Sweet 16 2018: Upset Meter for Every Men's Game

Jake Curtis@jakecurtis53Featured ColumnistMarch 19, 2018

Sweet 16 2018: Upset Meter for Every Men's Game

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    The wild opening weekend of the 2018 NCAA men's tournament is in the books. Now, things get serious. 

    Last year, the lower-seeded team won just two of the eight Sweet 16 games, but three other games were decided by three points or fewer. No. 11 seed Xavier made it to the Elite Eight, and No. 7 seed South Carolina got all the way to the Final Four.

    Which underdogs have the best shot at making it to the Elite Eight this year? To help determine that, we've come up with an Upset Meter for each of the eight Sweet 16 games. 

    In each matchup, the higher-seeded team will be considered the favorite for these purposes. The higher the rating on our 1-10 scale, the more likely an upset is. 

    We based our Upset Meter score by looking at pivotal matchups, relevant statistics and issues that might make the difference.

No. 2 Duke vs. No. 11 Syracuse

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    When: March 23, 9:37 p.m. ET


    The Challenge

    Duke was ranked No. 1 in the preseason Associated Press poll for a reason. The Blue Devils' array of freshman talent have helped the team roll to wins in its first two tournament games by 22 and 25 points, respectively, while shooting better than 53 percent from the floor both times. The perimeter threats of Grayson Allen and Gary Trent Jr. combined with big men Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. give the Blue Devils a dangerous inside-outside combination.

    Duke won its only regular-season game against Syracuse, building a 21-point lead with just over three minutes left and cruising to a 60-44 victory over the Orange in Durham, North Carolina. 

    The high-scoring Blue Devils are averaging 84.9 points per game for the season and 88.0 in their two NCAA tournament games. The offensively challenged Orange, meanwhile, are averaging just 66.7 points per game on the season and 57.3 in their three tournament contests.


    Noteworthy Numbers: 37.8 and 75.0

    The first number is Syracuse's shooting percentage over its first three NCAA tournament games, which includes 26.2 percent shooting on three-pointers. The Orange did not score more than 60 points in any of those games. 

    The second number is Bagley's shooting percentage in his first two NCAA tournament games. The 6'11" freshman scored 22 points in each of those contests and has averaged 23.4 points and 12.2 rebounds over Duke's last five games.



    Zone defense can be an equalizer for the Orange, who were the final team to receive an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament. None of Syracuse's first three opponents scored more than 56 points, and those three foes shot a combined 34.3 percent from the field.

    TCU came into its game against Syracuse with the nation's eighth-best field-goal percentage (49.9 percent), but it shot just 39.6 percent against the Orange. Michigan State was shooting 50.5 percent from the field, tied for the nation's fifth-best mark, before facing Syracuse on Sunday. However, the Spartans shot only 25.8 percent against the Orange and missed their final 14 shots of the game. 

    Duke's difference-maker is Allen. In the Blue Devils' seven losses, Allen hit just 25 percent of his three-point attempts and averaged 11.6 points. In their 28 wins, he averaged 16.6 points while shooting 41.8 percent from long range.


    Upset Meter: 3.3

No. 5 West Virginia vs. No. 1 Villanova

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    When: March 23, 7:27 p.m. ET


    The Challenge

    Villanova has been consistently strong all season. The Wildcats are 4-0 against teams currently in the Associated Press Top 25 (Tennessee, Gonzaga and Xavier twice), and they won those games by an average of 16.3 points.

    Villanova has been as dominant as any team in the NCAA tournament, winning its two games by 26 points against Radford and 23 points against an Alabama team that had been playing well.

    The Wildcats led the nation in scoring heading into the NCAA tournament at 87.1 points per game, and they scored 87 and 81 points in their two tournament games, respectively. Six Villanova players average at least 10 points per game, and their top five scorers are all shooting at least 39 percent from three-point range.

    That's bad news for West Virginia, which allows opponents to shoot 37.5 from beyond the arc and let Marshall hit 46.2 percent of its long-range shots. The Mountaineers will be taking a big step up in class after beating No. 12 seed Murray State and No. 13 seed Marshall in their first two games.


