Tournament 2017: Ranking the Most Likely Upsets in Round of 64

Scott Harris@ScottHarrisMMAMMA Lead WriterMarch 15, 2017

Tournament 2017: Ranking the Most Likely Upsets in Round of 64

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    Devontae Cacok (left) and C.J. Bryce of UNC Wilmington.
    Devontae Cacok (left) and C.J. Bryce of UNC Wilmington.Lance King/Getty Images

    It's the middle of the night. 

    You bolt awake in bed, panic rooted in your chest like a vice grip. 

    "Ahhh!" you begin. Then you say "which 12 seed am I gonna pick? For gosh's sake, which?"

    This article may not be the hero you want, but it is the hero you need. So lie back and relax, to the extent such things are possible during a period of transfixed reading, and check out our ranking of the most likely upsets in the 2017 March Madness tournament. 

    They are ranked based on the size of the upset and the probability of it actually happening.

7. No. 11 Rhode Island over No. 6 Creighton

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    Rhode Island guard E.C. Matthews (left).
    Rhode Island guard E.C. Matthews (left).Joe Sargent/Getty Images

    This is a pretty trendy pick in the Midwest Region. And who am I to blow against the wind? I've always wanted to be trendy.

    The logic is not without merit. Creighton simply isn't the same team without floor leader Maurice Watson, who added 12.9 points and 8.5 assists to the Bluejays' average game equation. They were 18-1 with him; they are 7-8 without him. Sometimes you don't need advanced stats to understand something.

    Meanwhile, the Rhode Island Rams are one of the hottest teams in the country. They've won eight straight and 12 of their last 14, including a run to the A-10 tournament title. This is Rhode Island's first tournament appearance since Lamar Odom took them there in 1999.

    Guard E.C. Matthews is the Rams' unquestioned star, and he gets help from forward Hassan Martin. Only three players average in double figures, but 10 players average at least 10 minutes, giving them the kind of depth that's worth its weight in gold come tournament time.

6. No. 11 Xavier over No. 6 Maryland

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    Trevon Bluiett (left).
    Trevon Bluiett (left).Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Maryland has had a post problem all year. Here in the West Region, it may mean the end of its season.

    It wasn't exactly national news when Terps big man Michal Cekovsky went down with a season-ending injury, but it robbed Maryland of needed frontcourt depth. Damonte Dodd can't carry the load himself, and reserves like Ivan Bender, who was pressed into service because of Cekovsky's injury, were inconsistent.

    Take that and fold in a team that cooled off big time down the stretch. Star guard Melo Trimble got his, but top freshmen Kevin Huerter, Anthony Cowan and Justin Jackson all appeared to hit a wall.

    None of this points to good things ahead against the Xavier Musketeers. They're a rugged post team that sit 20th in the nation with a 6.6 rebounding margin, per NCAA stats. They can also play zone defense, which isn't good for the aforementioned cold-shooting Terps. 

    What it boils down to for Maryland is this: It needs more than Melo. If the supporting cast can suddenly get its groove back, particularly from deep, the Terps may have a shot to at least cover up and perhaps supersede their unfixable deficiencies down low.

5. No. 10 Wichita State over No. 7 Dayton

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    Markis McDuffie.
    Markis McDuffie.Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

    When you're done scratching your head over this seeding, go ahead and scratch in Wichita State on your bracket.

    If you didn't know the South Region seedings, you might have assumed Wichita State had the better seed here, especially when you consider that KenPom.com has the team eighth—not as a seed prediction but overall in the nation.

    The Shockers are second nationally in scoring margin (19.6), fourth in three-point percentage (40.8), 10th in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.49) and the list continues.

    This is an efficient team and a potent one, and it has become more deadly of late thanks to the emergence of Conner Frankamp, the sharp-shooting Kansas transfer who is now a reliable scoring option alongside Markis McDuffie and Landry Shamet. Together, they've won 15 in a row.

    Dayton is a fine team and well stocked with senior leaders, like Charles Cooke and Kendall Pollard, but KenPom ranks it 36th overall. The Flyers also closed out their regular season with losses to George Washington and Davidson. 

4. No. 10 Marquette over No. 7 South Carolina

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    Markus Howard (center).
    Markus Howard (center).Associated Press

    It's quite a nice, cushy little nest the South Carolina Gamecocks have feathered for themselves here in the East Region.

    A seventh seed an hour-and-a-half from your home gym? Yes, you take that any day. Head coach Frank Martin was so shocked he actually came out and said it.

    He told GamecockCentral:

    When the show started, I thought we were going out West as a No. 8 or 9 (seed). Not because that’s what the analysts were saying, but based on my experience and our numbers and our record, I thought we had lost some games that would have helped us stay closer to home. Had we stayed in the East, I thought we would be a No. 10 seed just to keep us East.

    And yet, if styles make fights, this is a very intriguing matchup.

