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Teams on Upset Alert in Day 6 of 2016 NCAA Tournament

Rob GoldbergFeatured ColumnistMarch 20, 2016

Teams on Upset Alert in Day 6 of 2016 NCAA Tournament

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    After what we have seen during the first few days of the 2016 NCAA tournament, it's clear no team is truly safe from an upset.

    There has already been a half-court buzzer-beater, a top national title contender going down against a No. 15 seed and a plethora of other shocking moments to make this one of the most exciting opening weekends ever. As we get ready to close out the second round, even more surprises could be on tap.

    At this time of year, there is no such thing as an "easy" matchup. Even the elite teams could fall victim to the madness and get knocked out before reaching the Sweet 16. However, certain squads should be on higher alert Sunday than others.

    Here is a look at the biggest upset possibilities for Sunday's games, in no particular order.

Notre Dame

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    No. 6 Notre Dame vs. No. 14 Stephen F. Austin (East Region)

    Notre Dame fans might be happy to avoid a tough matchup against West Virginia, but Stephen F. Austin is just as dangerous as the departed No. 3 seed in the East Region.

    The Mountaineers presented a tough matchup due to their pressing defense that ranked second in the nation in forced turnover rate, according to KenPom.com. No. 1 in that category? Stephen F. Austin. The Lumberjacks beat West Virginia at its own game and forced 22 turnovers in a 14-point upset win Friday night.

    "Nothing flukey about that Stephen F. Austin win. Looks like a team that can make a real run. They've lost 13 games in the last THREE years," tweeted Dan Duggan of NJ Advance Media.

    Stephen F. Austin might not be a nationally known program, but this team knows how to win games. Coach Brad Underwood's squad extended its winning streak to 21 games Friday, the best in the country, and it remains a serious threat to keep up the momentum against Notre Dame.

    The Fighting Irish certainly have a better offense than West Virginia, ranking 11th in adjusted offensive efficiency compared to West Virginia's ranking of 28. Notre Dame also has five different players averaging at least 11 points per game. Demetrius Jackson is an excellent ball-handler who should have a lot of success against the Lumberjacks defense. If the Fighting Irish can break the press, they have the ability to knock down a lot of open shots.

    Still, Thomas Walkup is coming off a 33-point effort against one of the nation's top defenses, and he can put up big numbers against a Notre Dame defense that ranked 166th in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. Even as a No. 14 seed, Stephen F. Austin remains a serious threat to keep winning.

Syracuse

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    Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

    No. 10 Syracuse vs. No. 15 Middle Tennessee (Midwest Region)

    You have to wonder whether Syracuse even brought its home uniforms for this tournament. The Orange won as the No. 10 seed and likely expected a matchup against Michigan State, but Middle Tennessee ensured that wouldn't happen with a dramatic upset Friday.

    Of course, while the Blue Raiders did win as a No. 15 seed, this didn't look like the usual mid-major slaying of a Power Five Goliath, where the small school barely hung on with a miracle shot. Middle Tennessee jumped out to a 15-2 lead and never trailed while making 55.9 percent of shots from the field.

    That might help explain why the Blue Raiders have no shortage of confidence heading into their second-round matchup against Syracuse. Junior swingman Aldonis Foote provided his thoughts on the upcoming game, per Chris Carlson of Syracuse.com:

    We know they like to play zone. And you know we don't miss a lot of shots. We've just got to come out with a positive mindset. We're going to use it as motivation. Michigan State was ranked high through the regular season. We feel Michigan State was way more consistent than Syracuse anyway. We're going to come out play our game and make another upset. We're going to act like we did it and like we're going to do it again.

    He certainly has a point about not missing shots, as Middle Tennessee went 11-of-19 from three-point range against Michigan State. If the Blue Raiders can shoot anywhere near as well against Syracuse, they will have a lot of success against the Orange's vaunted 2-3 zone.

    The Orange had an easy time disposing of Dayton in the round of 64, holding the Flyers to just 51 points on 32.1 percent shooting. Freshman guard Malachi Richardson is coming off a big 21-point outing, while senior forward Michael Gbinije is always a threat to put up huge numbers. However, if Middle Tennessee plays like it did against Michigan State, we will see the second-ever No. 15 seed in the Sweet 16.

Oregon

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    No. 1 Oregon vs. No. 8 St. Joseph's (West Region)

    On a day full of crazy outcomes, Oregon was one of the few teams to have a nice, easy victory Friday. The Ducks cruised to a 91-52 win over Holy Cross, giving many of their star players some much-needed rest with no one playing more than 26 minutes.

