Upsets are a given in college basketball, but the 2014 edition of the NCAA tournament is littered with alarming upset potential thanks to the impressive parity of the current landscape.
More and more, seeds are beginning to mean less and less. There is something to be said about the conference a team plays in, but the lines between the top teams in a major conference and a mid-major continue to blur.
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This trend will only continue once the Madness truly begins in earnest with the round of 64. Tantalizing upsets litter the bracket, but three in particular are ones to mark down in permanent marker.
No. 10 Saint Joseph's Over No. 7 Connecticut
Saint Joseph's momentum is hard to ignore.
The same goes for its star players.
Fresh off an A-10 crown with recent wins over VCU (twice) and Dayton, the Hawks are a powerful adversary for any team thanks to a brutal inside-out trio.
Langston Galloway is a sharpshooter that can blow away teams on his own, but the combo of Halil Kanacevic and Ronald Roberts Jr. down low, who both average more than 10 points and seven rebounds per game, put the Hawks over the top.
Add in the fact the above names are all seniors and veteran leadership is hard to discredit on the biggest stage of them all.
Shabazz Napier and the Huskies are no pushover considering they are one of two teams that downed No. 1 Florida this year and rank 28th in three-point percentage, but that's a bad way to live against a tough interior team like St. Joe's.
Prediction: Saint Joseph's 69, Connecticut 64
No. 13 New Mexico State Over No. 4 San Diego State
It's easy to overlook the upset potential here at face value.
San Diego State is one of the nation's better teams and is certainly a bigger name in the arena of college basketball.
But New Mexico State's resume is hard to ignore, especially considering the Aggies tout a December road win over New Mexico, as USA Today's Dan Wolken hints:
Possible upset I haven’t seen anyone pick: New Mexico State over SDSU. Aggies won at New Mexico back in December.— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) March 17, 2014
That six-point victory last year is significant why? Because the Aztecs were just downed by New Mexico on March 15 and hardly escaped with a three-point victory a week before that.
Even worse, the Aztecs simply do not have the size to match up well beneath the rim thanks to the Aggies' duo of Tshilidzi Nephawe (6’10”) and center Sim Bhullar (7’5”), the latter of which weighs in at 355 pounds. He's the player Aztecs' coach Steve Fisher has dialed in on, according to Goaztecs.com:
He is that. I think they said he's the biggest player in college basketball. I think he's a legit 7'4" or whatever they say, 350 pounds. He's so vastly improved from a year ago. He's a force. He's a hard guy to maneuver around and they throw it to him early and often in that low post. They are like us. They have made more free throws than their opponents have shot, and I can see why after watching tape on him.
They throw it him and they have another 6'9", 250 pounder who looks small by comparison. He will present a challenge for us, no question.
Simply put, the Aggies will get to the line too often and dominate the paint in such a way that the Aztecs won't be able to score enough to advance.
Prediction: New Mexico State 64, San Diego State 61
No. 12 Stephen F. Austin Over No. 5 VCU
One can also take an overarching look at trends to peg down upset picks.
As ESPN's John Gasaway (subscription required) illustrates, a No. 12 taking down a No. 5 is the definition of a safe bet:
You know that 12-over-5 upset that the self-appointed "expert" in your office is talking about? It actually has a basis in fact. There have been just three tournaments over the past 29 years where the No. 5 seeds have recorded a perfect 4-0 record in the round of 64. The other 90 percent of the time at least one team seeded on the 5 line has gone home after the first game.
Stephen F. Austin may enter the tournament with the best momentum of all, which makes them the best No. 12 seed candidate to roll with. The Lumberjacks have won 28 games in a row thanks to a suffocating defense that simply swallows up the opposition, as Eric Prisbell of USA Today points out:
Glad Seth Davis stole my pick: Stephen F. Austin. Great half-court defense against VCU's great full-court defense. SFA advances.— Eric Prisbell (@EricPrisbell) March 16, 2014
To be fair, VCU is No. 1 in the nation with an average of 11.3 steals per game. But SFA is particularly careful with the rock and can counteract the swarming Rams defense to great success.
Prediction: Stephen F. Austin 68, VCU 65