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NCAA Bracket 2011 Predictions: Ranking the Round of 32 Upset Chances

PJ SapienzaContributor IIIMarch 19, 2011

NCAA Bracket 2011 Predictions: Ranking the Round of 32 Upset Chances

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    We all love the NCAA tournament for the upsets that happen every year.  The majority of the major upsets happen over the first four days of the tournament. 

    As we look at the Round of 32, which teams have the best chance of pulling off an upset and moving on to the Sweet 16?

    Here is a ranking of the upset chances in this round of action. We are already guaranteed of at least one low-seeded team reaching the Sweet 16, as No. 12 Richmond will face No. 13 Morehead State. 

    Who will join them as we look forward to the Round of 32 upsets?

    Which teams will pull off the bracket-busting carnage?

Richmond vs. Morehead State

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    This one ranks this low because it is difficult to consider either team winning in a 12-13 matchup as an upset.

    This will be a defensive struggle, as both teams rank in the top 30 in the nation in defensive points per game.

    Morehead State has Kenneth Faried, who leads the team with 17.6 points per game and the nation with 14.5 rebounds a game.

    Richmond counters with a team that loves to play defense. They entered the tournament holding their previous six opponents to under 60 points. 

    Expect a low-scoring game and a Richmond win.

Kansas vs. Illinois

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    The good news for Illinois is that they enter this game after running wild on UNLV.

    The bad news is, with their up-and-down year, it likely means a stinker game will be up next. 

    The Illini fell apart down the stretch, as they went 6-10 and dropped out of the rankings after being as high as No. 12.  They have a bad habit of struggling late in games, as they have let too many late leads slip away this season.  They also haven’t won back-to-back games since January 6th.  

    Their win over UNLV was their most impressive since early-season wins over North Carolina and Gonzaga. Perhaps this win will turn this talented bunch around.

    Kansas is a stellar team that is playing with a chip on their shoulder in this tournament.  Last year, as the top seed in the tournament, they were knocked off in the second round.  The players were reminded of that constantly as this year’s tournament drew closer. 

    Unlike some teams that may feel overwhelmed by the pressure, these Jayhawks use it as motivation.

    It really doesn’t matter which Illinois team shows up for this one.  Kansas will not lose in this round for the second straight year.

George Mason vs. Ohio State

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    George Mason carried the Cinderella banner in 2006 to a Final Four appearance, and they'd like to make history again.  Ohio State will not take the talented Patriots lightly.

    Back in 2006, the Patriots came in as the unknown 11th seed, but enter this year’s tournament as the 8th seed and will not be able to fly under anyone’s radar.  The Patriots will rely on the inside-outside duo of Ryan Pearson and Cam Long to rekindle their Cinderella magic.

    The top-seeded Buckeyes are just a dominant bunch who do just about everything right.  Playing a virtual home game in Cleveland seems to be just too much for the Patriots. 

    They will not have a Cinderella sequel in them this year.

Kansas State vs. Wisconsin

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    No upset here, as it is a toss-up game. 

    Wisconsin is one of the top defensive teams in the country, but until their opening-round game against Belmont, had struggled recently.

    Kansas State went through wild changes this year as they switched their offense halfway through the season. They are very much hit and miss.

    Both teams were eyed as possible victims for upsets in their first games.  Oddly enough, you’ll also find these two in many Final Four picks. 

    Kansas State wins this one—the hope is that it will not be as ugly of a game as Wisconsin’s recent 36-33 loss to Penn State.

West Virginia vs. Kentucky

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    This is a rematch of last year’s Elite Eight game, which saw West Virginia win, 76-66.  A 4-5 matchup doesn’t normally have upset material, but a West Virginia win would be a small upset. 

    Both teams have changed since last year.  Kentucky is a young team that lost John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson.  West Virginia has lost high-scoring star De’Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks.   

    The Mountaineers have shown some offensive weakness this year, but this tournament-tested team will not bow to the pressure.  The Wildcats will counter with a very young and athletic team.  While they do rely on several freshman, they have improved as the season progressed and are playing their best basketball right now.

