NCAA Upsets: Predictions for March Madness' Best Underdogs

Adam WellsFeatured ColumnistMarch 21, 2014

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 23:  Dwight Powell #33 of the Stanford Cardinal passes after grabbling a rebound against the UCLA Bruins at Pauley Pavilion on January 23, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

Upsets and the NCAA tournament go together like Cinderella and a glass slipper. You are tuning in to see how your brackets do, sure, but also to take a look at some obscure team from a small city in the Midwest take out the powerhouse school with national title aspirations. 

Based on past experience, upsets can happen at any time. Even last year, we were this close to seeing a No. 16 seed beat a No. 1 when Southern gave Gonzaga all it could handle. 

As we enter the second full day of tournament action, there are a lot of teams generating buzz as spoilers, bracket busters and Cinderellas, but which of these underdogs is the best of the best?

Here are three lower-seeded teams that have what it takes to make a run to the Elite Eight or Final Four.


No. 9 Oklahoma State Cowboys (West Region)

LAWRENCE, KS - JANUARY 18:  Le'Bryan Nash #2, Marcus Smart #33, Brian Williams #4, and Phil Forte, III #13 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys walk back upcourt after a foul during the game against the Kansas Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse on January 18, 2014 in
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

There isn't a team on the lower half of the bracket getting more love than Oklahoma State. All 10 of CBS Sports' college analysts have the Cowboys advancing to the third round by defeating Gonzaga. 

ESPN's Digger Phelps is in love with Oklahoma State, taking the team all the way to the championship game, citing the team's three-guard offense led by Marcus Smart, Markel Brown and Phil Forte as the biggest reason. 

It's not hard to see why, as the Cowboys started the season ranked in the AP Top 10 and got off to a 15-2 start. 

Following a midseason lull where they lost eight of nine games from January 18 through February 17, the Cowboys came back with four straight wins and impressive performances against Kansas and Kansas State. 

Gonzaga is a soft No. 8 seed thanks to a weak schedule and no outside presence to contain Oklahoma State's guards. 

The rest of the West Region, at least on top, is soft with Arizona being the only threat to Oklahoma State. Arizona's T.J. McConnell is a matchup problem for the Cowboys, but they can counter that with their play on the outside and use their athleticism to outpace the Wildcats. 

Wisconsin or Creighton in the Elite Eight is where Oklahoma State will falter. The Badgers and Bluejays can run with anyone in this bracket, including Oklahoma State. Doug McDermott is the best scorer in the tournament and will take advantage of a skittish Cowboys defense if he gets this far. 

The Badgers don't have the defense they usually do with Bo Ryan, but they have made up for it with a more aggressive offense and better shooters across the board. They are also good at shifting tempo from possession to possession, playing slow and fast to throw off a team's rhythm. 

Prediction: Oklahoma State loses in Elite Eight


No. 11 Tennessee Volunteers (Midwest Region)

DAYTON, OH - MARCH 19: Josh Richardson #1 and Jeronne Maymon #34 of the Tennessee Volunteers celebrate after defeating the Iowa Hawkeyes 78-65 in overtime in the first round of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at UD Arena on March 19, 2014 in Day
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

If you follow tournament trends when making predictions, Tennessee or North Carolina State are going to get a lot of love. The Volunteers and Wolfpack started in the always-popular First Four games, defeating Iowa and Xavier, respectively. 

Since 2011, at least one winner from the First Four games has won a game in the round of 64. VCU (2011) made it all the way to the Final Four, and La Salle (2013) played in the Sweet 16. 

On top of those circumstantial numbers, Tennessee also has favorable matchups in the round of 64 against Massachusetts and, assuming chalk holds, against Duke in the round of 32. 

UMass is in the tournament largely thanks to the play of senior guard Chaz Williams. He's not a great overall shooter (39.9 percent) but does have range on his shot (36.5 percent from three-point range) and sets up teammates well with an average of seven assists per game. 

Williams is also undersized at 5'9" and will having a tough time matching up with Tennesee's bigger guards in Jordan McRae (6'6") and Armani Moore (6'5"). 

Duke will face a similar problem against Tennessee because the Blue Devils lack an inside presence and are a dismal rebounding team (193rd in the country). 

The Volunteers will turn to Jarnell Stokes, their 6'8" forward who averages 14.8 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. They will dominate in the paint and keep Duke's outside shooters (Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood) from penetrating the lane. 

Michigan is similar to Duke, lacking a consistent inside presence with Mitch McGary, but the Wolverines have better shooters across the board and more depth than the Blue Devils to combat Tennessee's size inside. 

Prediction: Tennessee loses in the Sweet 16


No. 10 Stanford Cardinal (South Region)

HARTFORD, CT - DECEMBER 18: Chasson Randle #5 of the Stanford Cardinal grabs a loose ball in front of Ryan Boatright #11 of the Connecticut Huskies in the first half during the game at XL Center on December 18, 2013 in Hartford, Connecticut.  (Photo by Ja
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Sometimes a team runs into good matchups, leading to a tournament run that wasn't expected before the games began. 

Stanford is in that position heading into this year's tournament. Johnny Dawkins' crew played the 19th-toughest schedule in the country this season, including quality wins over tournament teams in UCLA, Oregon, Arizona State and Connecticut. 

The Cardinal also have a luxury that often breeds success at this time of year: experience. It's a veteran-laden group with 12 upperclassmen on the roster, including star players Chasson Randle, Dwight Powell and Anthony Brown. 

Powell (6'10") and John Gage (6'10") give Stanford the necessary inside presence to prevent smaller guards from driving the lane for easy baskets. 

Playing New Mexico in the second round is an excellent matchup for the Cardinal, as the Lobos aren't a dangerous threat from three-point range (33.7 percent) and don't have as much depth, with three players averaging double figures in scoring and two players who average at least 20 minutes per game and shoot better than 44 percent from the field. 

Kansas is the wild card in the South Region. The Jayhawks are loaded with talent and can make a run at the Final Four in Texas, but Joel Embiid's back injury puts them at a disadvantage as the tournament moves on. 

Stanford has the players to take advantage of an ailing Kansas team to potentially play a Syracuse team that has lost five of seven games entering the tournament. That's where the Cardinal could get tripped up, because Jim Boeheim's 2-3 zone and size will give Dawkins' team problems. 

Prediction: Stanford loses in the Sweet 16


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