    Noteworthy Numbers: 31 and 11

    The 31 represents the number of three-pointers Villanova made in its two tournament games, one shy of the record for consecutive NCAA tournament contests. Virtually any Villanova player on the court can hit from outside, as seven different Wildcats players have made at least two three-pointers during the tournament.

    The 11 represents the number of steals in two NCAA tournament games by West Virginia guard Jevon Carter, who has notched five or more steals nine times this season. He will be responsible for guarding Villanova point guard Jalen Brunson, but he'll also likely need to pace West Virginia in scoring. He tallied 49 points in the Mountaineers' first two tournament games.



    Brunson is Villanova's star, but long-armed swingman Mikal Bridges has become just as productive lately. And with Carter focused on limiting Brunson, Bridges may be the Wildcats' offensive standout against West Virginia. Over his past 10 games, the junior averaged 22.1 points while shooting 52.1 percent from deep (38-of-73).

    Lamont West came out of nowhere to have a big game for West Virginia against Marshall in the second round. He had gone scoreless in each of the three previous games, but broke out for 18 points, 10 rebounds and one block against the Thundering Herd. The Wildcats' lone weakness is on the inside, so the Mountaineers need the 6'8" West or 6'8" Sagaba Konate to do some damage on the interior.


    Upset Meter Reading: 3.9

No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 5 Clemson

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    When: March 23, 7:07 p.m. ET


    The Challenge 

    Kansas has won five games in a row and 10 of its last 11. The Jayhawks are excellent from beyond the arc, having made 40.3 percent of their three-point attempts this season. 

    Clemson has struggled with three-point defense this season, allowing opponents to make 35.5 percent of such shots heading into its second-round game against Auburn. However, Auburn was only 7-of-32 on three-pointers (21.9 percent) in the 84-53 loss to Clemson.

    Udoka Azubuike, the Jayhawks' 7-foot center and rim protector, missed the three games preceding the NCAA tournament with a knee injury. But he returned to play three minutes in the first-round game against Penn and finished with 10 points, seven rebounds, two blocks and two steals across 22 minutes in Kansas' four-point victory over Seton Hall in the round of 32. 


    Noteworthy Numbers: 16 and 21

    The first number represents the number of times Kansas guard Devonte' Graham has played all 40 minutes this season, including a run of 10 consecutive games from mid-January to mid-February. Graham had just eight points on 1-of-7 shooting against Seton Hall while committing five turnovers, which begs the question of whether he's wearing down.

    The second number is the number of years that have passed since Clemson last made it to the Sweet 16. The Tigers haven't reached the Elite Eight since 1980.



    When Gabe DeVoe has been productive as of late, Clemson won. When he wasn't, the Tigers lost.

    Over the past 17 games, DeVoe averaged 8.0 points on 30.3 percent shooting in the Tigers' seven losses, and he averaged 21.5 points on 54.0 percent shooting in the 10 wins. He scored 22 points in each of the Tigers' two NCAA tournament wins on a combined 18-of-28 shooting, including 8-of-14 from three-point range.

    Azubuike is expected to be back in Kansas' starting lineup against Clemson after he came off the bench in the first two tournament games. He provides an inside presence on both ends of the court to complement the Jayhawks' strong perimeter game with four guards in the starting lineup.


    Upset Meter Reading: 4.2

No. 4 Gonzaga vs. No. 9 Florida State

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    Otto Kitsinger/Associated Press

    When: March 22, 10:07 p.m. ET


    The Challenge

    Gonzaga lost three starters plus NBA lottery pick Zach Collins from last year's national runner-up team, but the Bulldogs look nearly as strong this year. They have won 16 games in a row, and they have more momentum than Florida State, which had lost six of its last 10 games heading into the NCAA tournament.

