The 2014 NCAA basketball tournament has been nothing short of thrilling, and we're still not completely through with the round of 32.
Needless to say, this tournament is shaping up to be one of the best in recent memory.
Upsets have been commonplace through the first three rounds. Dayton, a No. 11 seed, is headed to the Sweet 16 after defeating Ohio State and Syracuse by a combined three points. Mercer, the No. 14 seed in the Midwest region, defeated Duke by seven in the round of 64.
If nothing else, those two teams should illustrate how anything is possible during March Madness.
With upsets on the mind, here are three contests from Sunday's action that could feasibly end up with the lower seed advancing to the Sweet 16.
No. 12 Stephen F. Austin over No. 4 UCLA
Stephen F. Austin State University extended its winning streak to 29 games after taking down VCU in the second round. The Lumberjacks own the second-longest winning streak in the nation behind only the 35-0 Wichita State Shockers.
The Lumberjacks completed a miracle comeback in that one, as Desmond Haymon drilled a three with just 3.6 seconds left in the contest. Down by four, the Lumberjacks would have still been trailing had Haymon not been fouled while shooting. He completed the four-point play to force overtime and give his team a second chance.
As the ultimate Cinderella story, the Lumberjacks will be riding the high of such a close win. They run a very efficient offense that gets the job done in a relatively quiet manner. Jacob Parker scored 22 points against VCU on just 14 shots, and his efficiency is what will keep their offense going against a poor UCLA Bruins defense.
The Bruins' offense is red-hot, however, as the university's athletic department points out:
UCLA’s 17-point win on Friday against Tulsa marked the Bruins’ largest margin of victory in the NCAA tournament since defeating No. 3-seed Xavier by 19 points (76-57) in the 2008 West Regional final in Phoenix (March 29, 2008). UCLA’s 79 points scored against Tulsa marked the Bruins’ highest point total in the NCAA tournament since March 27, 2008, when UCLA took down Western Kentucky, 88-78, in the Sweet 16.
Each team will trade blows in this one. Expect a pretty high-scoring affair, but I think the winning team will be the most efficient one. I'm leaning toward the Lumberjacks to continue their Cinderella story.
No. 6 Baylor over No. 3 Creighton
Both the Baylor Bears and Creighton Bluejays had similar outcomes from their round-of-64 results, and the two will compete on Sunday for the opportunity to compete in the Sweet 16.
Aside from the implications of the game on the hardwood, Matt Zemek of CollegeFootballNews.com believes it has major implications elsewhere as well:
Creighton will rely heavily on Doug McDermott, just as the team has done all season. Baylor will need to come up with smart defensive schemes to limit him, as he dropped 27.0 points per game on 52.7 percent shooting this season.
ESPN Stats & Info's Twitter account points out that UL-Lafayette was rather ineffective in slowing down the man they call "McBuckets":
Overall, Baylor's defense is solid. The Bears allowed 68.1 points per contest during the regular season—which was 118th in the country—but they are very good at redirecting shots. The Bears swatted 5.6 shots per game, good enough for 20th in the country.
When McDermott goes down low, expect his shots to be contended. When he's shooting from mid-range and deep, expect Baylor to have multiple hands up and in his face. That's really the most you can do to stop him.
I like Baylor's chances in this one, as Creighton really doesn't have any other prolific scoring options outside of McDermott. If he's limited in any way, Baylor can move on to the Sweet 16.
No. 8 Memphis over No. 1 Virginia
Expect the unexpected. That's what this tournament has taught us so far.
Memphis barely squeaked past George Washington in the round of 64, and this game against Virginia won't be any easier for the Tigers. No. 1 seeds have been successful so far, but freshman forward Austin Nichols is looking to change that, via Grant Milner of Memphis Roar:
"To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best," said Nichols. "That’s how I look at it. No matter who we play, we can beat anybody in our bracket. I truly believe that, if we play the right way and trust the system."
This contest is intriguing for multiple reasons. Aside from the fact that a No. 1 seed is involved, this game will be interesting because Virginia, the top defensive team in the country in terms of points per game allowed, will be facing a Memphis offense that is prolific in so many ways.
Memphis can distribute to set up open shooters with high-percentage shots. The Tigers are within the top-35 in the country in points per game (35th), assists per game (third) and field-goal percentage (23rd).
Despite allowing just 55.4 points per game this season, Virginia doesn't play very big. The Cavaliers don't rebound or block shots particularly well, and this will help Memphis' Shaq Goodwin immensely. The sophomore forward has nice touch around the basket and plays well above the rim.
Memphis has all the tools to come out with the upset here.