The 2014 NCAA basketball tournament promises to deliver even more madness than usual, given the parity at the top of the college basketball pyramid this year. While there are a handful of Final Four favorites, no squad stands out as a mortal lock to reach Arlington in two weeks, as the complete championship odds illustrate:
|4||San Diego St.||40-1|
|12||North Carolina St.||N/A|
|12||North Dakota St.||N/A|
|12||Stephen F. Austin||N/A|
|13||New Mexico St.||N/A|
|16||Mt. St. Mary’s||100-1|
|N/A||Field (Any Other Team)||30/1|
Source: Vegas Insider
The first two days of March Madness are among the most hectic on the sports calendar. Here is the complete schedule for every game in the opening round and round of 64:
|Date||1st Round||Time (ET)||TV|
|Tue, March 18||(16) Albany vs. (16) Mt. St. Mary's||6:40 p.m.||truTV|
|Tue, March 18||(12) NC State vs. (12) Xavier||9:10 p.m.||truTV|
|Wed, March 19||(16) Cal Poly vs. (16) Texas Southern||6:40 p.m.||truTV|
|Wed, March 19||(11) Iowa vs. (11) Tennessee||9:10 p.m.||truTV|
|Date||2nd Round||Time (ET)||TV|
|Thu, March 20||(11) Dayton vs. (6) Ohio State||12:15 p.m.||CBS|
|Thu, March 20||(15) American vs. (2) Wisconsin||12:40 p.m.||truTV|
|Thu, March 20||(9) Pittsburgh vs. (8) Colorado||1:40 p.m.||TBS|
|Thu, March 20||(12) Harvard vs. (5) Cincinnati||2:10 p.m.||TNT|
|Thu, March 20||(14) Western Michigan vs. (3) Syracuse||2:45 p.m.||CBS|
|Thu, March 20||(10) BYU vs. (7) Oregon||3:10 p.m.||truTV|
|Thu, March 20||(16) Albany/Mt. St. Mary's vs. (1) Florida||4:10 p.m.||TBS|
|Thu, March 20||(13) Delaware vs. (4) Michigan State||4:40 p.m.||TNT|
|Thu, March 20||(10) Saint Joseph's vs. (7) Connecticut||6:55 p.m.||TBS|
|Thu, March 20||(15) Wofford vs. (2) Michigan||7:10 p.m.||CBS|
|Thu, March 20||(12) NC State/Xavier vs. (5) Saint Louis||7:20 p.m.||TNT|
|Thu, March 20||(12) North Dakota St. vs. (5) Oklahoma||7:27 p.m.||truTV|
|Thu, March 20||(15) Milwaukee vs. (2) Villanova||9:25 p.m.||TBS|
|Thu, March 20||(10) Arizona State vs. (7) Texas||9:40 p.m.||CBS|
|Thu, March 20||(13) Manhattan vs. (4) Louisville||9:50 p.m.||TNT|
|Thu, March 20||(13) New Mexico St. vs. (4) San Diego State||9:57 p.m.||truTV|
|Fri, March 21||(14) Mercer vs. (3) Duke||12:15 p.m.||CBS|
|Fri, March 21||(11) Nebraska vs. (6) Baylor||12:40 p.m.||truTV|
|Fri, March 21||(10) Stanford vs. (7) New Mexico||1:40 p.m.||TBS|
|Fri, March 21||(16) Weber State vs. (1) Arizona||2:10 p.m.||TNT|
|Fri, March 21||(11) Iowa/Tennessee vs. (5) Massachusetts||2:45 p.m.||CBS|
|Fri, March 21||(14) LA-Lafayette vs. (3) Creighton||3:10 p.m.||truTV|
|Fri, March 21||(15) Eastern Kentucky vs. (2) Kansas||4:10 p.m.||TBS|
|Fri, March 21||(9) Oklahoma State vs. (8) Gonzaga||4:40 p.m.||TNT|
|Fri, March 21||(9) George Washington vs. (8) Memphis||6:55 p.m.||TBS|
|Fri, March 21||(16) Cal Poly/Texas Southern vs. (1) Wichita State||7:10 p.m.||CBS|
|Fri, March 21||(11) Providence vs. (6) North Carolina||7:20 p.m.||truTV|
|Fri, March 21||(12) Stephen F. Austin vs. (5) VCU||7:27 p.m.||TNT|
|Fri, March 21||(16) Coastal Carolina vs. (1) Virginia||9:25 p.m.||TBS|
|Fri, March 21||(9) Kansas State vs. (8) Kentucky||9:40 p.m.||CBS|
|Fri, March 21||(14) North Carolina Central vs. (3) Iowa State||9:50 p.m.||TNT|
|Fri, March 21||(13) Tulsa vs. (4) UCLA||9:57 p.m.||truTV|
Everyone loves a good upset, but the reality is that most of the Davids are squashed by Goliaths by the first weekend. Before you fill out your bracket, let's take a look at the squads most likely to advance through the opening round.