    South Carolina is one of the best defensive teams in the nation, ranking third in KenPom's defensive ratings. It also sits fifth nationally in three-point percentage defense

    The latter stat is notable, because Marquette leads the country with 43 percent of its three-pointers made. That's right, it's the force vs. the object.

    Swing this one the way of the Golden Eagles, who have wins over Villanova, Creighton (twice) and Xavier (twice) on their ledger.

    South Carolina has wins over Syracuse and Florida, but none of those came after January 18. Factor in the Gamecocks' consecutive losses to Ole Miss and Alabama coming into the tourney, and you've got a team that might need more than a semi-home-court advantage.

3. No. 10 VCU over No. 7 St. Mary's

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    Jock Landale.
    Jock Landale.Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    With the reintroduction of De'Riante Jenkins, a deep VCU team gets deeper and the West region gets another legit upset prospect when the Rams take on St. Mary's.

    Former pro baller Laphonso Ellis took tournament questions through the ESPN Stats & Info Twitter account and tweeted of this matchup: "Landale has had foul issues and SMC doesn't have the footspeed to keep up with VCU."

    That's a pretty pithy breakdown. But let's go a little deeper.

    VCU doesn't get as much shine as it did in the Shaka Smart years, during which the Rams made the Final Four in 2011, but they still play the same "havoc" defense (also known as full-court man-to-man). The Rams still attack you in waves with an athletic rotation that goes 10 long. They use that depth to swarm opposing offenses.

    St. Mary's has its own defensive prowess, finishing second nationally in points allowed with 56.5 per game (VCU isn't far behind with 66.4). But its calling card is the half court; both phases of the Gaels' game happen at a decidedly methodical pace, hence their 350th ranking in adjusted tempo, per KenPom

    Jock Landale is the star Gael and with good reason. The 6'11" Australian finished second in the nation with a 33.8 player efficiency rating. He met or surpassed the 20-point mark 11 times this season. But as Ellis alluded, he has also committed at least four fouls on 10 occasions.

    That doesn't bode well for Landale's chances against a swarming and newly reinforced VCU squad. The Rams will run down and frustrate the Gaels over 40 minutes to pull the upset.

2. No. 12 UNC Wilmington over No. 5 Virginia

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    C.J. Bryce.
    C.J. Bryce.Lance King/Getty Images

    You know the Virginia talking points. The pack line defense. First in the nation in defensive efficiency and scoring defense. Dead last in the nation in tempo and 309th in the nation with 66.6 points scored per game.

    In other words, all defense all the time.

    The UNC Wilmington Seahawks are an interesting foil here in the East Region. They're pretty much exactly the opposite.

    They are 10th nationally with 85 points per game and 18th in adjusted offensive efficiency, per KemPom. Behind point guard C.J. Bryce and with a pretty athletic squad, the Seahawks could make hay running on the Cavs. Easier said than done against an ACC team that prides itself on never letting the other team get behind it, but still.

    And here's a potential secret weapon for UNCW: despite the Seahawks' high-speed game, they know how to take care of the basketball. No slops here, as illustrated by their 4.2 turnover margin—sixth best in the nation—and the high-percentage shot-making of players like Devontae Cacok, who led the entire country with a 146.5 offensive rating, per Basketball Reference.

    We haven't even touched yet on Virginia's perennial postseason disappointments. When will that monkey start to weigh heavy on its back? The guess here is right around the time it needs a big shot and can't figure out who should take it.

    London Perrantes is a very strong player, but is he really That Guy? It's hard to tell who will stop the bleeding if UNCW can start it.

1. No. 14 Florida Gulf Coast University over No. 3 Florida State

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    Dwayne Bacon.
    Dwayne Bacon.Associated Press

    Go big or go home is what I say.

    This West Region matchup comes down to the best team in the Atlantic Sun versus the second-best team in the Atlantic Coast.

    According to the final standings, anyway. Look at the 'Noles a little closer and you see some cracks.

    Florida Gulf Coast, meanwhile, won 12 of 13 over the second half of the season. And this is "Dunk City," don't forget; the team can heat up in a flash.

    The Eagles don't run like they used to, but they still know how to get high-quality chances. Their 50.2 field goal percentage is fifth in the country. Guard Brandon Goodwin (18.2 points, four assists, 4.6 rebounds per game) is the engine that makes the team go. 

    The FGCU fans will also be out in force, as the game is happening in Orlando—just a short drive from the campus.

    Florida State is still a tall order, almost literally, for the Eagles. A post committee led by Jonathan Isaac puts up an intimidating presence. But it doesn't seem to do much with that size, relatively speaking, grabbing 25.94 defensive and 11.79 offensive rebounds per contest.

    Inconsistency has plagued the Seminoles all season. For every win they got over a team like Duke, there's a loss to a group like Georgia Tech. That's why they're probably a four or a five seed masquerading as a three, and it's why they could fall if it gets hot in Dunk City.