The field of 68 is finally here, and the madness will soon follow.
One of the greatest aspects of March basketball is the seemingly endless amount of upsets that tend to come out of nowhere. And with parity being such an overarching theme during the 2013-14 season, there are bound to be plenty more surprises during this year's Big Dance.
Let's take a look at some of the best candidates to upset their higher-ranked counterparts from each region.
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Updated Tournament Odds
|San Diego State||65/1|
|North Dakota State||1000/1|
|Field (Any Other Team)||100/1|
Vegas Insider (As of March 18, at 11:31 p.m. ET)
No. 11 Providence over No. 6 North Carolina
In order to beat North Carolina, a team must force the Tar Heels to shoot jump shots.
The Tarheels' dynamic sophomore Marcus Paige has developed into one of the best guards in America, and he is knocking down 39.1 percent of his 6.3 three-point attempts per game. When he gets going—read: second half—he is capable of lighting it up from the outside.
After Paige, however, the only other outside shooter on the team who plays significant minutes is Leslie McDonald, who is converting treys at a career-low 30.6 percent on the season and is just 14-of-48 (29.2 percent) on threes in his last 10 contests.
Thus, the last thing Roy Williams and Co. probably wanted to see on Selection Sunday was an opening-round matchup against a team that is capable of playing zone and making the Tar Heels—who are ranked 212th in the nation in terms if three-point percentage as a team, per bbstate.com—connect on difficult shots from the outside.
Naturally, that's exactly what they got.
Providence is ranked 94th in the country in three-point field-goal percentage defense, per bbstate.com, but the Friars are fresh off shutting down one of the most efficient offenses in the land en route to a Big East conference title.
At Madison Square Garden on Saturday, Ed Cooley's squad featured a disruptive 2-3 zone, holding Doug McDermott and Creighton to 8-of-30 shooting from the outside.
“That zone is tough,” McDermott told reporters after the game, via Yahoo! Sports' Christopher Wilson. “I don’t think we were really expecting zone. I thought we were kind of panicking almost to start the game, and rushing stuff and not making the extra passes.”
North Carolina's strengths this year have been on the offensive glass and on the defensive side of the ball, but Providence rebounds well and has plenty of offensive firepower, especially in Bryce Cotton.
March is often about getting the right matchups, but this isn't a good one for the higher-seeded Heels.
No. 10 Arizona State over No. 7 Texas
This probably isn't the big upset you're looking for, but even as a 10-over-7 pick, this is still not easy.
With Jonathan Holmes and Cameron Ridley controlling the interior, the Longhorns are tremendous on the offensive glass. Per KenPom.com (subscription required), Texas pulls down 39.4 percent of available rebounds on that end of the court, which is the sixth-best mark in the country.
As AZCentral.com's Doug Haller noted, that could spell trouble for Arizona State:
Perhaps the worst news for Arizona State on this match-up: Texas is great on the offensive boards.— Doug Haller (@DougHaller) March 16, 2014
Nevertheless, when it comes down to it, Texas is struggling, having lost five of its last eight, and Arizona State has the best player in the game in Jahii Carson, a galvanizing point guard who is capable of taking over at any moment.
Texas will respond with underrated freshman point guard Isaiah Taylor, who plays a similar style, but in what should be an even contest, I'll take the team with Carson down the stretch.
No. 13 New Mexico State over No. 4 San Diego State
The Aztecs can be absolutely dominant on the defensive side of the ball. They are seventh in the nation in defensive efficiency, per KenPom.com, and fourth in points allowed per possession, according to bbstate.com (subscription required).
That's a nice characteristic to have come March, but there's one problem: Steve Fisher's squad struggles to score the ball.
San Diego State is 104th in points per possession, and against a New Mexico State team that clogs the interior with the massive Sim Bhullar, Tshilidzi Nephawe and Renaldo Dixon, the Aztecs will have to hit outside shots.
Xavier Thames is certainly capable of doing that, but it's pretty clear this one will be a low-scoring battle. Don't be scared to take the team with the size and experience in that case.
No. 12 Stephen F. Austin over No. 5 VCU
Both teams play swarming, intense defense. As College Basketball Talk's Rob Dauster noted, they both force a lot of turnovers:
VCU and Stephen F. Austin are two of the three best turnover forcing defenses in the country. That game will be fun.— Rob Dauster (@RobDauster) March 16, 2014
This contest will feature Shaka Smart's HAVOC full-court press against Stephen F. Austin's half-court defense, which has helped the Lumberjacks to 28 straight wins.
A good way to beat VCU's full-court defense is to have guards who can protect the ball. Stephen F. Austin has that in Desmond Haymon and Jacob Parker, who limit turnovers—both rank within the top 400 nationally in turnover percentage, per KenPom.com.
Team most likely to be upset?
Another way to beat VCU is to limit the Rams' offense, which in turn makes it so they can't set up the press. As we already eluded to, Stephen F. Austin has the defensive capability to accomplish that as well.
Stephen F. Austin's resume isn't exactly something to brag about. It played Texas—its only top-50 opponent this season—in November and lost by 10. But the Lumberjacks, who were in that game until the very end, have the right makeup to frustrate VCU and make the Rams play the kind of slow game they hate.