2010 NCAA Tournament Predictions: Eight Possible Second-Round Upsets
Forget Thursday and Friday. It's Saturday and Sunday that defines March Madness, a two-day stretch where fantasy becomes reality, the college basketball meek snatch an inheritance of roundball earth and those hours of projecting the NCAA Tournament goes straight to Bracket Hell.
A season defined by chaos and uncertainty will reach its apex in the second round, where top seeds walk into an ambush by sleepers lying in wait to shoot down title hopes while establishing a shining moment in the process.
The second round is where under the radar turns into major name recognition (see Curry, Stephen) and where a once nondescript program takes its first step towards breaking bread with the sport's elite (see Gonzaga, 1999). By the time Andy Rooney is warming up in the 60 Minutes bullpen on Sunday night, there will be a top-four school that will begin its focus on spring football.
There are eight possible second round matchups that have the potential for a huge upset. Join us as we take a look at potential games that may make you think twice on selecting your bracket.
No. 8: West Region, (1) Syracuse vs. (8) Gonzaga
Wesley Johnson gets the NBA scouts in a lather, but it's center Arinze Onuaku's health that will determine if the Orange can give coach Jim Boeheim his second NCAA title.
If Onuaku's strained quad is less than 100 percent, Syracuse could find themselves in trouble against a Bulldogs squad that can match up well with the 'Cuse, especially if the game becomes a track meet. Coach Mark Few's squad is still stung by an embarrassing loss to St. Mary's in the West Coast Conference final, and will come into the tournament with a chip on its shoulder.
Without Onuaku, Gonzaga C Robert Sacre could become a factor down low. The Orange will have their hands full with Gs Matt Boldin and Steven Gray and F Elias Harris. The trio can light it up on any given night. Don't be fooled by the Bulldogs' desire to run and gun; the Zags can play a protracted half-court game if need be.
The Orange will have to come out early and establish the tone early. What they can't afford to do is come out lethargic as they did in their Big East Tournament loss to Georgetown. If so, consider these Orange crushed.
No. 7: East Region, (1) Kentucky vs. (8) Texas
First off, let's assume that the Longhorns will defeated ninth-seed Wake Forest, which will present Texas with more than they can handle.
(Have we assumed yet? Good....let's go).
This could be the biggest hurdle facing Kentucky, especially if the Longhorns remember to play like they did en route to a 17-0 start. Say what you want about the elite talent of John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, but Texas has a squad filled with tourney-tested players, many of whom played on the Longhorns' Elite Eight team two years ago.
If Damion James and Dexter Pittman can snap out of their funks long enough, they'll have the size and experience to frustrate Kentucky's bigs (Cousins, Patrick Patterson and Daniel Orton). They'll need to establish themselves in the low post, because Texas cannot rely on their outside shooters to deliver big shots (34.5 percent from 3-point range).
James can be a game-changer when he wants it bad enough. If he comes in playing with the same fire and intensity he showed early in the season, he's capable of putting Texas on his broad shoulders and pull off the upset.
However, that's a huge if.
No. 6: East Region, (10) Missouri vs. (2) West Virginia
Missouri's press causes mayhem and panic; the Tigers led the nation in both steals (11) and turnovers (20) per game. The turnovers usually lead to easy baskets and provide opponents a sense of discomfort that plays right into the hands of coach Craig Anderson's team.
The Tigers' style could cause problems for a Mountaineers team that tends to be careless with the ball at times. Coach Bob Huggins' unit also likes to use an anaconda-like press to choke out foes, but could find themselves in trouble if Missouri turns the game into a shootout.
Pressing on occasion is one thing, but the Tigers relish smothering opponents from the opening tip. Missouri won't let up, and if the game becomes a 80-78 kind of game instead of 60-58, West Virginia could find itself taking a long walk on a short trip.
No. 5: South Region, (13) Siena vs. (5) Texas A&M
After consecutive first-round wins as a 13th and 9th seed, the Saints are the proverbial "team you don't want to face." Coach Fran McCaffery's squad is balanced and features four double-digit scorers, including MAAC Player of the Year Alex Franklin and PG Ronald Moore, who led the nation in assists.