    Expect Kentucky to get revenge for last year’s loss, but with the veteran squad, the Mountaineers will hope to make the younger, inexperienced Wildcats fold under the bright lights.

Arizona vs. Texas

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    On the surface, a 4-5 matchup doesn’t constitute much of an upset. 

    But Texas isn’t your typical No. 4 seed. 

    Less than a month ago, they were looking at No.1 seed, but after losing three of their final five games, they dropped out of contention.  They still entered the tournament ranked eighth in the AP, so a No. 4 seed was a bad surprise for them.

    Arizona is a team on the rise.  After missing last year’s tourney for the first time 25 years, they entered this year’s tournament with an impressive 28-7 record and the Pac-10 regular-season crown.  They boast Pac-10 Player of the Year Derrick Williams and the 25th-ranked team in the country in terms of points per game.

    Is Texas the team that started 23-3 and ended Kansas’ home winning streak, or are they the team that stumbled down the stretch and that still hears the whispers of last year’s first-round loss in their heads?

    Look for Texas to move on in a close game.

Marquette vs. Syracuse

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    This is a Big East rematch—Marquette won on their home floor in January, 76-70.

    Syracuse has a dominate defensive force in Rick Jackson patrolling the paint, and while Syracuse has been inconsistent at times this year, their defense has been solid. 

    One question entering this game will be the health of Scoop Jardine, who injured his wrist late in their first game.

    Marquette has been up-and-down all year.  They can score with most teams, but don’t do a good job stopping opponents, especially away from home.  If they get cold shooting, they can’t stop their opponents and quickly fall behind.

    One advantage that they generally have come tourney time is that teams are not used to the Orange style on zone defense.  That will not be the case this time around, as Marquette is well aware of their schemes. 

    Syracuse is playing for redemption after injuries knocked them out of the tournament early last season.  They will power by Marquette and win this game.

Temple vs. San Diego State

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    Is San Diego State really that good? 

    Coming into the season, who would have thought the Aztecs would be a No. 2 seed? 

    They have a strong frontcourt that is led my Mr. Double-Double, Kawhi Leonard.  They out-rebound their opponents by seven boards a game.  While they have played other teams in the tournament, they did not play any of the major conference schools this year. 

    Are they really as good as their record, or is it all smoke and mirrors right now?

    Temple is about balance and defense.  They have five players who average double-digit points.  They also only allow 62.2 points per game.  Scootie Randall is trying to make a return from a stress fracture in his foot, and the Owls will need his play if they have any chance to pull off the upset.

    The Aztecs should win this one, as Temple just doesn’t have enough height or firepower to stay in this one.

Michigan vs. Duke

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    Great timing for this game in light of the recent Fab Five documentary that ESPN aired earlier this week and the amount of verbal sparring that has shot back and forth among the players in that time frame.

    On paper, Duke should win this one with ease.  But a closer look shows that Michigan has played two other No. 1 seeds this season. 

    In back-to-back games in January, they pushed Kansas to overtime and then had a four-point loss to Ohio State.  Their stout defensive play against Tennessee, in which they only gave up only 16 second-half points, as well as their constant three-point threat, gives them hope.

    Unfortunately, hope will not be enough to get the win. 

    This game is either a nail-biter Duke win or a blowout Duke win—there will not be anything in between.

    But, maybe, just maybe......

Connecticut vs. Cincinnati

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    This game pits two conference foes against one another, which is the earliest it has ever happened in the NCAA tournament. 

    With 11 Big East teams in the tournament, the committee was unable to avoid early conference matchups.

    These two teams only played once this year, with UConn taking a 67-59 win at Cincy.  While it is unfair to consider UConn a one-man team, their fate does rest in Kemba Walker’s super-scoring hands.  With 13 points, he will become the all-time points leader in Huskies history. 

    Cincy will look to hold him in check, which they had some success with in the earlier meeting.  If they can repeat that performance, then Jeremy Lamb and Alex Oriakhi will need to step up.

