With several big-time upsets already in the books, the remainder of the NCAA tournament's round of 64 promises to continue the unpredictability and all-out chaos.
Teams such as Dayton, Harvard and North Dakota State captivated college basketball fans on the opening day of the tourney. In a year that has largely been defined by parity, it is almost inevitable that even more Cinderella stories will come to the forefront on Friday.
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Although every upset on Thursday was surprising to some degree, all of those teams were tabbed as squads with significant upset potential. Several such teams will be in action to close out the round of 64, and perhaps they'll be inspired by what they saw on Thursday.
Here are three matchups on Friday's slate that are most likely to end in upset fashion.
No. 11 Tennessee over No. 6 UMass
Friday's battle between Tennessee and Massachusetts will test the true meaning of the word "upset." While UMass is the favorite in terms of seeding as a No. 6, the Volunteers are actually 4.5-point favorites, according to Vegas Insider. Even so, seeing a No. 11 beat a No. 6 gives off upset vibes. Perhaps no potential "upset" seems like a bigger slam dunk on paper than this one.
The Minutemen deserve their due credit as they played a solid schedule and picked up some impressive victories over tournament teams. Their resume includes wins against Nebraska, New Mexico, BYU, Providence, St. Joseph's, George Washington and VCU. In terms of form entering March Madness, however, Tennessee has a big leg up.
UMass has dropped three of its past five contests, while Tennessee has won six of seven, including an overtime triumph over Iowa in the First Four. Despite the fact that it took extra time to beat the Hawkeyes, the Vols established their dominance by outscoring Iowa 14-1 in the extra session.
In many ways, UMass and Tennessee are polar opposites. As pointed out by ESPN's Anish Shroff, the Minutemen do most of their damage outside, while the Volunteers like to crash the paint:
UMASS has great guard play (Chazz Williams). Tennessee's bigs are monsters. Should be a good one.— Anish Shroff (@AnishESPN) March 20, 2014
Ultimately, it's tough not to like the makeup of Tennessee's roster. Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon will be extremely difficult for Massachusetts to contain inside, while guard Jordan McRae enters this game playing some of his best basketball. Because of that, the Vols will advance to the round of 32.
No. 10 Stanford over No. 7 New Mexico
There is little doubt that the clash between Stanford and New Mexico is among the most intriguing games the round of 64 has to offer. The popular opinion seems to be that the Lobos are criminally underseeded after going 27-6 and winning the Mountain West Conference. At the same time, the Cardinal acquitted themselves well in an underrated Pac-12 Conference, and have the potential to look like an elite team at times.
New Mexico's track record over the course of the season speaks for itself. The Lobos took down the likes of Cincinnati and Marquette, and managed to beat conference rival San Diego State twice. The Lobos also have a dominant big man at their disposal in the form of Aussie forward Cameron Bairstow, who is averaging over 20 points per game this season.
Bairstow is most comfortable in the paint, but Stanford may have the kryptonite necessary to get the big Aussie off his game. According to Jon Rothstein of CBSSports.com, forward John Gage figures to be utilized as a way to clear the lane for the rest of the Cardinal players:
New Mexico fans better become familiar with Stanford's John Gage. Stretch four with range. Will bring Cam Bairstow away from basket.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 17, 2014
In addition to that, Stanford has an impressive quartet of scorers averaging better than 11 points per game. The inside-outside combination of forward Dwight Powell and guard Chasson Randle is particularly dangerous, and it is questionable whether New Mexico has the athleticism necessary to slow them down.
The Lobos have enjoyed a great season, but the Cardinal seem tailor-made to knock them off in the second round.
No. 12 Stephen F. Austin over No. 5 VCU
Wichita State got a ton of attention going undefeated during the regular season, and Florida has been celebrated for winning all of its SEC contests. Both teams are deserving of praise, but perhaps the quietest dominant squad in college basketball this season has been Stephen F. Austin. The Lumberjacks lost just two games all season and went a perfect 18-0 in the Southland Conference to reach the NCAA tournament.
Which team is most likely to score an upset win in the round of 64?
They will take on No. 5 VCU, a team that knows a thing or two about going on Cinderella runs in March. Stephen F. Austin is a dangerous team with four players who average 12 or more points per game. They boast a number of guys who can take over at any given time, which is uncommon for a team in such a small conference.
There is no doubt that the Lumberjacks are talented, but the major concern is their strength of schedule. They ranked 297th in the nation in that regard during the regular season, according to CBSSports.com, and they lost to the only tournament team they faced (Texas).
That means Stephen F. Austin hasn't seen many teams as good as the Rams all season long. One thing working in the Lumberjacks' favor is the fact that VCU's sophomore guard Melvin Johnson, who averages over 10 points per game, is unlikely to play.
According to Myron Medcalf of ESPN.com, VCU head coach Shaka Smart lists Johnson as doubtful.
He's doubtful for tomorrow. We practiced earlier. He moved around a little bit and he can shoot, which is the best thing he does anyway, so maybe we will put him in the game and let him stay on one end of the floor and shoot. But he's not ready to move the way he needs to move yet to play, especially with our style of play.
That doesn't guarantee a Stephen F. Austin win by any means, but it helps the cause and hurts VCU's depth considerably. The door is open a crack, and look for the Lumberjacks to kick it in.
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