    Thanks to their strong frontcourt, the high-scoring Bulldogs average 84.2 points, make 50.2 percent of their shots and out-rebound opponents by 8.8 per game. Those attributes were on display in their second-round win over Ohio State, when the Bulldogs scored 90 points, made 53.4 percent of their shots and hauled in 14 more boards than the Buckeyes.

    The Seminoles' mission is to prevent Gonzaga from dominating them in the paint.


    Noteworthy Numbers: 4 and 10

    The four is the number of times in the past six seasons that Gonzaga has won at least 32 games. The Bulldogs (32-4) are in the NCAA tournament for the 20th straight year and are in the Sweet 16 for the fourth consecutive season. This is nothing new to Gonzaga and head coach Mark Few.

    The second figure is the number of Florida State players who average at least 10 minutes per game. Depth is the Seminoles' strength, and they were able to wear down No. 1 seed Xavier in the second round. Florida State trailed the Musketeers by 12 points with less than 11 minutes remaining, but reserves scored 26 of the Seminoles' final 31 points after that to ignite the rally.



    Gonzaga's Rui Hachimura may be the best sixth man in the country. He was named to the West Coast Conference All-Conference first team even though he started just one game.

    Hachimura struggled in his first NCAA tournament game, scoring four points on 1-of-6 shooting while picking up four fouls. As a result, Gonzaga had more trouble than expected against North Carolina-Greensboro before pulling out a 68-64 victory. He bounced back with 25 points on 9-for-11 shooting while blocking four shots against Ohio State, which was a major reason the Bulldogs beat the Buckeyes.

    Terance Mann was Florida State's leading scorer for much of the season, but he struggled over the past few weeks and suffered a groin injury during the team's first-round win over Missouri. He averaged just 5.5 points over the four games preceding the second-round matchup against Xavier, and he had just three points in the first 26 minutes against the Musketeers. But he scored seven points in the final nine minutes of that game to lead the comeback, and he'll now have a few days off to rest his injury.


    Upset Meter Reading: 4.4

No. 9 Kansas State vs. No. 5 Kentucky

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    When: March 22, 9:37 p.m. ET


    The Challenge: Kentucky's band of talented freshmen seem to have put it together. Since their four-game losing streak in early February, the Wildcats have won nine of 10 games. Virtually every Wildcats player has the ability to get to the basket off the dribble, and that penetration has helped them get to the foul line to attempt 893 free throws, second-most in the country. The chief reason they got by Davidson 78-73 in the first round despite missing all six of their three-point attempts was that they attempted 32 free throws (making 26) while Davidson took just 17 foul shots (making 14).

    Despite its offensive potential, Kentucky has had recent success because of its work on the defensive end. It has held each of its past five opponents under 40 percent shooting from the field.

    Kansas State has committed a lot of fouls this season, which will not help its cause against Kentucky. But Creighton attempted just five free throws in its first-round loss to Kansas State, who shot 25 foul shots in that game. The Bluejays matched their lowest point total of the season in their 69-59 loss to Kansas State, and the Wildcats were even better defensively against Maryland-Baltimore County, which was limited to 43 points on 29.8 percent shooting.


    Noteworthy Numbers: 5 and 1

    Five is the number of freshmen among Kentucky's top five scorers. Kevin Knox leads the way, averaging 15.6 points, although he is 0-of-6 from beyond the arc in the tournament.

    One is the number of three-pointers Kansas State made in 12 attempts against UMBC. K-State can survive against the Retrievers with that kind of shooting, but it won't work against Kentucky.



    Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been the offensive leader during Kentucky's late-season surge. He has averaged 19.4 points over the past nine games, including 27 in the second-round win over Buffalo.

    Dean Wade, Kansas State's leading scoring coming into the NCAA tournament at 16.5 points per game, missed the first two games of the tournament with a foot injury. The junior forward is confident he will return for the game against Kentucky, per Kellis Robinett of the Wichita Eagle, and K-State could use his offensive production after scoring just 50 points against UMBC.