    The Bearcats are a defensive-minded team that is also dangerous beyond the three-point line.  They boast five players as legitimate three-point threats.  They also grab an amazing 14 steals a game, which means that they can press the pace after a steal to find one of their three-point weapons, who should have an open look.

    UConn comes in as the three seed, but can Walker do enough to keep the team going?  The Bearcats will be a tough out and could definitely pull off the upset in this one, but UConn should hang on for the win.

Florida State vs. Notre Dame

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    Chris Singleton coming back from a broken foot is a huge boost for the Seminoles.  He is relentless on defense and dangerous on offense.  He leads a team that was tops in the nation in defensive field-goal percentage. 

    FSU needs all the offensive help they can get, as they struggle scoring at times.

    Notre Dame is one of those teams that, year after year, people just expect to choke.  This year’s squad has a different feel to it. 

    Will this be the year that they finally make a long tourney run? 

    They are a dangerous three-point shooting team that is also tough down low. 

    Notre Dame should hang on for the win in this one.

UCLA vs. Florida

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    UCLA is a very tough, physical team.   But after blowing a 23 point second-half lead to Michigan State, one has to wonder if they have the mental toughness to put a team away.

    Despite being a 7-2 matchup these teams are evenly matched.  Both excel at rebounding and have remarkably balanced scoring.

    Florida has a more experienced team, but at times has trouble protecting the ball.  UCLA has a lot of youth on the team, and as seen by their first game, needs to learn to close out tournament games. 

    Was that enough of a learning experience for the team?

    While UCLA will hang close for most of the game, Florida will put it away in the end.

Purdue vs. VCU

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    Virginia Commonwealth had to watch the talking heads blast them after the brackets were released.  Somehow, these pundits felt bad for the “kids” from bigger conferences and went on and on how the Rams did not belong. 

    Well, apparently the team has taken those words to heart. 

    They started the tournament by beating one of those big-conference schools in USC, then followed it up by beating Georgetown.  They have that dangerous formula that successful mid-major teams tend to have: solid senior leadership.

    Jamie Skeen and Joey Rodriguez lead this team.

    Purdue is a solid team that stumbled to finish the season.   Although they played much better in their opening-round win over St. Peter’s, they did turn the ball over a worrying 16 times.  Their stifling defense leads the way for them, but they will need to protect the ball better if that want to get by VCU.

    Purdue should be able to seal the win on this one, but VCU has that look of Cinderella and could pull out another win.

Gonzaga vs. BYU

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    BYU had hopes of a title run this year until the late-season suspension of Brandon Davies.  Without his inside presence, they have not been the same team and likely will not go as far as their seed dictates. 

    Jimmer Fredette is one of the best scorers in NCAA history—the problem lies in the fact that he controls so much of the BYU offense. 

    How long can he keep it up? 

    Gonzaga is a tournament-tested team that is held up as the king of Cinderella teams.  They will have the frontcourt advantage in this game, but can they stop Jimmer?

    This game has upset written all over it, but expect Jimmer to pull off one more high-scoring game to lead BYU to the Sweet 16.

Washington vs. North Carolina

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    Washington outlasted Georgia’s slow, methodical style to win their first game and will now face a tempo more to their liking in their matchup with North Carolina.

    North Carolina has made a habit of slow starts of late, as they have fallen behind by double digits in three of their last four games.  Long Island really didn’t pose much of a threat in their opening game, but North Carolina showed some reckless play and poor three-point shooting.

    Washington has this can-do attitude with all kinds of hustle.  They can pull of this upset.   

Butler vs. Pittsburgh

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    Will Butler be this year’s, well, Butler?

    They return after last season's magical, surprise run to the championship game.

    This game will feature two very tough, defensive-minded teams. Despite being out-sized, Butler is tenacious on the boards and will fight for every rebound.  Pittsburgh is a team with a strong defense, but has shown struggles in low-scoring games, losing all three games in which they scored under 60 points. 

    Oh yeah, Butler only gives up 58 points a game.

    Look for this year’s first No.1 seed to fall as Butler marches on.

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