NCAA Basketball Tournament 2014: Biggest Storylines to Watch in Round 3

Chris RolingFeatured ColumnistMarch 22, 2014

North Dakota State's Taylor Braun encourages fans after his team scored against Oklahoma in the first half of a second-round game of the NCAA men's college basketball tournament in Spokane, Wash., Thursday, March 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

The Cinderellas are out in full force as many of the top seeds have struggled thus far in the 2014 NCAA tournament.

In other words, the best month on the calendar year is near its conclusion.


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The round of 64 is in the books, but a quick turnaround with 32 teams left keeps the pressure on the top teams to live up to their billing, while the underdogs who slipped through the cracks must continue to ride a wave of momentum in order to reach the Sweet 16.

Thanks to the frantic pace of the proceedings, it can be a task to keep up with the latest happenings. With Round 3 set to tip off, let's take a moment to freshen up on the top storylines set to unfold.


Which Midwest Upset Specialist Will Continue to Wreak Havoc?

Mar 21, 2014; Raleigh, NC, USA; Tennessee Volunteers guard Jordan McRae (52) reacts to a play against the Massachusetts Minutemen in the first half of a men's college basketball game during the second round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament at PNC Arena. Mandat
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Look at the underdogs go.

In the Midwest region, No. 11 Tennessee will clash with No. 14 Mercer, two teams that worked miniature miracles to make it to Round 3.

The Volunteers have been especially impressive after surviving two games already. Round 1 was a 78-65 win over Iowa for the right to enter the field of 64, where shortly thereafter Tennessee used the momentum to upend No. 6 Massachusetts, 86-67.

Of course, it is hard to compare to the miracle Mercer pulled off in Round 2, as the Bears upset the almighty Duke Blue Devils, 78-71.

As Nicole Auerbach of USA Today points out, the two sides are a bit familiar with each other:

Suffice to say, both teams have improved since that tilt. Tennessee touts two scorers who average more than 20 points per game in Jarnell Stokes and Jordan McRae. Meanwhile, the Bears tout a top-25 overall offense predicated on ball movement. They average 16.4 assists per game. 

It's easy to pick Tennessee here because of its status as a member of a bigger conference, but Duke could have said the same. Whichever team advances has a serious shot at going even deeper against No. 7 Texas or No. 2 Michigan in the Sweet 16.


Can the No. 12's Remain on Course?

Mar 20, 2014; Spokane, WA, USA; Harvard Crimson guard Brandyn Curry (10, left) and guard Siyani Chambers (1) celebrate after a men's college basketball game during the second round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament against the North Dakota State Bison at Vetera
James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

It's been a wild ride for No. 12 seeds thus far, as three were able to upend No. 5 seeds in the round of 64.

For one reason or another, history tends to say that No. 12 seeds are most likely to pull an upset.

Stephen F. Austin was able to slip by VCU in overtime, 77-75. North Dakota State took down a big school with its 80-75 victory over Oklahoma. Ivy League phenomenon Harvard upended Cincinnati of the AAC, 61-57.

CSN Philly's Reuben Frank put it best:

But can the three Cinderellas keep the momentum alive?

North Dakota State coach Saul Phillips was skeptical of anyone who had picked his team to win, as Auerbach captured:

"I would like to know how many people that picked us have seen us play," Phillips said before the game. "I mean, come on. … Obama was not at any of our games. I would have known that one. … 5-12s are always trendy."

Phillips' Bison now have to overcome San Diego State, a team that was nearly upended by a No. 13 seed (New Mexico State) to kick things off. It's not as simple for the other two darlings—the Lumberjacks have to clash with a red-hot UCLA team, while Harvard is unfortunate enough to draft Tom Izzo's Michigan State Spartans next.

The No. 12 seeds are battle tested and poised to make more noise in some fashion.


Iowa State's Pitfall

Mar 21, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; Iowa State Cyclones forward Georges Niang (31) reacts after making a shot in the first half of a men's college basketball game against the North Carolina Central Eagles during the second round of the 2014 NCAA Tournamen
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

A popular pick by many to shock the field and make a deep run, the Iowa State Cyclones started things off right in the round of 64 with a 93-75 win over North Carolina Central.

In the process, the team lost Georges Niang to a broken foot, which will sideline him for the rest of the Big Dance, according to ESPN's Jake Trotter.

Niang averaged 16.7 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.6 points per game in the regular season. In Round 2, he led the Cyclones in scoring with 24 points and grabbed six boards to go with four assists.

As CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein illustrates, Iowa State had the look of a contender before the injury:

For what it's worth, Niang himself still has hope for his teammates, per Trotter's report:

"This doesn't change anything with this team," Niang said. "I still believe in these guys. My role just changes from being on the floor to being their biggest fan on the sideline."

The support will help, but the Cyclones have a tough task ahead without Niang's presence on the floor. First up is a No. 6 North Carolina squad that barely avoided an upset in Round 2, followed by a date with either No. 7 UConn or No. 2 Villanova.

Keep a close eye on the Cyclones to see how the team adapts to the adversity, as it has the look of a rally-or-fade scenario.


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