    Upset Meter: 4.9

No. 11 Loyola-Chicago vs. No. 7 Nevada

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    When: March 22, 7:07 p.m. ET


    The Challenge

    Nevada is an offensive dynamo that will make things difficult for Loyola-Chicago, which relies on its defense and patient, efficient offense to keep the score down. The Wolf Pack average 83.0 points per game and have four players who score more than 13 points per contest.

    No lead is safe against the Wolf Pack. They trailed Texas by 14 points early in the second half before beating the Longhorns in overtime, and the Wolf Pack were behind No. 2-seeded Cincinnati by 22 points with 11 minutes left before coming back for a 75-73 victory. Nevada scored 32 points in the final 11 minutes against a Cincinnati team that entered the game ranked second in the nation in both scoring defense (57.0 points per game) and field-goal percentage defense (37.1 percent).

    Nevada has been held under 70 points only twice this season, while Loyola has not given up more than 75 points in a game since November.


    The Noteworthy Numbers: 41.5, 9 and 50.6

    The first is the average number of minutes Nevada's Jordan Caroline played in the two tournament contests. Considering college games last only 40 minutes, that's quite an accomplishment. Teammate Cody Martin averaged 41.0 minutes in those games. It's indicative of the Wolf Pack's lack of depth, as they rely heavily on just six players.

    The second number is the combined margin of victory for Loyola and Nevada in their first four tournament games. Loyola won its opening game over Miami by two points on Donte Ingram's three-pointer with 0.3 of a second left and then beat Tennessee by a point on Clayton Custer's bucket with 3.6 second remaining. The Ramblers have won 12 in a row, and four have been by four points or fewer.

    The last number is Loyola's shooting percentage for the season, which ranks third in the nation. The Ramblers' half-court offense of passing and cutting is the epitome of efficiency.



    Some have suggested the difference-maker for Loyola is Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt, the team's 98-year-old chaplain who leads a pregame prayer and has been getting considerable airtime. In reality, Custer is the one who gives the Ramblers a chance against Nevada. In the five games he missed this season with an ankle injury, Loyola went 2-3, with all three losses to teams that finished with losing conference records. In the 30 games he played, Loyola went 28-2.

    Caleb Martin is Nevada's leading scorer, and he was averaging 19.5 points a game heading into the Mountain West tournament. But he has averaged just 13.3 points on 32.3 percent shooting in the four games since then. A foot injury has a lot to do with his decreased production. The Wolf Pack need him to be productive against Loyola's stingy defense.


    Upset Meter: 6.1

No. 3 Michigan vs. No. 7 Texas A&M

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    When: March 22, 7:37 p.m. ET


    The Challenge 

    Although Michigan finished tied for fourth in the Big Ten standings, it has been the conference's hottest team over the last five weeks. The Wolverines enter their Sweet 16 game against Texas A&M riding an 11-game winning streak that includes a 12-point win over Ohio State, an 11-point victory over Michigan State and a nine-point triumph over Purdue.

    The Wolverines play solid defense and don't beat themselves with mistakes. Michigan allows just 63.1 points per game, which ranks eighth in the country, and their two NCAA tournament foes averaged just 55.0.  The Wolverines' 9.2 turnovers per game rank second in the nation, and they turned the ball over just seven times in their one-point win over Houston in the second round.

    Texas A&M does not force many turnovers, and its two NCAA tournament foes, Providence and North Carolina, committed just six turnovers apiece against the Aggies. They depend on their size to make it hard for opponents to score.


    Noteworthy Numbers: 16 and 6

    The first number is the blocked-shot total by Texas A&M in its first two NCAA tournament games. It had eight against Providence and eight more in its 21-point victory over No. 2-seeded North Carolina in the second round. The Aggies average 6.0 blocks per game, which ranks fifth in the country, and that is a big part of their defense. Robert Williams has blocked 11 shots over his past three games.

    The second number represents the made three-pointers by Michigan's starters in 27 attempts in two NCAA tournament games. That is just 22.2 percent. Freshman Jordan Poole is not a starter, and he was just 2-of-13 from long range over a six-game span before hitting the game-winning three at the buzzer to beat Houston by a point.



