March Madness 2014: Upset Predictions for Round of 64 Slate

Andrew GouldFeatured ColumnistMarch 19, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - MARCH 21:  Head coach Tommy Amaker of the Harvard Crimson and Jonah Travis #24 react in the second half while taking on the New Mexico Lobos during the second round of the 2013 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at EnergySolutions Arena on March 21, 2013 in Salt Lake City, Utah.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

A March Madness bracket isn't complete without some head-turning upsets to shake things up.

Seeds are just numbers, and college basketball is so competitive that the unexpected is expected in this year's NCAA tournament. Playing your bracket super safe is not a blueprint for success.


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There's also, however, a fine line to walk. Those serious about winning don't want to pick a No. 16 seed for the sake of being bold. Loading up on underdogs will help you feel brave while filling out the bracket, but your win probability will fizzle when only a couple pan out.

The world won't gasp if any of these lower seeds advance to the round of 32. None of these outcomes would stir major shock, but they're more responsible upset picks than knocking out a No. 1 seed.


Harvard (No. 12) over Cincinnati (No. 5)

Harvard now has some experience ruining brackets, but fans shouldn't be caught off guard this time.

The Crimson's March Madness involvement has been viewed as more of a feel-good human interest story over the past three years considering they are often underdogs compared to major programs.

Then they surprised No. 3 New Mexico to earn their first NCAA tournament victory ever. After winning their fourth straight Ivy League crown, Harvard is poised to successfully crash the party again in 2014.

After notching 26 wins this season, Harvard has firmly ingrained itself as a basketball institution. Head coach Tommy Amaker shared his excitement of the program's growing success with The Boston Globe's Gary Washburn.

To have our basketball program grow and to become relevant, we’ve been thought of and talked about now as creating somewhat of a dynasty in the Ivy League. Those are wonderful things that have been bantered about. Having a chance to do some neat things on this campus is very meaningful to me.

Picking the Ivy League school is far from a no-brainer. While Harvard has yet to face a ranked opponent, Cincinnati has defeated Memphis, Louisville and UConn this season. They have a star scorer in Sean Kilpatrick, who is averaging 20.7 points per game, and a stout defense.

Then again, no upset should look great on paper. Otherwise, the selection committee messed up.

The mystical No. 12 seed is frequently prime real estate for an upset, and Numbers Never Lie's Twitter account noted that the Crimson have the highest win probability of any of them:

Harvard hasn't lost since Feb. 8, and its eight wins since then have come with a 16.8-point average margin of victory. Not bad for an underdog.


Iowa/Tennessee (No. 11) over Massachusetts (No. 6)

Picking a Round 1 victor to steam past a rested opponent is dangerous, especially before knowing who will survive the play-in game. In this case, however, Iowa and Tennessee each make an interesting upset pick.

Tennessee is my pick to stay standing after two rounds. rates the Volunteers as the nation's 11th-best team and here they are fighting for a No. 11 seed in the stacked Midwest region. They're a balanced squad ranked 29th in offensive efficiency and 15th on defense.

But Iowa is not bad either at No. 28. Its 119.9 offensive rating, per, represents the nation's fourth-highest mark. The talent dripping from each side led Sport Illustrated's Joe Sheehan to describe Tennessee vs. Iowa as a matchup much better than play-in status.

Meanwhile, Massachusetts falls to No. 50 in Ken Pomeroy's team ratings. Although its 76.1 points per game is good for 53rd, its 105.7 points per 100 possessions rates 168th.

Tennessee's 21-12 record will not impress anybody, but the top-ranked Florida Gators caused three of those shortcomings. Its other nine losses featured a narrow 4.1-point average margin of defeat.

Iowa has similarly dropped close contests against Big Ten powerhouses. The Hawkeyes fell short to Villanova and Michigan State by playing Wisconsin to four- and five-point losses.

Wait until Wednesday's game before locking anything down, but both play-in adversaries are strong upset choices.


Arizona State (No. 10) over Texas (No. 7)

This is one of the second round's biggest coin-flip games. In fact, FiveThirtyEight's forecasting model gives each squad a 50 percent chance of winning. 

When a contest looks this close, you might as well go with the lower seed in hopes of gaining a competitive advantage. People are inclined to pick the better number. 

The Sun Devils enter the NCAA tournament losers of their last three and have dropped five of their past seven. But the Longhorns didn't look strong during their last outing, allowing 12 three-pointers to Baylor in a 17-point defeat.

Arizona State's success from downtown could make or break this contest. Led by Jermaine Marshall and Jonathan Gilling, the club has converted 260 three-pointers while opponents have made 170. Meanwhile, Texas has allowed 68 more threes (237) than it has made (169). 

While the Longhorns have endured a tougher schedule, they hold a plus-4.1 point differential while ASU sits prettier at plus-6.1. The lower seed also fares better in both points scored and allowed per 100 possessions. 

Cameron Ridley and Jonathan Holmes provide Texas with an advantage on the glass, but Arizona can offset its interior disadvantage with strong perimeter shooting. Look for the Sun Devils to escape with a narrow win.


All advanced statistics courtesy of unless otherwise noted.