The NCAA Tournament is one of sport’s most popular events in part because of Cinderella. The upsets that happen every year often come from unexpected sources. Where will those bracket busters be in 2015? Here are some matchups that could surprise.
(12) Buffalo vs. (5) West Virginia
The Bobby Hurley-led Bulls won 23 games this season even with the dubious task of playing at Kentucky and at Wisconsin, both now No. 1 seeds. Buffalo played them tough and have taken on traits of their head coach. Underdogs who scrap, play hard and are not intimidated regardless of the opponent.
Two players stand out for Buffalo in wing Justin Moss, an elite scorer and rebounder, and point guard Shannon Evans, a sharp shooting, smart guard who has excellent court vision. Those two could give the Mountaineers real trouble. The Bulls are a better outside shooting team than West Virginia, which is always a recipe for success.
(14) Georgia State vs. (3) Baylor
One way to spot an upset is to look for teams with NBA players on their roster. Georgia State has at least one of those in guard Ryan Harrow, a Kentucky transfer. Combine that with versatile scorer R.J. Hunter and Louisville transfer Kevin Ware, and the Panthers have multiple options on the offensive end.
Both Harrow and Hunter can take over games, and all three are solid defenders. Georgia State has the size to compete with Baylor on the boards, though the Bears are a better outside shooting team. This is definitely a matchup to watch and could go down to the wire.
(10) Ohio State vs. (7) VCU
The Rams play an aggressive style of defense, dubbed “havoc.” They swarm opponents with a full-court press that turns over opponents at alarming rates. Their downfall, however, is dealing with teams with size. They just are not very big upfront.
Ohio State has plenty of that and has the best individual player on the floor in freshman sensation D’Angelo Russell. A bigger team with the best player is a strong formula to pull off the upset. The Buckeyes are the better outside shooting team as well. It’s a small one, given the seeding, but is still a double digit seed that could do some damage.
(12) Wyoming vs. (5) Northern Iowa
Northern Iowa is really good. Seth Tuttle is a dynamic forward who could play for just about anyone in college basketball. But whenever you have a non-major conference team in the 12 – 5 matchup, it tends to spell trouble for the better seed.
Wyoming is playing well of late as well. They can really defend and have two players who can take over games. Larry Nance Jr. is a versatile forward who can score, rebound and pass. Guard Josh Adams is another pure scorer who is a solid on-ball defender. That combination may be too much for the Panthers.
(10) Georgia vs. (7) Michigan State
It’s March, and the Spartans are playing well at the right time once again. Tom Izzo always has him team ready for the postseason, and their run in the Big-10 Tournament is just the latest example. But this is not a vintage Michigan State team. They have some really nice plays in Travis Trice, Denzel Valentine and Brandon Dawson.
While Michigan State is the sexy pick here and to advance further, Georgia is a solid team in their own right. Few played Kentucky as tough as the Bulldogs in SEC play. They are as well balanced as any team in the country on the offensive end, with four players scoring in double digits per game with a fifth right at 9.8 points.
(15) Belmont vs. (2) Virginia
Virginia may be the best defensive team in the country, but drew the most difficult 15 seed in this year’s tournament. Belmont is always a tough out and can really shoot it from the outside. The Bruins are hitting more than 38 percent from beyond the arc as a team, with three players at 40 percent or above.
Junior guard Craig Bradshaw can score from anywhere, find open teammates and attack the rim. Wing Evan Bradds is a strong rebounder who can also hit the outside shot. While the Cavs will be a strong favorite in this one, don’t be surprised if it goes down to the final minutes with Belmont’s offensive firepower.
(13) Eastern Washington vs. (4) Georgetown
Georgetown has a history of early exits from the tournament as a higher seed. They were the first victim of Florida Gulf Coast in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, losing by 10 points. They fell to VCU by 18 in 2011 and Ohio by 14 in 2010. The Hoyas lack elite offensive punch as a team, though D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera is a strong scorer.
But the Eastern Washington Eagles may have the best player on the floor in this matchup. Guard Tyler Harvey averages nearly 23 points per game and can score from anywhere on the floor, shooting nearly 43 percent from beyond the arc. As a team, the Eagles shoot over 40 percent from distance. They also have size inside with Venky Jois. The Eagles, who will be playing close to home in Seattle, are a team that could make a bit of a run.
(12) Stephen F. Austin vs. (5) Utah
Another 12-5 matchup should have people thinking upset. Utah is a good team led by guard Delon Wright. He leads the Utes in scoring, assists and steals and is second in rebounds and blocks. Wright can do it all.
But Stephen F. Austin has a dynamic duo of Thomas Walkup and Jacob Parker, both of whom can fill up the stat sheet. The Lumberjacks have several options to hit outside shots and pack a powerful offensive punch. If the Lumberjacks are hot, the Utes will be on upset alert.