Teams on Upset Alert on Day 4 of the 2014 NCAA Tournament

Scott PolacekFeatured ColumnistMarch 20, 2014

Teams on Upset Alert on Day 4 of the 2014 NCAA Tournament

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    The word madness is literally in the main description used for the NCAA tournament. Of course, the only way to turn just plain March into March Madness is with a few early-round upsets.

    The Big Dance captures the attention of the nation largely because of these upsets, and the 2014 version will be no different.

    There are plenty of favorites that will be tested right away in the round of 64 on Friday. With that in mind, let's dig into a discussion of a few teams that are officially on upset alert.

Massachusetts (No. 6 Seed, Midwest Region)

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    Massachusetts hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament in 16 years, and if it is not completely ready to play against No. 11 seed Tennessee, it’s going to be a quick exit this time around.

    The Vols already showed college basketball fans what they are capable of in a first-round victory over Iowa. They outscored the Hawkeyes 14-1 in overtime and controlled the game on the inside.

    Jarnell Stokes registered a double-double with 18 points and 13 rebounds against Iowa and should have his way down low against the Minutemen. Throw in Jordan McRae on the outside, and it’s no wonder Tennessee is ranked No. 9 in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings.

    Regardless of the No. 6 seed denomination, Massachusetts is only ranked No. 50 in Pomeroy’s system and No. 96 in pace-adjusted offensive efficiency.

    Even with Chaz Williams leading the way, the Minutemen will have trouble scoring against Tennessee’s physical front line. The key will be jumping out to an early lead and establishing some level of confidence because this Massachusetts team does not have NCAA tournament experience, while the Vols are still riding high from their win on Wednesday.

North Carolina (No. 6 Seed, East Region)

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    With what we have seen from North Carolina this season, it really wouldn’t be much of a surprise if it wins the whole tournament or loses by 15 to Providence.

    While the Tar Heels did temporarily solve their consistency issues with 12 straight wins, they are backing into the postseason after losing their last two against Duke and Pittsburgh. Providence comes into this contest red hot after a Big East tournament title run that included a championship game victory over Creighton.

    Bryce Cotton versus Marcus Paige at the point guard spot is one of the best matchups in the entire round of 64. Paige is the only true outside threat for a North Carolina team that struggles shooting threes and free throws (62 percent from the stripe), so if Cotton can limit Paige's effectiveness, Providence will be in good shape.

    Look for the Friars to throw a zone at the Tar Heels and force the offense to win through perimeter shots, which could help cancel out the strong front line of James Michael McAdoo, Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks.

    If the Tar Heels become frustrated on offense and struggle to contain Cotton—who averaged 21.4 points, 5.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds a contest—it could be a long day.

New Mexico (No. 7 Seed, South Region)

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    Isaac Brekken/Associated Press

    There has been so much discussion about a potential Kansas versus New Mexico matchup in the round of 32 that the Lobos have to be careful not to overlook Stanford.

    Yes, New Mexico would give the Jayhawks issues down low if Joel Embiid is out of the lineup with the pairing of Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk, but the Lobos need to focus on stopping Dwight Powell and Chasson Randle of the Cardinal first.

    Randle averaged nearly 19 points a game at the guard position this year, while Powell scored 14.2 points and grabbed 6.9 rebounds. It is a solid inside-outside combination that will provide problems for almost any defense, and Powell can impress NBA scouts on the big stage with a formidable performance.

    That being said, the Lobos have more than enough talent between Bairstow, Kirk and Kendall Williams to beat Stanford. Bairstow himself averaged better than 20 points a game, and he and Kirk combined to block more than four shots a night and control the paint.

    The key thing here will simply be ensuring that the Lobos don’t overlook Stanford with a potential date against Kansas on the horizon.

VCU (No. 5 Seed, South Region)

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    College basketball fans should be quite familiar with No. 12 seeds upsetting No. 5 seeds in the NCAA tournament.

    After all, it happened three times last year, as Wisconsin, Oklahoma State and California were all sent home early. VCU is certainly a candidate to join that list of departed No. 5 seeds if it isn’t careful against Stephen F. Austin.

    The Lumberjacks are on a 28-game winning streak and play the type of methodical and efficient offense that is necessary to knock off VCU’s havoc defense. If the Stephen F. Austin ball-handlers and Southland Player of the Year Jacob Parker can negate the full-court pressure and limit their turnovers, they can gradually build a lead as the game progresses.

    It is also worth mentioning that Melvin Johnson, who was the Sixth Man of the Year in the Atlantic 10, hurt himself in the conference tournament. On the off-chance that he does play, he will be far from 100 percent.

    The Rams will miss his scoring spark off the bench if this turns into a tight contest.

Baylor (No. 6 Seed, West Region)

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    Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

    Baylor is something of the Jekyll and Hyde team in the NCAA tournament field.

    The Bears started 2-8 in Big 12 play but caught fire down the stretch and made it all the way to the championship game in the conference tournament, only to lose a hard-fought contest against Iowa State.

    The Bears’ formidable frontcourt is what stands out—between Cory Jefferson, Isaiah Austin and Royce O’Neale, although perimeter players Brady Heslip and Kenny Chery will be primary contributors during the Big Dance as well.

    However, Nebraska is no stranger to physical forwards and big men coming from the grueling Big Ten.

    The Cornhuskers knocked off the likes of Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin during conference play and won’t be intimidated by the size of the Baylor team. Terran Petteway leads the way on the offensive end and will be the go-to scorer in crunch time.

    The key from a Nebraska perspective will be to not get caught up in the moment. The Huskers looked a bit overwhelmed at the Big Ten tournament when they blew an 18-point lead against Ohio State, so the magnitude of the stage may be an issue.