Teams on Upset Alert in Day 4 of the 2017 NCAA Tournament

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistMarch 17, 2017

Teams on Upset Alert in Day 4 of the 2017 NCAA Tournament

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    Thursday's Round of 64 games offered several tight finishes, but the day's action lacked the typical March Madness upset.

    Although we saw No. 12 Middle Tennessee topple No. 5 Minnesota and No. 11 Xavier eliminate No. 6 Maryland, top-five seeds Florida, Purdue, Virginia and West Virginia all survived.

    Fans of Team Chaos are hoping Friday will bring some better bracket-busters than the opening slate. Where might those upsets happen? 

    A pair of No. 1 seeds (Kansas and North Carolina) highlight the 16-game docket, while three No. 2s (Duke, Kentucky and Louisville) are also on the docket. Since the Big Dance expanded to 64 teams in 1985, an upset against those seed lines have happened 0.0 and 6.3 percent of the time, respectively.

    Since each fourth- or fifth-seeded team played Thursday, the No. 3 and No. 6 seed lines demand our attention.


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    No. 3 Baylor vs. No. 14 New Mexico State (East Region)

    Baylor has a clear size advantage, but that won't stop New Mexico State from attacking the glass.

    With a 37.0 offensive rebounding percentage, the Aggies enter the clash as the country's 13th-best team on that end, per Sports Reference. Those second-chance opportunities have contributed to 31.2 free throws per field-goal attempt (FT/FGA), which is 17th nationally.

    Unsurprisingly, four of Baylor's losses have occurred among the six games the defense allowed its most free throws.

    Jo Lual-Acuil, Johnathan Motley and sturdy guard Ishmail Wainright must be at their best for Baylor to avoid a third straight early exit.


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    No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 14 Iona (Midwest Region)

    What is the impact of Chris Boucher's injury?

    Oregon will be missing the No. 17 shot-blocker in the country. The only positive is the Ducks have a little experience playing without Boucher, who was sidelined in December wins over UNLV and Fresno State and recently in a loss to Arizona in the Pac-12 tourney.

    Iona centers its offense around Jordan Washington, a 6'8" post player who has scored 20-plus points 12 times this season and reached the 30-point mark in three games. He almost always gets in foul trouble, but Boucher's absence may help Washington avoid that.

    Depending on his play combined with the three-point efficiency from the three volume shooters—Sam Cassell Jr., Deyshonee Much and Jon Severethe Gaels could be in position to pull off a 3-14 stunner. Oregon needs its ordinarily dependable perimeter defense to excel.


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    No. 6 SMU vs. No. 11 USC (East Region)

    While SMU plays a methodical tempo, that's partly the product of excellent defense. The Mustangs typically stay out of foul trouble, evidenced by the nation's fourth-best opponent FT/FGA mark.

    But just two places behind SMU is a USC team that mounted a 17-point comeback during the play-in game against Providence. Put simply, the Trojans force teams to make shots.

    The Mustangs rely on a small rotation—four players average 32-plus minutes, and Jarrey Foster isn't far behind with 29.4—so they're counting on a specific group of players to thrive.

    At 30-4, SMU's blueprint has worked to this point. It only takes one poor shooting performance to end a season, though, and three of the Mustangs' four losses happened when the team shot 41.5 percent or worse. USC opponents have done that in 16 of 34 games.


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    No. 6 Creighton vs. No. 11 Rhode Island (Midwest Region)

    Based on seeding alone, it's a potential upset. But to be fair, Vegas isn't a huge supporter of Creighton anyway. According to OddsShark, the Bluejays have shifted from a two-point favorite to a one-point underdog to a toss-up.

    If this contest wasn't on your viewing radar, it better be now.

    Plus, Creighton has struggled mightily since the season-ending ACL injury to Maurice Watson Jr., who averaged 12.9 points and 8.5 rebounds. The team's average scoring output has dropped from 86.7 points to 76.3, and its shooting percentage has fallen 5.3 percentage points since Jan. 16.

    As long as Rhode Island can control the pace and limit turnovers in the process, this Midwest matchup will come down to the wire.


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    No. 6 Cincinnati vs. No. 11 Kansas State (South Region)

    In all likelihood, this contest will be a low-scoring slugfest. Both teams prefer a slower tempo and don't overwhelm offensively.

    Cincinnati's primary advantage is excellent ball control, boasting a 12.8 turnover percentage that ranks seventh-best nationally. If the Bearcats can protect their possessions, their efficiency inside the arc will be a decisive factor.

    Among NCAA tournament teams, though, Kansas State ranks sixth with a defensive turnover mark of 19.1. During the play-in game against Wake Forest, the Wildcats collected 11 takeaways and turned them into 15 points. Despite losing the turnover battle itself, they played solid transition defense capitalized on Wake's mistakes.

    Nothing is more dangerous in March Madness than an opportunistic underdog. Kansas State has proved it's ready to fill that role.


    All statistics courtesy of KenPom or, unless otherwise noted. All recruiting information via Scout, unless otherwise noted.

    Follow Bleacher Report writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.