One of the toughest things to predict in the NCAA tournament is where the major upsets will strike. Every year a couple teams that spent a large portion of the season near the top of the rankings make surprisingly early exits from the Big Dance.
Being able to identify even one of those early-round upsets is a major advantage when it comes to filling out brackets. Going overboard with upsets is not the path to success. That said, avoiding a situation where one of your Final Four teams goes out quick is crucial.
With that in mind, let's check out a trio of highly ranked squads that are in danger of failing to reach expectations during March Madness. In other words, they are the teams to triple-check before predicting them to make deep runs.
The star power of Andrew Wiggins is going to attract a lot of attention. Although the rising star has lived up to the hype for the most part by averaging nearly 17 points and six rebounds, it's the supporting cast that leaves the Jayhawks in the danger zone.
More specifically, the injury to Joel Embiid will be extremely tough to overcome if he's unavailable once the tournament gets underway. Nicole Auerbach of USA Today noted that Kansas made it clear his availability for the first weekend was doubtful:
Kansas announces that Joel Embiid is out for the Big 12 tourney and calls NCAA tourney first weekend "a longshot."— Nicole Auerbach (@NicoleAuerbach) March 11, 2014
Perry Ellis is capable of picking up some of the slack down low if Embiid remains out and Wiggins would take on a greater role offensively. But the margin for error with both of those players trying to take on even bigger roles is very thin and it doesn't help that they won't have anybody to defend the paint.
Syracuse was living on the edge for quite awhile during their 25-0 start to the season. So it wasn't a surprise when the Orange finally lost a game. The fact the first loss came against a struggling Boston College squad and proceeded to lose four out of five was unexpected, though.
Quite simply, it seemed like the entire team lost its shooting touch at the same time. Syracuse is averaging over 68 points per contest, but that number dropped to 60 over the final 10 games. Head coach Jim Boeheim said it's up to the Big Four to help the team bounce back, according to Mike Waters of Syracuse.com:
We're dependent on four guys. They mesh well together. They each play off of each other. Tyler's much better when he doesn't have to shoot all the time. He's a better player. He still can do that. When Trevor's not scoring and Jerami's out, Tyler has to score.
We need those guys to be the best team we can be.
The Orange were far more efficient on the offensive end during the first half of the season. Of course, there's always a chance they can get back on track in time for the tournament. But that's a major risk to take unless they show serious signs of life during the ACC tournament.
San Diego State
San Diego State enters the tournament as a major boom-or-bust team. The Aztecs rely heavily on their defense, which ranks second in the nation in points against per game, but a lack of scoring depth will make it difficult to make a deep run.
Which team is in the most danger of an early exit?
Xavier Thames leads the way at nearly 17 points per game. He's been in a shooting slump, though, connecting on just 32 percent of his field-goal attempts over the past eight games. And they only have one other player averaging more than nine points per game (Winston Shepard).
Having a strong defense means an explosive offense isn't necessary. Yet, for San Diego State to make a deep run, Thames will need to perform like a go-to offensive star. That hasn't been the case as of late, putting the Aztecs in danger of an early exit.