The allure of the NCAA tournament is the notion of equal opportunity. Tiny schools hidden from the spotlight can spring an upset on high-profile Goliaths and raise their own status in the process. There is no playoff system in North American sports as all-inclusive, and upsets are the fabric of the tournament.
While true Cinderellas like Florida Gulf Coast are rare, there are plenty of lower seeds capable of busting brackets. In examining Friday's slate of games, there are also a few higher-seeded teams whose ranking is merely a facade for declining play.
With that in mind, let's take a look at some of the favorites most likely to fall in Friday's round of 64 action.
The Big 12 tourney runner-ups ended the season on a high note, but Baylor has been a combustible team all season. And considering how well the frontcourt tandem of Isaiah Austin and Corey Jefferson played in the conference tournament, Baylor is a deserved favorite against 11th-seeded Nebraska:
However, while Baylor has the capacity to look like a top-10 team, there are also warning signs that the Huskers may give them trouble. For one, the Bears' 2-3 zone has occasionally been compromised by the perimeter defenders over-pursuit, leading to penetration and shooting opportunities for opposing guards.
Nebraska is well-equipped to exploit that weakness, as the tandem of Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields is among the better backcourts in the field. Petteway was a first-team All-Big 10 selection, and led the Cornhuskers in scoring with 18.0 points per game.
Baylor is on a tear, having lost just twice since Feb. 8. Still, against a tough and defensively oriented Nebraska squad, the Bears could find themselves in a dogfight.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
Oklahoma State has since turned its season around after a seven-game losing streak and Marcus Smart's suspension threatened to submarine a promising squad. Now, the Cowboys are considered one of the most dangerous lower seeds in the field.
However, it seems unwise to simply pencil them into the round of 32 against top-seeded Arizona. After the graduation of top scorer Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga has turned to a scoring-by-committee approach, with four players averaging double-digit scoring. One wild card could be junior guard Kevin Pangos, who has been limited with a turf toe injury:
Oklahoma State has four legitimate scorers who can take over a game in Smart, Le'Bryan Nash, Markel Brown and Phil Forte III. The Cowboys are also much more physically gifted than the Zags, and if the Pokes play a fast-paced attacking game, they should take home the victory.
Still, opponents have baited the Cowboys into settling for jump shots, and Oklahoma State is too poor of a rebounding team to compensate for bad shooting. Gonzaga was one of the nation's top man-to-man defenses during the regular season and could conceivably frustrate the talented but erratic Cowboys.
The Pac-12 tournament champs enter the NCAA tourney on a high note, as the UCLA offense is humming along with a multitude of options, including guards Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams.
However, the Bruins have been a porous team away from Pauley Pavilion this season, and their inability to force turnovers at times can prevent them from running as much as desired. Moreover, a team that rebounds and shoots well can make UCLA pay for their defensive shortcomings.
Admittedly, Tulsa is not the best choice to upset UCLA, as the Golden Hurricane ranked 270th in three-point shooting percentage during the regular season. However, they are also a defensively oriented squad capable of slowing down the high-powered Bruin attack, and in sophomore guard James Woodard, Tulsa has a player capable of taking control of a game offensively:
UCLA is likely more vulnerable in the round of 32, where they will be shaky propositions against either VCU or Stephen F. Austin. However, given their defensive shortcomings, a hot performance from Woodard could knock the No. 4 seed out a round earlier.
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