Teams on Upset Alert in Day 6 of the 2014 NCAA Tournament
The group of teams that played Friday in the NCAA tournament did nothing to discredit the notion that March Madness is the best sporting event on the calendar.
Eastern Kentucky hung with mighty Kansas for 38 minutes, North Carolina outlasted Providence in the final seconds, Coastal Carolina appeared to be on the brink of 16-seed history when it built a double-digit lead against Virginia, and Stephen F. Austin connected on an incredible four-point play to force overtime and eventually upset VCU.
Oh, and the big, bad Duke Blue Devils lost to Mercer, inspiring a nation of college basketball fans to scramble to their smart phones to find out just where Mercer is even located.
Now the winners get to do it all again Sunday during the sixth day of the Big Dance. There will undoubtedly be upset bids in the round of 32, so let’s put some of the favorites on alert.
Recent results, roster makeup, injuries and individual matchups were used to determine which favorites made this list and which ones did not.
Iowa State (No. 3 Seed, East Region)
There is no chance a healthy Iowa State team would be on upset alert, even against a dangerous North Carolina squad, if it was at full strength.
However, Georges Niang broke his foot against North Carolina Central and will miss the remainder of the NCAA tournament. You could count the teams that played better than the Cyclones down the stretch on one hand, which makes this injury all the more difficult to deal with for a squad that has Final Four aspirations.
Niang was a critical part of a trio of superstars that includes Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane, and his presence as an inside scorer, shot-blocker and rebounder will be sorely missed.
North Carolina hit the boards harder than almost anyone in the country and finished the season ninth in total rebounds per game.
James Michael McAdoo, Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks will have a much easier time in the lane without Niang, and it’s almost a disservice to fans that they don’t get the opportunity to watch these formidable frontcourts battle.
Wichita State (No. 1 Seed, Midwest Region)
It is through no fault of its own that Wichita State falls on this list. After all, the Shockers have won every game this season and are efficient on both ends of the floor.
However, Kentucky has so much talent that it is impossible to dismiss the notion that it can challenge or upset Wichita State or anyone else in the country. Every remaining team in the Midwest Region should fear that something will click for John Calipari’s freshmen during the tournament.
The Wildcats gradually pulled away from Kansas State in the round of 64 and still have Julius Randle, James Young, the Harrison brothers (Andrew and Aaron) and Willie Cauley-Stein on the roster.
Kentucky will be the most talented and physically dominant team that Wichita State has played all year. The Shockers are still more than capable of winning this game, but they will be tested.
Creighton (No. 3 Seed, West Region)
Louisiana-Lafayette pushed Creighton to the brink in the round of 64, but Doug McDermott’s 30 points and 12 rebounds and critical three-point shooting from Ethan Wragge was enough to help the Bluejays win at the end.
Even with McDermott on the roster, Creighton will be challenged by a red-hot Baylor.
The Bears destroyed a Big Ten-tested Nebraska team that is much better than it showed in its only tournament game. They have won seven of their past eight games and 11 of their past 13, and they have one of the best frontcourts in the country.
Cory Jefferson, Isaiah Austin and Rico Gathers may be too much for Creighton to handle considering the fact that the Bluejays rank 199th in the country in total rebounds per game. Baylor will have the decided advantage in the post and on the glass, so Creighton will need to hit its three-pointers if it wants to advance to the Sweet 16.
Or it could always just receive another incredible game from McDermott.
Virginia (No. 1 Seed, East Region)
For 32 minutes of Virginia’s round-of-64 game against Coastal Carolina, it appeared as if college basketball was going to see its first No. 16 seed victory over a No. 1.
However, Joe Harris and the Cavaliers got hot from behind the three-point line just in time and gradually pulled away down the stretch. If Virginia turns in an effort like that against Memphis, though, it will not reach the Sweet 16.
Virginia’s style of play is not conducive to blowout victories, so there is a realistic chance the Tigers will have an opportunity to win at the end.
The Michael Dixon Jr. and Joe Jackson combination is well-suited to perform in crunch time. We saw that against George Washington when they combined for 34 points, and Dixon hit four free throws in the final 10 seconds.
Memphis has wins over Oklahoma State, Louisville and Gonzaga under its belt and only lost by two to the Florida Gators.
This will be a tightly contested game, so whichever star can come through in the clutch between Harris, Jackson and Dixon may prove to be the difference.