Each year, the NCAA tournament brings about some interesting matchups in which the underdog has a great shot at coming away with a bracket-busting win over a higher-ranked team. 2014 will be no different.
Pinpointing these potential March Madness upsets is one of the biggest ways to get your bracket started on the right track. There are plenty of reasons for these upsets—the higher-seeded team is slumping, the lower-seeded team is surging or the matchup is simply favorable to the underdog.
Taking this into consideration, let's take a look at some of the surest upsets bound to happen in Round 2 of the 2014 NCAA tournament.
South Region: No. 9 Pittsburgh over No. 8 Colorado
Generally, the No. 9 vs. No. 8 matchups are the toughest to call. This year, many look to be more straight forward, including No. 9 Pittsburgh and No. 8 Colorado in Round 2 of the NCAA tournament. While it's not a huge upset in terms of seeding, expect the underdogs to come out on top.
The Panthers put together a great late-season run thanks to the team's 22nd-ranked defense. Pittsburgh upset North Carolina in the ACC tournament, defeating the Tar Heels by a score of 80-75. This came one day after the Panthers destroyed Wake Forest to the tune of 84-55.
Pittsburgh lost in the semifinals to top-seeded Virginia but put on a strong showing, dropping the game by a score of 51-48.
It's been a different story for the Colorado Buffaloes. The team earned two Pac-12 tournament victories, but they weren't decisive ones. Colorado defeated both USC and California—not the strongest of opponents—by a score of 59-56.
When the team was finally tested against a ranked opponent, it faltered in a big way. Colorado was defeated by top-seeded Arizona by a score of 63-43 in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals.
After the loss, Colorado head coach Tad Boyle wasn't even sure if his team did enough to get into the NCAA tournament, according to his post-game press conference:
I'm hoping to get in the tournament. I'm not going to be presumptuous and say we're in, because these guys weren't with us three years ago when our team didn't get in and deserved to get in. I think we're in, but that's not for me to decide or anybody else in this room to decide.
Boyle's squad did get in; however, they will also be making a very early exit.
No. 12 North Dakota State over No. 5 Oklahoma
This upset is due to a very favorable matchup for the Bison. A very well-rounded team, they have been riding their stout defense to late-season wins and, lastly, the Summit League title.
The Bison are entering the tournament riding a nine-game winning streak. The most impressive aspect of this streak is how efficient their defense has been. Of these nine games, North Dakota State only allowed one of its opponents to score more than 60 points.
North Dakota's streak culminated with a 60-57 win over IPFW for the Summit League title. Bison head coach Saul Phillips was ecstatic about the team's NCAA tournament berth, according to his press conference with reporters:
"It's going to be a blast. It's going to be an absolute thrill ride for our guys, and I'm going to make sure it is."
It will certainly be a thrill ride for Phillips' team—especially after overtaking No. 5 Oklahoma in Round 2.
The Sooners have one of the most dynamic offenses in the nation, ranking seventh in the NCAA. Although, their 308th-ranked defense has allowed some very close games to lesser opponents.
Oklahoma hasn't played against a defense as sound as North Dakota State's for quite some time. The Sooners have been winning closely contested games in shootouts. When Oklahoma's high-powered offense falters is when the team is easily defeated.
That was on display when the Sooners were bounced early from the Big 12 tournament by the Baylor Bears. Oklahoma was put behind the eight ball early and was forced to come back by taking an abundant amount of shots from downtown—35 to be exact.
North Dakota State has the ability to give the Sooners a big case of deja vu. If the Bison defense keeps rolling the way it has been, Oklahoma's offense could be rendered ineffective early in the contest and will lead to an upset victory for North Dakota State.
No. 9 Oklahoma State over No. 8 Gonzaga
Ever since the return of Marcus Smart from his three-game suspension, the Oklahoma State Cowboys have been on an absolute tear. The team looks more balanced than ever, holding opponents to less than 70 points in five of their last seven games.
During that stretch, the Cowboys have been lighting up scoreboards reaching at least 76 points five times. They did fall to Kansas in the Big 12 quarterfinals in overtime; however, the Jayhawks have been playing some inspired basketball of late.
After the loss, Oklahoma State head coach Travis Ford explained to reporters the difficult situation in overtime against a tough pro-Kansas crowd:
They made some big shots down the stretch. Wiggins made a big shot in the corner—he played a heck of a game. They're just a heck of a basketball team, but our guys played hard. We just didn't have anything left in the tank at the end.
The Cowboys won't have it so tough in a neutral stadium against a beatable Gonzaga team.
The Bulldogs are riding a five-game winning streak entering the NCAA tournament after taking down BYU in the WCC finals. Gonzaga is a well-rounded team, but they haven't faced any opponents with a great deal of offensive firepower this year.
Gonzaga is putting up an average of 76.9 points per game this season; however, when the Bulldogs are down early, they must rely on perimeter shooting to get back in the game. This was apparent in losses to Memphis and BYU earlier this year, when the Bulldogs' comeback bid fell short after going just 2-of-16 and 4-of-18 from behind the arc, respectively.
Expect Oklahoma State to put Gonzaga in this situation in Round 2 of the NCAA tournament by starting strong and forcing the Bulldogs to play catch up.
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