Several top seeds will begin the first weekend of March Madness in danger of making an early exit.
Recent poor play and mismatches will be the downfall for some. Meanwhile, others might get caught underestimating their opponent.
Either way, it will be a bumpy ride for these teams unless they get their act together.
But before we look closer at three teams on upset alert, let’s consider the bracket.
All Your Bracket Essentials
Midwest: No. 6 Massachusetts (24-8)
Now that the Minutemen know who their second-round opponent is, they also know which team stands a good chance of upsetting them.
With a win over Iowa, 78-65 (OT), on Wednesday, Tennessee earned the right to play in the round of 64. Behind strong performances from Jarnell Stokes (18 points, 13 rebounds) and Jordan McRae (20 points), the Vols were able to make up for a slow start and run away late—the team outscored the Hawkeyes 14-1 during the overtime period.
It was enough to convince ESPN’s Nate Silver (h/t Business Insider) to hop on the Tennessee bandwagon:
Winners of six of their last seven, the Vols will present several challenges for UMass. More specifically, Tennessee has the defense—ranked No. 17 in points allowed (61.2 PPG)—and playmakers (McRae, Stokes) that can give the Minutemen fits.
Meanwhile, UMass has stumbled down the stretch—it lost three of its last five—and has a shaky defense (70.8 PPGA) that could be its downfall.
West: No. 5 Oklahoma (23-9)
While youth can be an advantage at times, when it comes to the NCAA tournament, it could also be a weakness.
That’s the dilemma the Sooners face, as they had to replace four starters from a year ago. Although the youngsters don’t have any trouble scoring (82.2 PPG), defense is another story—the team ranks No. 308 in points allowed (75.9 PPG).
With that in mind, it’s no surprise why North Dakota State is a trendy pick to pull off the second-round upset.
The team has found winning easy in recent months, winning 14 of its last 15 games. A fine-tuned offense—the Bisons are ranked No. 47 in scoring (76.4 PPG) and lead the nation in field-goal percentage (50.9)—can be credited for that.
Led by senior guard Taylor Braun (18.2 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 3.9 APG), the team has got to like its chances.
However, North Dakota head coach Saul Phillips isn’t letting that get to his players’ heads.
“Listen, we only get so many chances to have this stage, right? I mean, let’s face it, we do,” he said, per the Associated Press (h/t ESPN). “I’m going to enjoy it. This is great.”
If Oklahoma wants to avoid the upset, the team must make sure its shots fall early. More specifically, the Sooners will need to take advantage of their proficiency from behind the three-point line (8.5/game).
Otherwise, the team’s NCAA tournament run could be over before it can say “Boomer.”
South: No. 7 New Mexico (27-6)
There’s no doubt the Lobos were more deserving of a higher seed.
The team has been on a tear as of late, winning 15 of its last 17. That includes taking down the Mountain West tournament along with topping San Diego State not once, but twice.
But underrated or not, New Mexico could see its run end at the hands of its second-round opponent Stanford.
Don’t be fooled by the Cardinal’s 3-4 finish to the season. This is a very talented team.
Between Chasson Randle (18.7 PPG) and Dwight Powell (14.2 PPG, 6.9 RPG), Stanford has the scorers that can give the Lobos some trouble. The team can pound the ball down low or can knock down the perimeter shots.
The Cardinal have already proven they can handle tough opponents. The team has beaten three Top-25 opponents and played both Michigan and Arizona close.
If New Mexico isn’t careful, it could be next in line.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats, rankings and other information are courtesy of ESPN.com.
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