The constant potential for upsets is arguably the greatest allure of the NCAA tournament. The tourney's one-and-done nature enables Cinderella runs in a way that no other major North American sport does.
But while upsets are typically associated with the first week of the tournament, that does not mean they are exclusive to that time frame. Indeed, with even higher stakes in the second week, the upsets are arguably more dramatic, and in some cases, just as unexpected.
So which contests are most likely to deviate from the chalk expectations? Examining the Sweet 16 slate, these underdogs particularly stand out as legitimate Elite Eight threats.
|Dayton vs. Stanford||Thu., Mar. 27||7:15 p.m.||CBS|
|Baylor vs. Wisconsin||Thu., Mar. 27||7:47 p.m.||TBS|
|UCLA vs. Florida||Thu., Mar. 27||9:45 p.m.||CBS|
|San Diego State vs. Arizona||Thu., Mar. 27||10:17 p.m.||TBS|
|Tennessee vs. Michigan||Fri., Mar. 28||7:15 p.m.||CBS|
|UConn vs. Iowa State||Fri., Mar. 28||7:27 p.m.||TBS|
|Kentucky vs. Louisville||Fri., Mar. 28||9:45 p.m.||CBS|
|Michigan State vs. Virginia||Fri., Mar. 28||9:57 p.m.||TBS|
Kentucky over Louisville
The Wildcats have been among the nation's most disappointing squads all year, but in their win over Wichita State, Kentucky finally put together a 40-minute performance that demonstrated why it was the preseason No. 1 team. Kentucky has already beaten Louisville in the regular season, and Cardinals guard Russ Smith conceded afterward the Wildcats could be a tough matchup:
Russ Smith quote to me after UK beat Louisville back in Dec. at Rupp. "Its not a good matchup for us." Teams will meet in Sweet 16 in Indy.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) March 23, 2014
Indeed, Kentucky possesses a significant advantage in the frontcourt. In all of Louisville's losses, the common denominator has been the opponent's ability to exploit the Cardinals' lack of frontcourt depth beyond forward Montrezl Harrell.
Kentucky is equipped better than almost any other team to exploit that weakness, with Julius Randle and Willie Cauley-Stein leading the nation's best offensive rebounding squad. Louisville's excellent perimeter defense might lock down the Harrison twins and James Young, but it does not matter if they simply concede easy second-chance looks at the rim.
Louisville is the defending champion and possesses an edge in experience and consistency. But Kentucky is arguably the more talented team, and if it can replicate the same form it brought against the Shockers, it will be an extremely difficult out.
Dayton over Stanford
This matchup of two Cinderellas has already produced four combined upsets, with the two squads combining to knock off heavyweights like Kansas, Syracuse and Ohio State. Indeed, with both teams being double-digit seeds, this is one of the most unexpected Sweet 16 contests in tournament history:
Of more than 11 million brackets in @ESPNFantasy Tournament Challenge, only 0.4% (45,782) got the Stanford-Dayton matchup in Sweet 16.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 23, 2014
While Stanford now finds itself in the unfamiliar position of being a favorite, there is reason to believe the Flyers could pull off a third consecutive upset. Dayton's up-tempo offense has compensated for inferior pure athleticism against the Buckeyes and Orange. The Cardinal do not force many turnovers, meaning Dayton should be free to push the pace and generate easy looks at the rim.
Those looks could be crucial, as the Flyers are unlikely to generate much from the restricted area against Stanford's imposing frontcourt tandem of Dwight Powell and Stefan Nastic. The two were arguably the Cardinal's biggest difference-makers against a Joel Embiid-less Kansas squad, combining for 25 points and 11 rebounds on 9-of-15 shooting from the field.
The Flyers have gotten consistent offensive production from Dyshawn Pierre and round of 64 hero Vee Sanford. With the rare combination of solid halfcourt defense and a fast-paced offense, Dayton has the ingredients to continue its surprise run into the Elite Eight.
UConn over Iowa State
If excellent guard play is one of the defining attributes of tournament success, then Connecticut might as well be the championship favorites. Shabazz Napier has been the player of the tournament thus far, with 49 points and countless daggers in two games. As he demonstrated in the overtime win over St. Joseph's, Napier is arguably the best crunch-time player in the country:
Shabazz Napier is shooting 63% from field, 72% from 3-point range in OT over last 3 seasons— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 21, 2014
Napier is certainly no one-man show, however, as Ryan Boatright would be the top guard in most other backcourts. In addition, forward DeAndre Daniels has also elevated his game and been a reliable secondary scorer during the tournament.
However, it's the Huskies airtight man-to-man defense that truly gives them a chance to upset Iowa State. The third-seeded Cyclones were 10th in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency during the regular season, per KenPom.com. Iowa State has been able to spread the floor and attack the basket at relentlessly thus far, with DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim imposing their will on opponents.
UConn's grinding defensively oriented style is diametrically opposed to that of Iowa State's, making for an intriguing style contrast. If the Huskies can slow the tempo and allow Napier to take over in a half-court game, the No. 7 seed could be playing for a Final Four berth.