March Madness 2014 Predictions: Best Upset Picks for Every Region
Underdogs! Get your fresh hot underdogs here! The field for March Madness 2014 is set, and every fan is looking for the surprise winners to help their bracket stand out from the crowd. There are plenty of options to be had in this wide-open season, and we’ve brought you the best from around the field of 68.
One of the most impressive numbers for any team in this year’s tournament is the gaudy 31-2 record of 12th-seeded Stephen F. Austin. The Lumberjacks’ second-round opponent, Virginia Commonwealth, knows a thing or two about creating upsets, but now the Rams will have to dodge a tough one.
How will the Southland champions look to topple Shaka Smart’s Atlantic 10 powerhouse? Read on for more on this matchup and nine more of the most promising upset prospects in the 2014 NCAA tournament.
South: (14) Western Michigan over (3) Syracuse
Syracuse isn’t as bad as its recent 2-5 slide has looked, but Western Michigan is an extremely dangerous underdog.
The Broncos have two key ingredients for breaking down a 2-3 zone: a great perimeter scorer (MAC points leader David Brown) and a forward who can get to the high post and make crisp passes (Connar Tava, the WMU leader in assists).
Moreover, that description leaves out Western Michigan’s greatest asset, 6’11” senior center Shayne Whittington, who will put serious pressure on Jerami Grant and his tender back.
The extreme difficulty of preparing for a zone played at the level of Syracuse's is still a big hurdle for a MAC team, but with ‘Cuse no longer playing with its old confidence, this is not a game to ignore.
South: (15) Eastern Kentucky) over (2) Kansas
Kansas is barely 48 hours removed from getting demolished by a three-point barrage from Iowa State in the Big 12 tournament.
Eastern Kentucky actually hit 29 more three-pointers this season than the freewheeling Cyclones did, and the Colonels will be itching to outdo ISU’s 11-of-19 performance.
One player who won’t be nearly as enthused about the matchup is Jayhawks point guard Naadir Tharpe, who’s been getting torched by opposing PGs lately.
Now, not only does he have to find a way to defend Glenn Cosey (18.8 points per game, .425 three-point shooting), but he has to hold onto the ball against a defense that ranks sixth nationally in steals per game.
South: (12) Stephen F. Austin over (5) Virginia Commonwealth
First up in the ever-popular 12-vs.-5 category is Stephen F. Austin, winners of a ludicrous 28 games in a row and facing a team that used to find itself on the other end of these matchups, Shaka Smart’s VCU Rams.
Virginia Commonwealth hasn’t been as consistent defensively as usual, allowing 85 points in a blowout by Florida State and 84 to an equally punchless Georgetown offense.
That’s a great sign for the pass-happy Lumberjacks (16.6 assists per game), who have the depth to survive Smart’s exhausting havoc pressure.
Eric Prisbell of USA Today notes, via Twitter, that he's picking SFA because its "great half-court defense" will also help it go toe-to-toe with VCU's "great full-court defense."
West: (11) Nebraska over (6) Baylor
Baylor’s improved immensely over the last few weeks, but Nebraska is one of the most improved teams in the field of 68 when compared to last year’s 15-18, no-postseason squad.
After a season of grinding with Big Ten behemoths, the Huskers won’t be scared off by Baylor’s imposing front line of Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson.
Attacking the Bears defense will be a bit more problematic for Nebraska, but both Terran Petteway and senior Ray Gallegos have drastically improved their three-point shooting to become capable zone-busters.
The Huskers even have their own answer for jump-shooting center Austin in the form of 6’10” sophomore Walter Pitchford (their top long-range option at .417).
West: (12) North Dakota State over (5) Oklahoma
By power-conference standards, the Oklahoma Sooners (who don’t have a player over 6’8”) are tiny.
That takes away one edge many teams might have against similarly built North Dakota State, and Oklahoma will need some advantages against the hyper-efficient Bison offense.
NDSU is the top field-goal shooting team in the country and the 12th-best at avoiding turnovers.
No, it doesn’t have athletes at the same level as Cameron Clark or Jordan Woodard. It does have an explosive top scorer—Taylor Braun, at 18.2 points per game—and more experience than the Sooners.
"We've been through a lot together," senior Braun said at the press conference, per NDSU Athletics, after beating IPFW for the Summit League crown. "We have a special group...this means the world to us."
East: (13) Delaware over (4) Michigan State
Delaware is one of the strongest teams from any one-bid league, with a big-time center (6’9”, 260-pound Carl Baptiste) and a host of first-rate guards. That’s why the Blue Hens merit a spot here even while facing an extremely tough matchup with the Big Ten champs.
Devon Saddler and Davon Usher contribute almost 40 points per game, and even the stout perimeter defense of the Michigan State Spartans will have to be sharp to contain that duo.
The Blue Hens’ inconsistent defense is the biggest reason to expect a Michigan State victory, but even Keith Appling has his off days—witness a five-point, four-turnover night in an upset loss against Illinois—and he’s right in the crosshairs of Delaware pickpocket Jarvis Threatt (2.5 steals a night).
East: (11) Providence over (6) North Carolina
In its ACC tournament loss to Pitt, North Carolina’s defense was a sieve, allowing 51.9 percent shooting and 41 free-throw attempts.
That’s not the kind of performance that can beat Providence, which is led by one of the country’s most prolific offensive weapons: Bryce Cotton, with his 21.4 points and 5.8 assists per game.
With rebounding specialists LaDontae Henton and Kadeem Batts up front, the Friars also won’t get steamrolled by a powerful Tar Heels front line.
This game has every possibility of coming down to a one-on-one showdown between Cotton and UNC’s Marcus Paige, and while Paige is certainly capable of winning such contests, it’s far from clear that he’s the better scorer in that equation.
East: (12) Harvard over (5) Cincinnati
Few highly seeded teams are as prone to beating themselves as Cincinnati is, thanks to an offense that ranks 256th nationally in field-goal shooting.
The Bearcats defense is even better than the offense is bad, but eventually, the Bearcatts still have to score some points to win games. Scoring points isn’t extraordinarily difficult against Harvard, but preventing them can be.
The Crimson have plenty of jump-shooting options to keep shot-blocker Justin Jackson at bay, two outstanding point guards in Siyani Chambers and Brandyn Curry and just enough size and toughness to survive against physical Cincy.
Midwest: (12) North Carolina State over (5) Saint Louis
There’s no obvious explanation for Saint Louis’ sudden collapse (1-4 following a 19-game winning streak), but the Wolfpack—likely winners of a First Four showdown with Xavier—aren’t about to ask questions.
They just know that a once-impervious defense has started showing some cracks just in time for the unstoppable T.J. Warren to smash it to bits.
The Billikens offense has never been their top selling point, and an N.C. State front line of three 6’8”-or-taller forwards will make life miserable for SLU scoring leader Dwayne Evans (6’6”).
Add in hardworking freshman Anthony Barber to harass point guard Jordair Jett, and the Wolfpack have plenty of ways to supplement Warren’s usual one-man show in this matchup.
Midwest: (14) Mercer over (3) Duke
Duke can often rely on veteran leadership, but these Blue Devils start three sophomores and a freshman. There’s no way the youngsters from Durham can be as familiar with each other’s games as the five seniors who form Mercer’s starting lineup.
Those seniors helped the Atlantic Sun champs average over 79 points per game, headlined by point guard Langston Hall (14.7 points and 5.6 assists a night).
The Bears will struggle with one-on-one matchups against the likes of Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood, but strong team defense and the physical inside presence of 6’10”, 220-pound David Coursey will go a long way.