This college basketball season has been a competitive and unpredictable one, and all signs point toward that carrying over into the NCAA tournament.
While a handful of teams seem to stand a better chance at winning the national championship than others, it wouldn't be much of a stretch to suggest 15 or more teams could challenge for the title. Because of that, it stands to reason that some high seeds could be in store for major upsets in the opening rounds.
There are always at least a few shocking results throughout March Madness on a yearly basis, and 2014 should fall right in line.
With the NCAA tournament rapidly approaching, here are three highly ranked teams that will be on upset alert early in the tourney.
Leading up to the Big East tournament, there were plenty of questions about whether or not the Villanova Wildcats were for real. While Nova owned a 28-3 overall record along with a 16-2 mark in conference play, there was still some skepticism surrounding the team's ability to get the job done in big games.
On the surface, it seemed as though the Wildcats were enjoying their most successful season in decades, as evidenced by this tweet courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info:
Villanova clinched its 1st outright Big East Title since 1981-82, and has 15 Big East wins for the 1st time in school history.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 7, 2014
The regular-season Big East title that Villanova won this year was much different than any that came before it, though. The Big East is a shell of its former self, and the level of competition wasn't particularly high all season long.
Perhaps that is why it didn't necessarily come as a huge shock when the Wildcats were bounced by Seton Hall in the Big East tournament quarterfinals.
According to Numbers Never Lie, however, that is obviously a game that the Wildcats had no business losing:
Villanova: 16-2 in the Big East. Seton Hall: 6-12 in the Big East. Seton Hall just beat Villanova in the Big East tournament...— Numbers Never Lie (@ESPN_Numbers) March 13, 2014
Villanova almost certainly squandered a chance at securing a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament with that loss, but head coach Jay Wright claimed that failing to win the Big East crown was a much bigger concern, per the Associated Press.
You've all heard me say this before: This was not about 1 seeds, 2 seeds. This was about we wanted to come to Madison Square Garden and win the Big East tournament. Winning the Big East tournament would mean much more to us than a 1 seed. The NCAA tournament seedings, my belief is 1, 2, 3, it doesn't matter that much. You're going to play great teams.
Wright said all the right things after the loss, but there is no doubt that a No. 1 seed would have made for a much easier road. The Wildcats may be able to get through a round or two, but losing to Seton Hall in such disappointing fashion is going to stick with them.
Rebounding from that would represent the best coaching job of Wright's career. However, it seems unlikely at this point.
Which team is most likely to get ousted early in the NCAA tournament?
From a pure talent perspective, there are few teams in the nation that can challenge the Kansas Jayhawks. Fantastic freshman Andrew Wiggins appears to truly be coming into his own late in the season, and freshman center Joel Embiid provides a dominant presence in the paint.
Unfortunately for the Jayhawks, though, there is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding Embiid's status.
Embiid has missed Kansas' past three games with a back ailment, and the team hasn't been the same without him. In addition to a loss against West Virginia, it took overtime for the Jayhawks to vanquish Oklahoma State in the Big 12 quarterfinals.
According to Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com, Kansas head coach Bill Self anticipates being without his seven-foot center at the onset of the NCAA tournament.
Next weekend, we feel like is a longshot, but the doctors are hopeful that if Joel works hard in rehab and progresses that it is possible that he could play in the later rounds of the NCAA Tournament if our team is fortunate enough to advance.
Even amid the concern regarding Embiid's injury, Self is still confident that Embiid will make it back on the court before Kansas' season comes to a close, per Goodman.
I'm optimistic he'll play soon. He'll be back. I'm 100 percent optimistic he'll be back. We just don't know yet whether it will be this week or next week. We're not going to put him out there until the doctors say he's ready.
Whether Embiid returns or not, Kansas is in a tough spot. Playing without Embiid makes the Jayhawks far less dangerous, but playing with an Embiid compromised by injury may not be much better.
Also, the Embiid situation could adversely impact Kansas' tournament seeding, although even that seems to be up in the air at this point, according to ESPN's Jay Bilas:
On Embiid, Selection Committee Chair asks whether you consider what the team has done or project what it will do? Wait, YOU DON'T KNOW?!— Jay Bilas (@JayBilas) March 11, 2014
Wiggins is playing at a level that could potentially carry Kansas with or without Embiid, but he hasn't gotten much help from his teammates, and that will eventually doom the Jayhawks.
After starting the season 25-0, the Syracuse Orange looked like a virtual lock for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament and were being touted as the favorite to win it all as well.
Since that point, however, the Orange are 2-4. That skid includes losses to non-tournament teams in Boston College and Georgia Tech, so there is plenty of concern about Cuse's form ahead of March Madness.
There are plenty of potential reasons behind Syracuse's poor play as of late, but the most popular theory relates to injuries. The Orange struggled without sophomore forward Jerami Grant, but head coach Jim Boeheim believes that he has gotten past those issues, according to Daniel Martin of CSNWashington.com:
Jim Boeheim says DeMatha grad Jerami Grant is "back to full speed" after injury issues. Thin roster gets thinner if he's not available.— Daniel Martin (@DMartinCSN) March 10, 2014
In addition to Grant, Boeheim made mention of the fact that Syracuse suffered through a difficult stretch of their schedule, per Jeff Mills of the Winston-Salem Journal.
We weren't in a slump. Without Jerami Grant, we weren't as good as we'd like to be. We've played pretty consistently all year. ... Virtually every team in the country loses at least two or three games. Sometimes your schedule gets really hard. That's what happened to us. Overall, we've played consistently well.
The Orange have some top-end talent in the form of Grant, C.J. Fair, Trevor Cooney and Tyler Ennis, but things change significantly if any of them are compromised. Depth is a necessity during the NCAA tournament, and being without it could cut Cuse's tourney run short.
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