March Madness 2015 Bracket: Analyzing Teams Capable of Major Early Upsets

Chris RolingFeatured ColumnistFebruary 28, 2015

Mar 7, 2014; Nashville, TN, USA; Murray State Racers guard Cameron Payne (1) brings the ball up court against the Eastern Kentucky Colonels during the second half in the semifinals of the Ohio Valley Conference basketball tournament at Nashville Memorial Auditorium. Eastern Kentucky won 86-83. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

The "Madness" in March Madness describes those pesky bracket-busting teams that shock the globe each year.

Madness, perhaps best defined as chaotic activity, describes the period as a whole with so many teams in the bracket each year. This leads to unpredictable outcomes, as even the best attempts at predicting the inevitable when filling out brackets usually fall short.

A surprise is still a surprise. It's one thing to know a surprise is on the way, but the how and the where are another thing entirely, which makes the annual tournament the best thing in the sporting world (although the College Football Playoff is closing the gap).

Still, it wouldn't be bracket season without attempts at tabbing the top upset teams to watch. Said teams are usually underperformers or lesser-known schools with immense talent—or an immense single talent—in need of putting it all together at just the right time.

The following three certainly fit the bill.

 

Stanford (18-9)

Jan 22, 2015; Stanford, CA, USA; Stanford Cardinal guard Chasson Randle (5) steps out for a shot against the Arizona Wildcats during the first half at Maples Pavilion. The Arizona Wildcats defeated the Stanford Cardinal 89-82. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepa
USA TODAY Sports

The Stanford Cardinal continue to distance themselves from the bubble at just the right time, although at best, Johnny Dawkins' team figures to be an 11th seed.

Perhaps the biggest issue on Stanford's resume writes itself—its biggest win of the year was an upset of then-No. 9 Texas on the road, a team that has since been in a complete free fall and on the bubble itself.

Still, on the court, Stanford certainly touts the recipe for a shocking upset, if not more than one.

Senior guard Chasson Randle (19.4 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists per game) is one of the nation's most electric scorers and may be a household name by the time the tourney ends. As Pac-12 Networks illustrates, he continues to make history on the way to the tournament:

Recently, Stanford has even shown that its defensive prowess can compensate if Randle experiences a hiccup.

Its last outing was a 75-48 thumping of Oregon State in which Randle shot 3-of-10 from the field, but strong team defense held the Beavers to 35.4 percent shooting from the field.

Stanford is far from the sexiest team in the running. An 8-6 mark against the RPI Top 100, per its ESPN RPI profile, suggests an ability to hang with the top teams, though.

Should team defense remain a strength and Randle get hot at the right time, Stanford will give the best teams in the bracket a run for their money.

 

UCLA (17-12)

Feb 18, 2015; Tempe, AZ, USA; UCLA Bruins guard Norman Powell (4) against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Wells-Fargo Arena. The Sun Devils defeated the Bruins 68-66. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

Another team from out West more than capable of making some serious noise is UCLA. 

Like Stanford, the Bruins need some help.

They are 6-10 against the RPI Top 100 this year and only 7-5 in their last 12 games, horrific marks for a team with such individual talent.

Despite the issues, plenty see the Bruins making the bracket, as ESPN's Joe Lunardi posts them as a No. 12 seed. That places the Bruins in a precarious position, but it's one they could make some noise from if everything starts to click.

Steve Alford's team touts plenty of talent, headlined by Bryce Alford, who averages 15.3 points per game. His complement, senior Norman Powell, averages 16.1. Underneath the rim, freshman Kevon Looney averages 12.3 points and 9.4 boards and is the main reason the Bruins rank 16th in the nation at 38.9 boards per game.

These Bruins have seemingly put it all together, blowing away once-great Washington 88-66. Powell led all scorers with 24 points, and the Bruins ruled the glass, grabbing 42 boards to the Huskies' 20.

Powell cites frustration with a prior two-game skid as the reason for a newfound form, per The Associated Press (via ESPN.com):

Everybody was motivated. A lot of it had to do with coach being out and we had frustration from the last road trip. We got back into practice and focused on tightening everything up. Tony got physical in the post and got everything he wanted, and that's what we need out of him.

When playing as a team—one that shoots effectively from outside and imposes its will on the boards—UCLA can compete with any school in the country. 

 

Murray State (25-4)

Mar 7, 2014; Nashville, TN, USA; Murray State Racers guard Cameron Payne (1) controls the ball against Eastern Kentucky Colonels guard Corey Walden (2) during the second half in the semifinals of the Ohio Valley Conference basketball tournament at Nashvil
USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes sheer star power can will a mid-major to eye-popping upsets. 

Such is the case with the Murray State Racers out of the Ohio Valley Conference, a team that has not dropped a game since near the end of November.

Cameron Payne is the name to know. The sophomore does it all, averaging 19.8 points, 3.5 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game. Even in losses he shows up big, scoring 23 points in an 89-62 defeat at Xavier, for example.

Payne is the perfect example of a player who can win the hearts and minds of onlookers once in the field (Lunardi lists Murray State as a No. 13 seed), as a note by CBS Sports' Seth Davis hints:

It's not often that a mid-major hits the tournament against a much bigger program and still fields the best player on the court.

Payne gives the Racers that rare advantage. A 79 points-per-game average (13th in the nation) and .483 field-goal percentage (17th) are not inflated numbers due to weak competition; they're the result of arguably college basketball's top player lacing up the sneakers every night.

As far as upset-capable teams to watch in the early rounds go, Payne and the Racers top the list.

 

Stats and info are courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

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