Now that the conference tournaments have been played and bubbles have been burst, the NCAA tournament is finally here.
There is a lot to love about March Madness, but the potential for huge upsets may very well trump everything. As seen in the official 2014 NCAA tournament bracket, there should be plenty of opportunities for surprise winners throughout the tourney.
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The round of 64 is of particular interest since picking upsets at that juncture can give fans a major leg up in their bracket pools. Predicting an upset is never easy, but there are few better feelings than telegraphing one.
With that in mind, here are the three biggest potential round of 64 upsets to consider when filling out your bracket.
No. 12 Harvard over No. 5 Cincinnati
Even before the bracket was revealed, Harvard was a trendy upset pick. The Crimson played spoiler as a No. 14 last year when they upset No. 3 New Mexico in the first round, and they have a great opportunity to do something similar as a No. 12 against No. 5 Cincinnati this time around. Harvard dominated the Ivy League this season to the tune of a 13-1 mark along with a 26-4 overall record.
Two of Harvard's losses came against tournament teams in the form of Colorado and Connecticut, but the Crimson were very much in both of those games and kept the losing margin to single digits. Harvard enters March Madness on an eight-game winning streak, while Cincinnati has lost three of its past six contests.
Harvard boasts a spectacular coach in the form of Tommy Amaker, and it is deeper than most mid-major teams with six players averaging better than nine points per game. Although the Crimson rely heavily on team play, junior swingman Wesley Saunders can score in bunches when he needs to.
All of those factors make Harvard a nightmare matchup for Cincinnati, according to Jon Rothstein of CBSSports.com:
Very difficult opening game for Cincinnati. Harvard is patient, poised, + an excellent passing team. Bearcats are in for a fight - as usual.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 17, 2014
Cincinnati certainly can't be counted out, especially since it has one of the nation's best players in guard Sean Kilpatrick. If Harvard can find a way to hold Kilpatrick in check, though, the Bearcats don't have much ammo elsewhere in the lineup.
Depth will be the deciding factor here, and it favors the Crimson.
No. 12 NC State over No. 5 Saint Louis
NC State's 2013-14 season has been inconsistent to say the least, but the Wolfpack finally seem to be hitting their stride. They have won five of their past six contests, including a victory over Syracuse in the ACC tournament, as well as a huge win over Xavier in Tuesday night's First Four matchup.
With that win, NC State will take on No. 5 Saint Louis in a game that could very well favor the Wolfpack despite their seeding. Momentum is very much on NC State's side, and head coach Mark Gottfried believes that they are on the ascent, per Martin Rickman of SI.com.
I think the one thing that's really nice to see is our young players are really learning how to play at this level; learning how to execute and defend. And that's what you want as a coach. You want your team to keep getting better, and I think we are getting better still.
In many ways, NC State is the antithesis of Saint Louis. The Billikens lost just six games all season long and seemed poised for a potential run in the tourney. Things have gone south for Saint Louis in recent weeks, however, as it has dropped four of its past five games. The Billikens were still able to salvage a No. 5 seed, but that may be somewhat generous considering their struggles.
The combination of Dwayne Evans and Jordair Jett will help Saint Louis remain competitive, but it remains to be seen if the Billikens can stop NC State star T.J. Warren. The sophomore forward is one of the best players in the nation with averages of nearly 25 points and seven rebounds per game.
Warren's presence alone should be enough to push NC State past a Saint Louis team that has lost its way.
No. 11 Iowa/Tennessee over No. 6 Massachusetts
The Massachusetts Minutemen don't receive as much credit as they deserve for the strong 2013-14 season that they put together. UMass scored wins over quality opponents such as Nebraska, New Mexico, BYU, Providence, St. Joseph's, George Washington and VCU. Massachusetts most definitely earned a No. 6 seed, but it finds itself in a difficult position.
UMass will take on the winner of Wednesday's play-in game between No. 11 seeds Iowa and Tennessee. Not only is Massachusetts at a disadvantage in terms of not knowing which team it will face in the round of 64, but neither option is particularly appetizing. As pointed out by Dan Wolken of USA Today, both Iowa and Tennessee stand a very good chance of knocking off UMass:
UMass as a 6 will almost certainly be an underdog in Vegas to either Iowa or Tennessee.— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) March 16, 2014
Which NCAA Tournament upset is most likely to occur?
Massachusetts' play dropped off down the stretch with three losses in its final five games, although the same can be said for Iowa. The Hawkeyes enter the tournament on a 1-6 run, so they are obviously the desired opponent for UMass. Conversely, the Volunteers are playing some great basketball.
Tennessee was on a five-game winning streak before losing to No. 1 Florida in the semifinals of the SEC tournament. Although the Vols fell short against the Gators, they held a lead for much of the game and proved that they can hang with the best team in the country.
This upset pick would ideally involve Tennessee beating Iowa, but the Hawkeyes are definitely capable of beating UMass as well. Regardless of how the play-in game finishes, don't hesitate to take the No. 11 seed here.
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