some terrible losses.

    The Blue Devils lost to Clemson, Notre Dame and, most recently, to Wake Forest. 

    Coach K could lead this team deep or, just as likely, they could be heading back to Durham before the first day of spring.

Virginia

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    Virginia won the Atlantic Coast Conference this year, a remarkable accomplishment in a conference where Duke, North Carolina and now Syracuse dominate. Despite winning the ACC, UVA has some chinks in its armor that could lead to an early exit from the tournament.

    The Cavs had a sub-.500 record against teams ranked in the RPI Top 25 at 2-3. Its signature wins came against a downward-spiraling Syracuse Orange team, and it lost to Maryland Sunday in the final ACC regular-season game

    This last loss is meaningless in the grand scheme, but Maryland isn't even ranked in the RPI Top 50 and slayed the No. 5 team in the country. Perhaps Virginia will overcome and move deep into the tournament, but a loss like this shows they are vulnerable in the early rounds.

Louisville

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    Louisville, ranked 11th in the country, won the title a year ago and will look to reap some of yesteryear's glory this time around. The Cardinals tied for first in the American Athletic Conference with Cincinnati with a 15-3 record and have a 26-5 record overall.

    The Cardinals' record against RPI Top 25 teams is 1-3, and 5-2 against teams from No. 26-50. 

    Louisville has solid senior leadership with Russ Smith, but like many teams on this list, they have shown a capacity to lose to teams they should beat. Add to that the defending-champion-target on their back and Louisville could be gone early.

North Carolina

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    Which North Carolina team will show up for the tournament? The team that beat then-No.1 Michigan State, then-No. 3 Louisville or then-No. 11 Kentucky? Or the team that lost to Belmont, UAB, Texas and Miami?

    The Tar Heels have been one of the hottest teams in the country, winning 12 of its last 13 games, but like so many of these top-tier teams, they showed weaknesses at the wrong times. UNC's record against RPI Top 50 teams is just 5-4 and, most recently, it lost to Duke by 12, 93-81, at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday the March 8.

    The Tar Heels look vulnerable to a No. 13 seed or No. 9 seed, depending on where they draw.

Kentucky

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    Kentucky always garners attention, especially in the John Calipari era. He must have split his soul into seven horcruxes to get the freshmen he signed for this year. Calipari snagged five top-10 recruits for his 2013-2014 team. That's a ton of talent, but despite that, they haven't amounted to much. Not yet anyway.

    Kentucky has lost three of its last four, including a 19-point blowout loss to No. 1 Florida on Saturday.

    Because they're Kentucky, they'll get the benefit of the doubt, but it looks like this team will be all-out to reach the Sweet 16 but will likely fall short.

Creighton

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    Creighton's Doug McDermott has been a monster all four years of his career. He saved his best for last, leading the nation in scoring while eclipsing the career 3,000-point mark. He led his team to a 24-6 record and finished second behind Villanova in the Big East.

    Creighton's recent losses to Georgetown and Xavier raise questions about its ability to handle teams below its caliber. The timing of those losses—March 1 and 4—is the wrong time to be falling apart. 

    Depending on Creighton's matchup, if their opponent can successfully contain McDermott or if he's having an off night, Creighton could be susceptible to an early upset.