The Aggies are more substance than flash, meaning they'll have to keep the score in the 50s and low 60s to have a shot at avoiding the upset. A&M plays sound defense, but tends to get out of sync on the offensive end. That doesn't bode well against a veteran Siena team that can bust a game open if Franklin's long-range stroke warms up early.
Texas A&M doesn't shoot the 3-ball well, but the kill shot could come from the fact the Aggies have hit a paltry 66 percent of their free throws. The grandiose vision of playing in a sea of maroon at Houston's Reliant Stadium next week could come to an end if A&M falters from the stripe.
No. 4: (12) Cornell vs. (4) Wisconsin
How good is Cornell? Ask Kansas, which came within a minute of falling to the Big Red. They may play in the Ivy League, but coach Steve Donahue's team is a fundamentally sound group that can bury the 3 in droves.
Cornell's best chance to pull off the upset would come if they can force the tempo and rattle the Badgers into turnovers, both feats easier said than done. Wisconsin loves to slow the game and turn it into a half-court battle of attrition, which plays against the Big Red's style.
The Badgers lack a deep bench, so if Cornell's long range shooters, led by F Ryan Wittman, can knock down a few early bombs and get Wisconsin out of their game, the Big Red stand a chance of not only beating one of the Big Ten's premier teams, but also opening the door to an even deeper tournament run.
No. 3: West Region, (10) Florida vs. (2) Kansas State
The Gators aren't a one-man team; coach Billy Donovan's squad has five players that scored in double figures and freshman G Kenny Boynton and soph G Erving Walker have the ability to light it up at any given moment.
Coach Frank Martin has a pair of solid guards in Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen. The duo can change the complexion of a game in a hurry, but an inconsistent front court can cause them both to do too much.
Kansas State has no problem getting to the free throw line; they just struggle once they get there. As the loss to Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament final attests, the Wildcats, well....plain stink.
Florida's trump card is Donovan, owner of two national title rings. The Gators are young, but Donovan's leadership is an intangible that gives them an edge against almost anyone, especially against a KSU team that has had a hard time adjusting to the expectations placed upon them throughout the season.
No. 2: Midwest Region, (10) Georgia Tech vs. (2) Ohio State
In junior F Gani Lawal, freshman F Derrick Favors and freshman G Iman Shumpert, coach Paul Hewitt's team has a trio of NBA-caliber talents that are complimented by one of the tourney's deepest benches. The Yellowjackets underachieved at times, but the pieces are in place for a extended stay in the Big Dance.
National Player of the Year candidate Evan Turner is the headliner for Thad Motta's Buckeyes, but make no mistake: this isn't a Danny Manning-like team carried by one man. Ohio State has a solid lineup that -- with each starter standing over 6-5 -- can cause matchup issues with their size and athleticism.
The upset can happen if the Yellowjackets bait the Buckeyes into either a run-and-gun game or get Ohio State in foul trouble. Either scenario could prove fatal to the Buckeyes, who lack any semblance of depth. Also, C Dallas Lauderdale and F David Lighty are both miserable free throw shooters, which forces Motta's hand in tight contests.
No. 1: South Region, (9) Louisville vs. (1) Duke
We know this is true about Louisville: they will shoot the 3 and they will press the daylights out of you.
This is not the most talented team that Rick Pitino has coached in his 10 years with the Cardinals, but sophomore F Samardo Samuels has the type of all-around game that, coupled with the sniper-like ability of senior G Edgar Sosa, makes Louisville a dangerous foe.
For them to deliver the knockout blow against the Blue Devils, they will have to rebound, a facet of the game that eluded them most of the season. Check the 54-33 rebounding edge Cincinnati had on them in last week's Big East tourney.
Mike Krzyzewski's team is capable of winning either a shootout or a half-court affair, but Duke would be wise to play for the latter if Louisville is raining 3s. G Jon Scheyer gives the Blue Devils a shooter who can distribute the ball and F Kyle Singler's matchup against Samuels will be intriguing.
Don't expect Duke to overlook Louisville, but Pitino became a household name with the same formula (3-pointers and pressure defense) with a 1987 Providence team that draws similarities to this Cardinals unit.