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NCAA Tournament 2014: Previewing the Most Likely Upsets in Round of 64

Scott HenryFeatured ColumnistMarch 17, 2014

NCAA Tournament 2014: Previewing the Most Likely Upsets in Round of 64

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    Cincinnati and UConn waged a tough battle on Friday in the American Athletic Conference semifinals, with the Huskies surviving and advancing.

    Those are the names of the game when the NCAA tournament starts, and these AAC combatants have received no favors with the draw they've been handed by the selection committee. Cincinnati draws an opponent that's pulled an upset very recently, while UConn runs into the tournament champion of a six-bid league. For both, getting out of the second round will be a tough task.

    Every year, a few teams are elated to see their names pop up, but some have the joy dashed when the opponent's name pops up next. After viewing each matchup for this year's tournament, these eight games appear to have the greatest potential to see a double-digit seed move on to the round of 32.

     

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Providence (11) over North Carolina (6)

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    Providence's run to the Big East tournament title is all the more impressive when you consider that the Friars essentially use only six players. They've been doing that since point guard Kris Dunn went down in December.

    Tired legs don't seem to be a concern for guard Bryce Cotton, who averages 21.4 points per game in an eye-popping 39.9 minutes per night. Providence has gone to overtime twice and double overtime four times, and Cotton has played all 290 minutes in those six games.

    Cotton will face a guard who can go basket-for-basket with him in sophomore Marcus Paige (17.4 points per game). While the two gunners will be the focus, both have three other double-figure scorers to lean on for support.

    UNC's size and depth could be a deciding factor, with Providence needing strong rebounding games from Kadeem Batts and 7-footer Carson Desrosiers to counter the Tar Heels' five bigs 6'9" or taller. The Heels also have multiple defenders who can run at Cotton, alternating between the quickness of 5'11" Nate Britt and the length of 6'5" J.P. Tokoto.

    Still, other opponents have had good defenders to run at Cotton, too. He's been held below 20 points only five times since Thanksgiving. He'll need another hot game to knock the Tar Heels out this early.

North Dakota State (12) over Oklahoma (5)

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    Oklahoma and North Dakota State have the recipe for a high-scoring, exciting game. Both have skilled, efficient offenses and defenses that don't pressure opponents into a ton of turnovers.

    Where they differ is in their approach to those offenses. The Sooners are much more willing to bomb from the outside, with six players who've taken more than 70 three-pointers on the season. The Bison operate much more inside the arc, taking only 27.6 percent of their shots from deep.

    Bison forward Marshall Bjorklund shoots nearly 64 percent from the floor, and his 6'8", 250-pound frame will allow him to occupy prime real estate against Oklahoma's thinner front line. North Dakota State's frontcourt also features all-around scorer Taylor Braun and slasher TrayVonn Wright, both of whom are near-50 percent shooters themselves.

    Oklahoma's tempo may overwhelm the Bison's short rotation, and if the jumpers are falling, the Sooners could run away with it. If not, however, the game will stay close and draw live look-ins as other games degenerate into blowouts.

St. Joseph's (10) over UConn (7)

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    Saint Joseph's comes into the tournament winning nine of its last 11 games, including two each over fellow bracket-dwellers VCU and Dayton. Hawks big man Halil Kanacevic was the story of the Atlantic 10 tournament, averaging 15.3 points and 14.3 rebounds over the Hawks' three-game winning streak.

    Kanacevic will enjoy the opportunity to take on a UConn team led in rebounding by its 6'1" point guard, Shabazz Napier. As if Napier's rebounding isn't odd enough, Kanacevic is SJU's leader in assists at 4.4 per game.

    Forward Ronald Roberts joins Kanacevic to form a dangerous rebounding duo, and both are eminently capable of muscling around the Huskies' willowy bigs, DeAndre Daniels and Amida Brimah.

    St. Joe's guard Langston Galloway scores 17.5 points per game, but none were bigger than the last-second three that he drained to beat Dayton in the A-10 tournament. He will pose a tough test for the All-American Napier and sidekick Ryan Boatright.

    Where the Huskies can pull away is in forcing turnovers. Napier, Boatright and grad student Lasan Kromah all average more than one steal per game, and all can make some plays if they're quick enough to collapse and strip Kanacevic before he throws a kick-out pass to Galloway or wing DeAndre Bembry.

NC State (12) over Saint Louis (5)

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    N.C. State forward T.J. Warren is the only reason his team is in the NCAA tournament. He scored 73 of the Wolfpack's 200 points in three ACC tournament games. Before that, he dropped 30 or more five times in his last 11 regular-season games, including 41 and 42 against Pitt and Boston College, respectively.

