The NCAA tournament captures the attention of the entire nation for a number of reasons, but none more so than the possibility of a Cinderella story.
Early-round upsets are a defining feature of the Big Dance every year, and the 2014 version will be no different. Considering how many upsets we saw during the regular season, it would actually be something of an upset itself if all the favorites won in the round of 64.
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With the upset bug in mind, let’s dig into a few predictions for the round of 64.
No. 12 Harvard over No. 5 Cincinnati
The Cincinnati Bearcats thrived all year on the back of their terrific defense, as coach Mick Cronin said, via Bill Koch of The Cincinnati Enquirer:
We have to be smart enough to know what our formula of success is. Our defense is going to have be dominant. Our mistakes are going to have to be few because Harvard is really good. When you're a top five defense in the country, you'd better be in the tournament or you're not going to advance because our offense is not going to be a top five offense all of a sudden.
While Cronin pointed out the merits of his team’s defense, he also brought up the problem with the Bearcats.
Cincinnati struggled to score all year (finishing 109th in Ken Pomeroy’s pace-adjusted offensive efficiency rankings), and Harvard brings a balanced offensive attack to the table. In fact, the Crimson feature five players who average double-figure scoring and shoot nearly 40 percent from behind the three-point line as a team.
Plus, they have the tournament pedigree to pull off an upset, as they proved last year against No. 3 seed New Mexico.
Look for Harvard to score the critical baskets down the stretch while Cincinnati falters.
No. 11 Providence over No. 6 North Carolina
North Carolina solved its consistency issues that hampered it throughout much of the season with a 12-game winning streak, but it did lose its last two games coming into the NCAA tournament.
Providence enters this matchup with plenty of momentum after beating Creighton in the Big East tournament championship game. The showdown to watch in this one will be at the point guard position, as Kevin Fishbain pointed out:
Cotton and Paige each have talented running mates in the form of LaDontae Henton and James Michael McAdoo, respectively, but this game will actually come down to the free-throw line.
The Tar Heels shot a measly 62.5 percent from the free-throw line as a team, and chances are that fans won’t feel comfortable with anyone on the stripe except for Paige in the waning moments of a close contest.
North Carolina also struggles from behind the three-point line (33.6 percent as a team).
Between missed free throws and three-pointers, the Tar Heels will leave too many points on the board to overcome the red-hot Friars.
No. 11 Iowa over No. 6 Massachusetts
We are working under the assumption that Iowa will knock out Tennessee in the First Four matchup in Dayton with this prediction.
If that were to occur, the Minutemen would be in trouble.
Iowa’s high-powered offense will be too much for Massachusetts to overcome. The Hawkeyes finished fourth in Pomeroy’s pace-adjusted offensive efficiency rankings, which is even more impressive considering the caliber of defense they faced in the Big Ten all year.
Yes, Iowa struggled down the stretch, but it will wipe the slate clean in the postseason.
Massachusetts finished 94th in Pomeroy’s offensive rankings and will not be able to score enough points to overcome Iowa’s offense.
Look for Aaron White and Roy Devyn Marble to combine for 35 to 40 points as Iowa gradually pulls away behind its formidable offense.
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