    Things are about to get a whole lot harder in the round of 32.

    St. Joseph's barely escaped the first round with a thrilling 78-76 win over Cincinnati. Bearcats senior forward Octavius Ellis had what appeared to be a game-tying dunk, but he held on to it a fraction of a second too long, allowing the Hawks to advance by the skin of their teeth.

    Though St. Joseph's didn't begin its tournament run with a blowout victory like Oregon, the Ducks still can't take their round-of-32 opponent lightly. 

    Junior forward DeAndre Bembry played every minute against Cincinnati and filled up the box score with 23 points, six rebounds, five assists, three steals and two blocks. Senior forward Isaiah Miles, meanwhile, had 19 points, seven rebounds and two blocks and knocked down 3-of-5 shots from three-point range. That duo can cause problems for Oregon defensively, especially if either attacks the basket and gets to the free-throw line.

    The Hawks also don't beat themselves, posting the fourth-lowest turnover rate in college basketball, according to KenPom.com. This will not only give them more chances on the offensive end, it will also help limit the Ducks' scoring in transition.

    Oregon is wholly worthy of its No. 1 seed, contrary to popular belief, but the Pac-12 winners still have to be cautious about a potential upset Sunday.

     

Villanova

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    Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

    No. 2 Villanova vs. No. 7 Iowa (South Region)

    Here we are again for Villanova and coach Jay Wright.

    Two years ago, the Wildcats were a No. 2 seed and lost to Connecticut in the second round. Last year, they were a No. 1 seed and lost to North Carolina State in the second round. On Sunday, they have another tough matchup in the round of 32 against Iowa.

    Villanova is certainly the better team. Similar to the past few years, the squad has a balanced offensive attack with a number of different players capable of taking over on a given night. Senior guard Ryan Arcidiacono usually runs the offense but guard Josh Hart, forward Kris Jenkins and others chip in plenty of scoring on their own.

    One of the differences this year is its improvement defensively, which it showed in its 30-point opening win over UNC Asheville. Senior forward Daniel Ochefu protects the rim and the guards on the perimeter attempt to ensure every shot is contested. As Seth Davis of CBS Sports noted, "This is one of the best defensive teams [Jay] Wright has had."

    However, Villanova hasn't reached the Sweet 16 since 2009, which may weigh heavily on the players' minds heading into this game. The Wildcats' upcoming opponent is also not a typical No. 7 seed, as Iowa looked like a legitimate contender for the national championship earlier this season.

    The Hawkeyes began the year 20-5, earning some buzz as a potential No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, but they fell apart from there with six losses in their last eight games. Still, everyone starts fresh at this time of year, and Iowa still has the talent to make a run. Senior forward Jarrod Uthoff can get a shot off against anyone, while junior guard Peter Jok is always a threat to catch fire offensively. 

    Considering this team swept Michigan State during the regular season, Villanova could be in trouble.

Maryland

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    No. 5 Maryland vs. No. 13 Hawaii (South Region)

    Had Maryland maintained its lead against South Dakota State in the round of 64 and cruised to victory, there would be less concern about this squad. The Terps were up 18 points midway through the second half and seemed poised to start resting players for the second round. However, their shots stopped falling, allowing the Jackrabbits to trim their lead to just two points.

    South Dakota State turned the ball over on its chance to tie the game in the waning seconds, but Maryland's inability to slam the door on the Jackrabbits certainly raised an eyebrow. Sophomore guard Melo Trimble had 19 points but went 0-of-4 from three-point range, continuing his recent slump from downtown. Turnovers and rebounding have also plagued the Terps for much of the year and remain a concern.

    Although facing Hawaii might be a bit easier than a healthy California, the Rainbow Warriors showed Friday that they were no joke.

    Hawaii showcased its smothering defense in the round of 64, forcing 16 turnovers and holding the Bears to just 3-of-19 shooting from three-point range. The team is quick and has the athleticism to cover a lot of ground on the court.

    On the other end of the court, senior guard Quincy Smith led the way with 19 points against Cal, although a majority of Hawaii's offensive production usually comes from the trio of junior forward Stefan Jankovic, junior guard Aaron Valdes and senior guard Roderick Bobbitt. All three are tough to defend due to their ability to score inside, and if they are hitting shots from the perimeter, Maryland could be in trouble.

    If Maryland plays to its ability, it can make a deep run in this tournament. However, inconsistency has been an issue for this squad throughout the season, so it could be looking at an early exit at the hands of Hawaii.

     

    Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for year-round sports analysis.

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