    Warren did more of the same in the First Four game against Xavier, scoring over a third of his team's 74 points, including 16 in the second half.

    Then there's Saint Louis, stumbling into the tournament on the back of four losses in its last five games. The Billikens offense has frequently faltered during the season, but its oft-impregnable defense has suffered over the five-game slump.

    In each of those four losses, the Billikens allowed more than a point per possession, something that had only happened five times all season before Feb. 27, according to KenPom.com.

    Warren needs to be aware of Saint Louis' defensive ability, but he has to be salivating over the prospect of taking on a team that's struggling the way the Billikens are.

Tennessee (11) over UMass (6)

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    Prior to its 78-65 First Four win over Iowa, Tennessee streaked in on five straight wins before losing a tight game to No. 1 Florida in the SEC semifinals. The Vols are prepared to take on a Massachusetts team that has lost seven of its last 15, with only four of those losses coming to NCAA tournament teams.

    UMass big man Cady Lalanne is a dominant rebounding force, but he's alone on an island. Meanwhile, the Volunteers bring the burly duo of Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon, both of whom average at least eight rebounds per game. Stokes posted 18 points and 13 rebounds against the Hawkeyes on Wednesday.

    The Hawkeyes have struggled on the defensive glass during their recent slump, while Tennessee even kept Florida to only three offensive boards.

    UMass always has a big trump card in small point guard Chaz Williams, but he's shot 50 percent from the floor only once in his last 10 games. If he tries too hard to take over the game and attack the teeth of a defense, it leads to a lot of empty possessions for the Minutemen.

Stanford (10) over New Mexico (7)

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    New Mexico will go as far as its potent post duo of Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow can take it. Stanford, however, may be uniquely equipped to pull the alpha Lobos out of their comfort zone and send them to their second straight one-and-done tournament appearance.

    The Cardinal have three big men who combined to take 174 three-pointers this season. Dwight Powell, Josh Huestis and John Gage combined to make 34 percent of those attempts. One is likely to always be stationed near the arc, seeking to clear either Bairstow or Kirk out of the lane and off the glass.

    Both teams are strong on the defensive glass, but if the Cardinal can make one of the New Mexico bigs guard the perimeter, some extra chances can slip through.

    Stanford can actually pull away if Anthony Brown (44 percent from deep) or Chasson Randle (40 percent) can hit at or near their season pace. New Mexico is not a great perimeter defensive team, and it may not cope well if the Cardinal can spread it out.

Harvard (12) over Cincinnati (5)

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    Harvard's been here before. Last season, the 14th-seeded Crimson sent New Mexico packing. This season feels like an encore, with most of Harvard's top talents back and 2011-12 captains Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry joining that nucleus.

    The Crimson have an aggressive playmaking defense, ranking in Pomeroy's top 30 in both block and steal percentage. Quick point guards Curry and Siyani Chambers may get turns guarding Cincinnati All-American Sean Kilpatrick, along with 6'5" wing Wesley Saunders.

    If the rotating coverage knocks Kilpatrick off his rhythm, the Bearcats offense is likely to stagnate. Cincy has lost four of its last nine games, and Kilpatrick shot a combined 30.6 percent in those losses.

    Cincinnati is strong on the offensive glass, but if it sells out too hard for those caroms, look for Harvard to get Curry and Chambers out on the break for some easy points.

Arizona State (10) over Texas (7)

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    It's often risky to bet on a team that lives on three-point jumpers, but Arizona State has the right matchup to capitalize on those looks.

    A top-30 three-point-shooting team, per Pomeroy, ASU draws a Texas team that ranks in the 160s nationally in perimeter defense. The Longhorns lack perimeter defenders with the length of ASU shooting threats like Jermaine Marshall (6'4"), Shaquielle McKissic (6'5") and Jonathan Gilling (6'7").

    And that's not even mentioning the Sun Devils' main weapon, All-Pac-12 point guard Jahii Carson. The Longhorns need to keep fresh legs on the speedy Carson, lest they watch him put up 25 points as he has four times this season.

    Texas makes its bones with mid-range shots and low-post finishes from big men Jonathan Holmes and Cameron Ridley. Both, however, will face a large obstacle in 7'2" ASU center Jordan Bachynski. Bachynski leads the nation at 4.1 blocks per game, and he'll be waiting for Longhorn slashers to test the lane.

    The draw may set up well for Arizona State to make a Cinderella run, but it all depends on those jump-shooters. Can they hit enough for defenses to hesitate in helping on Carson? If so, the Elite Eight could be a possibility.

     

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