Every Top-3 Seed
No one ever really projects a top-three seed to lose their first game, but recent history suggests the odds are against all 12 teams surviving.
While top seeds are still undefeated in the first round, four other top-three seeds have lost in the opening round over the last two years, per Sports-Reference.com. Indeed, a top-three seed has been toppled by a 14 or 15 seed in three of the past four years.
Given that no one forecasted Florida Gulf Coast over Georgetown last year, or Norfolk State over Missouri in 2012, it is dangerous to call this year's crop a true lock. But as Paul Bessire of PredictionMachine.com notes, the recent opening-round chaos has been unusual:
It's ok to have all 1-4 seeds in most likely Sweet 16 (we do). Chaos relative to seed will happen early with 9-12 seeds & late with 3+ seeds— Paul Bessire (@predictmachine) March 17, 2014
If there is one team who could buck this prediction, it looks like North Carolina Central. The MEAC champions, who draw third-seeded Iowa State in the first round, are the 78th-ranked team in overall efficiency. The Eagles play excellent defense, allowing just 99.0 points per 100 possessions, and could give the Cyclones a run for their money.
Apart from that, however, it is hard to imagine any other Cinderellas toppling any of the championship contenders. Most of the top-four seeds also look formidable, with Michigan State and Louisville emerging as trendy national championship picks, but UCLA and their poor defense away from Pauley Pavilion could have some trouble against Tulsa.
Higher Seeds in the West Region
High-powered offenses characterize the West region, which boasts six of the top-20 teams in offensive efficiency. While the time-tested mantra states that "defense wins championships," shooting an underdog out of the building is a common theme of early-round blowouts.
Looking over the West quarter, it's hard to come up with many likely upsets. No. 12 seed North Dakota State is a popular pick to defeat No. 5 Oklahoma, and No. 11 Nebraska could always exploit an erratic and defensively challenged Baylor squad.
Yet the top four seeds here look safer than in other regions, so chalk should prevail on at least six of the eight first-round matchups. And as Yahoo!'s Kyle Ringo illustrates, top-seeded Arizona is as upset-proof a team as any in the entire bracket:
The Wildcats have the complete package. They’re good offensively and defensively. They’re strong on the perimeter and inside. They have good guard play from Nick Johnson and T.J. McConnell and a capable 7-footer in the post in Kaleb Tarczewski. Throw in a stellar talent like Aaron Gordon and you have the makings of a contender for the national title. One of the Wildcats’ four losses came on a last-second shot and another came in double overtime. This is the definition of a tough out.
Who will win the West Region?
Ironically, the West also has the No. 9 seed most observers see as the likeliest ninth seed to win in Oklahoma State. Given the Cowboys early-season pedigree and known NBA talent, there is little sense in designating them as true underdogs against Gonzaga simply because of seeding.
There is certainly the potential for chaos, especially if the typically potent shooting of a high seed slumps unexpectedly. Still, anything beyond one or two double-digit seed upsets would be a stretch.
At Least Two No. 12 Seeds
The 12-versus-5 seed matchup is always a popular upset special on brackets. Over the last three years, No. 12 seeds have won six of 12 matchups, per Sports-Reference.com.
This year, every No. 12 seed has emerged as a trendy upset pick. Stephen F. Austin and North Dakota State are popular selections, and the winner of the NC State-Xavier First Four contest faces a reeling Saint Louis squad that has lost four of its past five games.
But the biggest lock as a No. 12 seed might be Harvard. The Crimson are no strangers to busting brackets, upsetting third-seeded New Mexico last year. Facing fifth-seeded Cincinnati this year, simulations are projecting the game as a tight contest:
Looking for a 12-seed upset pick? Harvard has a 41% chance to beat Cincy according to BPI, best of any 12-seed.— Numbers Never Lie (@ESPN_Numbers) March 17, 2014
Though it is unlikely, it is also not inconceivable that every No. 12 seed could emerge victorious from the round of 64. And while it seems possible that one will reach the Sweet Sixteen to take on a top seed, it's also worth noting that No. 12 seeds typically do not advance beyond the round of 32:
8) Upsets: With that said, only pick one 12 seed to make it to the Sweet 16. Multiple 12 seeds have only made it to the 3rd round once ('08)— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) March 16, 2014
Nevertheless, this year's group of No. 5 seeds looks more vulnerable than usual. As such, expect the No. 12 seeds to maintain their 50 percent winning clip from the last three years, with at least half of them advancing to the weekend.