Watching the underdog triumph during the NCAA men's basketball tournament is a staple of March Madness. Picking upsets in your bracket can also be the difference between you winning or losing your office pool.
Looking at this year's field of 64 teams, there are certainly plenty of opportunities for under-the-radar teams to topple powerhouses and schools that had strong regular seasons.
Here's a look at a couple of possible upset games heading into Thursday and Friday's full slate of action, which will feature 32 contests in a span of less than 36 hours.
All Your Bracket Essentials:
Midwest: (12) North Carolina State over (5) St. Louis
Date: Thursday, March 20
Time: 7:20 p.m. ET
Live Stream: March Madness Live
The N.C. State Wolfpack (22-13) had to play their way into the round of 64 but triumphed over Xavier 74-59 on Tuesday night to set themselves up with a second-round matchup against St. Louis.
Perhaps it was no surprise that ACC Player of the Year T.J. Warren played a starring role in the first-round win for N.C. State, as he scored 16 of his 25 points in the second half to help his team advance. The 6'8" 215-pound wingman is hard to stop, and in years past we've seen individuals carry teams deep into the tournament.
Fran Fraschilla of ESPN certainly thinks Warren is capable of some March Madness fireworks.
The Wolfpack barely made it to the Big Dance but finished the season with a run to the ACC tournament semifinals, beating Syracuse along the way to secure its bid to the NCAA tournament. Now that Warren and his teammates are in, they remain a big threat to whoever plays them.
Joe Giglio of The News & Observer relayed the confidence N.C. State was feeling following its victory on Tuesday.
This Wolfpack team, coach Mark Gottfried’s third, has been building and getting better as the season has progressed. Warren, the ACC’s player of the year, has shouldered the scoring load and taken ownership of the team.
He scored at least 20 points for the 18th straight game and a school-record 30th time this season. A 6-foot-8 sophomore from Durham, he also topped David Thompson’s single-season scoring record.
“That’s what you want as a coach; you want your team to keep getting better and I think we are getting better still,” Gottfried said.
In St. Louis, you have a team that struggled mightily down the stretch following a strong regular season that featured a school record 19-game win streak, propelling the program to a No. 10 standing in the AP poll at one point.
The Billikens (26-6) have won just once in their past five games and were bounced in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 conference tournament by unheralded St. Bonaventure last week.
This seems like the perfect storm for the Wolfpack to continue their late-season surge against a team that has just one victory in the past four weeks.
Midwest: (10) Arizona State over (7) Texas
Date: Thursday, March 20
Time: 9:40 p.m. ET
Live Stream: March Madness Live
This contest will feature two teams that stumbled in to the NCAA tournament but still had strong season-long resumes.
While Arizona State (21-11) went 2-5 to close out the season and ended with a blowout loss to Stanford in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals, Texas (23-10) went 3-5 to finish out the year, suffering a lopsided loss to Baylor in the Big 12 tournament semis.
When these two teams match up, I suspect it will be something of a coming-out party for ASU's Jahii Carson, who has quietly become one of the nation's top point guards for coach Herb Sendek the past two years. The 5'10" sophomore averages 18.6 points, four rebounds and 4.5 assists per game while shooting 43.5 percent from the floor and 39.1 percent from long range.
As Jack Magruder of Fox Sports Arizona noted, Carson recently got some words of wisdom from former UConn and NCAA tournament star Kemba Walker.
But Carson isn't a one-man show, as 7'2" center Jordan Bachynski helps give ASU a nice inside-out combo. The senior was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year after averaging 4.1 blocks per game. He also posted averages of 11.1 points and 8.3 rebounds per game while shooting 54.3 percent from the field.
Add in talented senior wing Jermaine Marshall (15 PPG, 44.7 FG%, 2.5 3PG), and that's a strong core for the Sun Devils. If Marshall, a senior transfer from Penn State, catches fire, this team can be tough to beat.
But Texas' track record is full of impressive victories this year, as the Longhorns went 6-8 against RPI Top 50 teams, highlighted by February wins over Kansas, Oklahoma State and Baylor.
The team also has a strong group of talented players, led by forward Jonathan Holmes (13 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 51.2 FG%), guard Isaiah Taylor (12.5 PPG, 3.9 APG, 3.3 RPG) and center Cameron Ridley (11.2 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 2.2 BPG, 55 FG%).
But with no seniors and only two juniors, the Longhorns are one of the youngest teams in the tournament. While the team's ability to crash the offensive boards is impressive and could give ASU problems, Texas is also one of the worst shooting teams in the country, statistically.
Doug Haller of The Arizona Republic gave some perspective on Texas' shooting woes this year.
The Longhorns don't shoot well. Their effective field-goal percentage (which takes into account the extra value of a made 3-pointer) is 47.3 percent, which ranks 264th nationally. In fact, all of their shooting numbers (from 2-point range, 3-point range and the foul line) rank 244th or worse.
This game will likely come down to the wire, but I suspect Carson to take his team on his back in the late stages and make a name for himself in a victory.
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