NCAA Basketball Tournament 2014: Takeaways from Thursday's Early Action

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NCAA Basketball Tournament 2014: Takeaways from Thursday's Early Action
Gerry Broome/Associated Press

So, you know all those countless hours of research you did in the last couple of days? Go ahead and forget everything you learned. 

You can do all the number crunching, all the 12th-man comparisons and all the analysis of Nate Silver's magical mathematical bracket you want, but as soon as the games start, everything tends to go out the window.

It's impossible to truly predict how teams will fare until actually seeing them play in the tournament setting, and on Thursday morning, we got a good indication of how several squads are going to handle the Big Dance.

Let's take a look.  

 

All Your Bracket Essentials:

 

Syracuse Is Still Dangerous

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Coming into the tournament, you would be hard-pressed to find a No. 3 seed getting less respect. 

To be fair, it was understandable. The Orange went just 4-5 down the stretch, with three of those victories by two points or less, and they were playing about as poorly as anyone in the tournament. 

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But many who picked them to lose to Western Michigan or to fail to reach the Sweet 16—both of which had become extremely popular choices—may have paid too much attention to recent results and didn't realize that most of the Orange's problems were fixable. 

Jim Boeheim's 2-3 zone is always a weapon come tournament time, but the concern for the Orange was that they weren't getting consistent scoring behind C.J. Fair and Tyler Ennis. Jerami Grant was injured for a stretch, and Trevor Cooney couldn't hit water if he was sitting in water. 

Well, Grant scored 16 and looked like a first-round pick again, and Cooney, who was 10-of-51 (a scorching 19.6 percent) from beyond the arc in the last seven games, hit four of his eight attempts, as the Orange rolled to a 77-53 win. 

Western Michigan head coach Steve Hawkins, via Adam Zagoria, discussed how Cooney's shooting can change an entire game:

The Broncos may not be a high-level opponent, but that doesn't matter. Making shots is how you break a slump, regardless of who you're playing against—and if Cooney is indeed out of his slump, 'Cuse becomes dangerous on both sides of the ball. 

 

Pittsburgh Is a Legitimate Threat to Florida

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Much of the talk following Selection Sunday surrounded the dangerous eight and nine seeds. No. 1's don't typically fall before the Sweet 16, but Gonzaga and Oklahoma State both have the offensive firepower to scare Arizona, while Kentucky's bevy of talent is something Wichita State hasn't seen all season. 

It's probably safe to add Pittsburgh to the conversation.

Yes, No. 8 Colorado was never the same team after star guard Spencer Dinwiddie went down for the season with an ACL injury, and the Buffs were probably a little overseeded. But the Panthers made Tad Boyle's squad look far worse than it actually was in a 77-48 shellacking:

Jamie Dixon's team was most impressive on the defensive end, forcing 17 turnovers and holding the Buffaloes to 35.7 percent shooting from the floor. The 0.767 points allowed per possession, according to bbstate.com, was their fourth-best defensive performance of the season and second-best since the start of conference play.

Say what you want about Colorado, but this was a highly impressive win. 

Florida better be ready. The Panthers have a big man in Talib Zanna to match up with Patric Young down low, a trustworthy and underrated point guard in James Robinson and they have a star in Lamar Patterson. 

 

Harvard Isn't Actually a Cinderella

The Crimson shocked the world last year when they eliminated New Mexico as a No. 14 seed, but while Thursday's 61-57 win over No. 5 Cincinnati may technically be defined as an "upset," it's not really shocking anymore. 

Harvard is just a really solid basketball team. 

They have a playmaking backcourt with Siyani Chambers and Wesley Saunders, a dangerous shooter in Laurent Rivard and—as they proved against the ultra-physical Bearcats—a frontcourt that can stand its ground against the toughest opponents. 

As Yahoo! Sports' Brad Evans alluded to, the Crimson's play on the interior was crucial:

Third-round opponent Michigan State has much more talent than Harvard. But Tommy Amaker's team has made it quite clear it can play with anyone in the country. 

It's time to stop being surprised by the Crimson's success. 

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