Teams on Upset Alert in the Sweet 16 of the 2014 NCAA Tournament
The NCAA tournament is into the portion of the event where the cream rises to the top, but that doesn’t mean we have seen the end of the upsets.
After all, there are still multiple double-digit seeds remaining in the field that are only two wins away from cracking the exclusive Final Four. Since No. 10 seed Stanford and No. 11 seed Dayton are playing each other, we will see at least one Cinderella story in the Elite Eight.
With that in mind, let’s look at some of the teams that are officially on upset alert during the Sweet 16 of the Big Dance.
We are classifying an upset for this exercise as the better-seeded team losing the game. Recent performance, individual matchups and overall roster makeup were all given consideration.
Stanford (No. 10 Seed, South Region)
Stanford’s Dwight Powell is quickly becoming one of the superstars of the 2014 NCAA tournament and is shooting up projected NBA draft boards in the process.
However, for Powell to continue making an impression on front offices at the next level and for his team to continue playing, they will have to hold off a red-hot Dayton team that already beat Ohio State and Syracuse in the South Region.
The Flyers have won 12 out of 14 games and have gotten timely contributions across the board. Vee Sanford knocked off the Buckeyes with a game-winning shot, Dyshawn Pierre had 14 points against the Orange and 12 against the Buckeyes and Jordan Sibert has made a handful of clutch plays on both ends of the floor.
Between Powell and Chasson Randle of the Cardinal and the four Dayton starters who are capable of shooting from behind the three-point line, there will be plenty of athleticism on the floor in this matchup.
If Stanford wants to avoid an upset, it will have to limit the transition and outside opportunities for the Flyers while capitalizing on the chances Randle and Powell provide on the other end.
Wisconsin (No. 2 Seed, West Region)
The preconceived notion that Wisconsin can’t handle athletic teams needs to be thrown out of the window after the Badgers dominated the Oregon Ducks to the tune of 48-28 in the second half of their round of 32 matchup.
This may be Bo Ryan's best and most efficient offensive team, and yet it is still capable of stifling an opponent on the defensive side. Between Traevon Jackson, Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, Nigel Hayes, Ben Brust and Josh Gasser, the Badgers have scorers on both the inside and outside.
That being said, they will have to deal with the momentum that is in Baylor’s corner.
The Bears have ripped off 12 wins in their past 14 games, including dominating performances against Creighton and Nebraska in the Big Dance and wins over Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma and Texas in the regular season.
Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson provide matchup problems for Wisconsin down low because of their height and overall physicality. Kaminsky is a capable outside shooter and solid defender, but the strength and skill level of Austin and Jefferson will be difficult to deal with for 40 minutes.
If Ryan decides to send a double-team toward the paint, Brady Heslip and Kenny Chery will be waiting on the outside.
Look for a high-scoring affair in this one, much like the Badgers' victory over Oregon.
Florida (No. 1 Seed, South Region)
Florida is the top team in the country, at least in the eyes of the selection committee, but it will be tested by UCLA in the Sweet 16.
The Bruins have elite playmakers in the form of Jordan Adams, Kyle Anderson and Zach LaVine and a physical presence down low with Travis Wear and Tony Parker. Although Parker and Wear are both solid post players, the fact that Anderson is the team’s best rebounder gives UCLA an extra dimension that will prove critical against Patric Young and the formidable Gators.
The only way to actually upset Florida though is by containing Scottie Wilbekin.
Every time Pittsburgh appeared to be climbing back into the game in the round of 32, Wilbekin made critical play after critical play. Fortunately for UCLA fans, between Anderson and LaVine there may be enough talent to at least cancel out the Gators' star guard.
Florida may still win the game, but we are talking about a UCLA team that beat Arizona in the Pac-12 title game and has won its two tournament games by a combined 34 points. The Bruins will give the Gators everything they can handle.
Michigan (No. 2 Seed, Midwest Region)
Tennessee is trying to follow in VCU’s 2011 footsteps and march all the way from the First Four in Dayton to the Final Four.
Standing in its way will be Michigan, the No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region and a legitimate Big Ten powerhouse this season. Despite the Wolverines’ offensive prowess (ranked No. 3 in Ken Pomeroy’s pace-adjusted offensive efficiency ratings as of this writing), they are still on upset alert against the Vols.
Michigan may be the No. 2 seed, but if you ask Pomeroy, Tennessee if more balanced.
The Vols are No. 16 in offense and No. 17 in defense (as of this writing), while Michigan checks in at No. 95 on the defensive end. Jarnell Stokes, Jordan McRae and the resurgent Josh Richardson, who is averaging 20.5 points a game in the NCAA tournament, will look to expose the Wolverines' vulnerable defense.
What’s more, if Michigan is not hitting its three-pointers, that formidable offense becomes rather pedestrian. The problem for opponents is that Michigan almost always hits its threes, but relying on perimeter shots so much can be a recipe for disaster in the one-and-done format of the tournament.
Louisville (No. 4 Seed, Midwest Region)
If you want to know why Louisville is on upset alert against Kentucky, all we have to do is look back at Dec. 28 when the Wildcats defended home court to the tune of 73-66 against the archrival Cardinals.
What makes that realization scary for Louisville fans is the fact that it took place before Kentucky hit what appears to be a groove since the SEC tournament started. The young freshmen are finally playing up to their talent level and came within one possession of upsetting Florida in the conference tournament and handed Wichita State its only loss of the season in the Big Dance.
With Russ Smith, Luke Hancock and Montrezl Harrell on the Louisville side and Julius Randle, James Young, Willie Cauley-Stein and the Harrison brothers on the Kentucky side, these two teams are very evenly matched on paper.
Whenever two teams are so evenly matched and have a storied history with each other, the game is up for grabs. Louisville needs to be prepared to battle for 40 minutes if it hopes to continue its quest to defend its crown.
Virginia (No. 1 Seed, East Region)
Has the ever been a No. 1 seed that received less respect heading into a Sweet 16 game against a No. 4 seed than Virginia?
Michigan State is the projected champion in seemingly every bracket across the country (including the President’s), but that doesn’t change the fact that the Cavaliers are the No. 1 seed in the East Region. Still, it is difficult to see Virginia keeping up with the pure amount of talent the Spartans put on the floor.
Michigan State’s health has been well-documented, and the only reason it isn’t a No. 1 seed itself is because of all the injury problems it had during the year.
With Keith Appling, Gary Harris, Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne finally together, Michigan State is simply better than Virginia. Tom Izzo’s squad will get out to a quick start, and the Cavaliers’ slow-paced attack will not be able to make up the initial deficit like it did against No. 16 Coastal Carolina.
Virginia is actually ranked 346th in Pomeroy's pace-adjusted tempo rankings, which means it would have to completely alter its style of play against a formidable Michigan State team in order to dig out of an early hole. That simply doesn't work against an opponent like the Spartans.