    Texans A&M's big men—6'10" Tyler Davis and 6'10" Williams—need to continue to control play in the paint. Williams is 9-of-12 from the field with 27 rebounds and four blocks in the first two games, and Davis is 13-of-19 with 24 boards and five blocks in those contests. They were dominant in handing North Carolina its most lopsided loss this season and its worst loss in the NCAA tournament since 1990.

    Michigan 6'11" center Moritz Wagner is the team's leading scorer, rebounder and three-point shooter, but he averaged just 8.5 points and 6.5 boards over the first two tournament games. He needs to hold his own against Texas A&M's huge frontcourt.


    Upset Meter: 7.1

No. 3 Texas Tech vs. No. 2 Purdue

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    Brandon Wade/Associated Press

    When: March 23, 9:57 p.m. ET


    The Challenge 

    Purdue got past Butler in its second-round game despite being without 7'2" center Isaac Haas, the team's second-leading scorer and rebounder who broke his right elbow in the Boilermakers' first-round game against Cal State Fullerton. Though he is hoping to play with the injury, per ESPN.com Dan Murphy, it seems unlikely that he'll see the court. However, Purdue was less successful this season when Haas was a major contributor. He averaged 18.8 points in Purdue's six defeats and 13.8 points in the Boilermakers' victories, not including his absence in the win over Butler. Haas will be missed if he can't get back on the court, but this suggests the Boilermakers can win without him.

    The Boilermakers have won seven of their past eight games, losing only to Michigan in the Big Ten tournament finals in that stretch, and they may be the best perimeter-shooting team in the country. Purdue has made 42.1 percent of its three-pointers for the season, which is second-best in the nation, and converted 20-of-46 (43.8 percent) in its two tournament games.

    Texas Tech is pretty good at defending perimeter shots, though. Kansas hit only six of its 26 three-point attempts (23.1 percent) when the Red Raiders beat the Jayhawks by 12 points on Kansas' home court in January. Texas Tech allowed its first two NCAA tournament opponents, Stephen F. Austin and Florida, to make only 26.3 percent of their three-point attempts (10-of-38). With Haas out, the Red Raiders can focus even more of their defensive pressure on the perimeter.

    Texas Tech head coach Chris Beard was Arkansas-Little Rock's head coach when the Trojans upset Purdue in the 2016 NCAA tournament. Three Purdue players who will be starters against the Red Raiders played significant minutes against Little Rock that day.


    Noteworthy Numbers: 4 and 69.6 

    The first digit is the number of Purdue starters who have made at least 40 percent of their three-point shots this season. Carsen Edwards, Vincent Edwards, Dakota Mathias and P.J. Thompson are the Boilermakers' top four scorers with Haas unavailable, and all four, as well as sixth man Ryan Cline, are at or above the 40 percent plateau from long range. 

    The second number is Texas Tech's free-throw percentage, which could haunt the Red Raiders if the game comes down to the wire. The Red Raiders survived against Florida in the second round despite making just 7-of-14 free throws. However, Keenan Evans, Texas Tech's best player and the one who probably will be handling the ball in a tight game, is hitting 81.3 percent of his free throws.



    Evans is the key to the game. He is averaging 17.8 points for the season, and in the two NCAA tournament games, he scored 22 and 23 points on 14-of-24 shooting, including 4-of-6 on three-pointers. In the Red Raiders' eight losses against Big 12 opponents this season, he averaged just 8.9 points in the seven games he played and was absent in the eighth. Evans was noticeably hobbled by a toe injury late in the season, and the Red Raiders lost all four games in which he was sidelined or at less than 100 percent. He is healthy now. 

    Vince Edwards provides the barometer for Purdue. The Boilermakers have gone 17-0 when he's scored 15 points or more this season. He had 20 points on 6-of-8 shooting in the three-point victory over Butler. With Haas likely out and new starting center Matt Haarms not much of an offensive threat, the 6'8" Edwards becomes Purdue's best inside scorer.


    Upset Meter: 8.9