Aaron Harrison, Josh GasserKevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsAaron Harrison's clutch shooting earned his team a title shot.
It's time for one of our greatest annual traditions: naming the fifth annual Donell and Ronell Taylor All-Giant Killers Team.

As loyal readers will surely remember, the Taylor twins played for UAB a decade ago, when the Blazers became the first Killers to slay Giants in back-to-back seasons. In 2004, UAB, a 9-seed, upset top-seeded Kentucky, and then returned to take down LSU in an 11-6 matchup in 2005. Those Blazers out-stole their opponents by an incredible margin of almost two to one, and you can see them here, where a leaping Ronnell forced a turnover and heaved a nearly telepathic, two-handed, 60-foot pass over the back of his head to Donnell. In honor of their Killertastic play, we named the All-GK Team after the Taylors in 2011.

With so many players stepping up at key moments in upsets this year, we are naming first- and second-team All-GK squads. As always, we have tried to cover all the schools involved. And while All-GK teams are usually heavy on guards -- Omar Samhans are few and far between -- we've tried to stock various positions, too.

First Team

SG Aaron Harrison, Kentucky: When you hit game-winning bombs against Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin in three straight games, you not only make the All-GK team, you get to be captain.

PG Shabazz Napier, Connecticut: You may have heard a little about him by now. He's shooting 47.1 percent on 3s (16-for-34) in the tournament.

SG Desmond Haymon, Stephen F. Austin: "I shot it with confidence, [JeQuan] Lewis closed on me kind of hard, and I stayed there with my follow-through and he knocked me down." That's how Haymon described the 3-point shot that turned into a game-tying four-point play against VCU.
Shabazz NapierKevin Hoffman/USA TODAY SportsCan Shabazz Napier and the Huskies pull off a second Giant Killing?
After two weeks, 60 games and 11 Giant Killer upsets, one thing is clear: If our model had a head, it would have exploded by now. And that’s before even getting to a Final Four that features not one but two GK matchups. A Final Four with two different possibilities for a championship game with GK implications. A Final Four in which those Giant Killing teams are somehow named Connecticut and Kentucky.

Even by March’s typically zany standards, this has been a wild ride. And it’s not over yet. So our peerless team of Furman professors dove into their spreadsheets once more, mixed in the latest tourney results and whipped up a fresh new batch of numbers in anticipation of Saturday night’s games in Dallas ... errr ... North Texas. Final Four games aren’t typically evaluated through a Giant Killers prism, but as we’ve already explained, this is far from a typical tourney. Let’s take a closer look at the numbers and see if Kentucky and Connecticut can keep their title drives alive.

Can Kentucky take down Wisconsin?

Not surprisingly, Kentucky has significantly better odds than UConn does to advance to the national championship game.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

James YoungScott Rovak/USA TODAY SportsJames Young (14.1 points per game) has led Kentucky to within one game of the Final Four.
In a competition as steeped in plot twists as the NCAA tournament, it is only fitting that the one regional final with Giant Killer implications features the preseason No. 1 team. As the Killer.

The Kentucky Wildcats have adapted comfortably to an unfamiliar role, already knocking off the top-seeded Wichita State Shockers before defeating the Louisville Cardinals in a non-GK game that still resonates as an impressive upset. Now, the Wildcats must slay one more power program to reach the Final Four. And, not surprisingly, our esteemed statistical model gives them an excellent shot at beating the Michigan Wolverines.

The official odds for Kentucky are 42.8 percent, which is slightly better than the 42.5 percent chance it had to beat Wichita State. And that number might even slightly underestimate the Wildcats’ upset potential.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

MillerRich Graessle/Icon SMIArchie Miller and the Flyers face a formidable foe in the Gators.
The Flyers' lopsided Sweet 16 win shouldn't be a surprise. Strange but true: The world should have expected Dayton -- after pulling off two big tournament upsets by a total of three points -- to have a much easier time making the Elite Eight. The reason, of course, is that Stanford (18.0 points per 100 possessions better than an average NCAA team, according to our basic power rankings) was a considerably weaker opponent than either Syracuse (22.4) or Ohio State (25.1). Guess what happened ...

Thursday's game wasn't an actual Giant-Killer matchup because of the seedings involved (the GK model requires a seed-differential of five or more) but it felt utterly like a classic Goliath-thwacking. The Flyers upended and then demolished the Cardinal. Now, can they get past the Gators and into the Final Four?

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Jarnell StokesBob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsJarnell Stokes has averaged 20 points and 15 rebounds in three NCAA tourney games for the Vols.
This shouldn’t be a surprise. Tennessee might be sitting in the Sweet 16 as a No. 11 seed, but truth be told, that number never represented the Volunteers’ true ability.

Heading into the tournament, our statistical model pegged the Vols as the nation’s 22nd-best team. KenPom.com said Tennessee ranked 11th nationally. So when the Vols knocked off a sixth-seeded UMass squad that was as overseeded as they were underseeded and followed that up by dispatching Mercer, they weren’t shocking the world. They were playing to form.

Now, as the Vols prepare to face Michigan on Friday night, it’s evident beyond the computers that Tennessee is for real. With one Giant already brought low, can Tennessee add another notch to its belt?

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Gregg Marshall and Fred VanVleet Peter G. Aiken/USA TODAY SportsGregg Marshall, Fred VanVleet and Wichita State face a tough test against Kentucky.
Just typing the words feels strange. Wichita State will face Kentucky in a No. 1 verus No. 8 matchup Sunday. And Wichita State is the Giant. Kentucky is the Killer.

When we started forecasting upsets in 2006 using our statistical model, the purpose was to project the results of matchups just like this one. Only the roles were usually reversed. So nothing quite speaks to the changing landscape of college basketball like the situation we find ourselves in now, as we crunch numbers trying to determine whether Kentucky has the chops to upset the Shockers.

The way our model sees things, the Wildcats indeed have a shot at a bracket-breaking win. But just how strong? That part is surprising.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Mercer CelebrationRob Kinnan/USA TODAY SportsThe Bears were better than anyone thought they could be in beating Duke.
This is a game our statistical model didn't see coming -- but maybe it should have. And that has implications for Mercer's odds to advance into the Sweet 16 when it meets GK darling Tennessee.

Round of 32 upset odds: It's complicated ... see below.

How they beat the Blue Devils: Let's start with the opponent. Duke had trouble getting stops all season, and the Blue Devils were particularly vulnerable to runs when their own 3-pointers weren't falling and they didn't adjust to working the ball inside. Duke's November game against Vermont, where the Blue Devils surrendered 75.6 percent on 2-point attempts and blew an eight-point halftime lead, offered a blueprint for an upstart opponent (though Duke won that game 91-90), and Mercer followed it perfectly.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

North Dakota StateKirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsNorth Dakota State's upset over Oklahoma was most peculiar.
Can the North Dakota State Bison do it again?

As unlikely as North Dakota State's win over the Oklahoma Sooners appeared -- both in scope and style -- it sure didn't look like a fluke. But what worked against Oklahoma certainly wouldn't translate against every other Giant. So, as the Bison eye a trip to the Sweet 16, the question is whether San Diego State will fall prey to similar tactics.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Wesley Saunders, Sean KilpatrickStephen Dunn/Getty ImagesDon't write off Wesley Saunders and the Crimson, even against Michigan State.
With a pair of upsets in the books, the Giant Killers team looks ahead to assess the likelihood the Harvard Crimson and Dayton Flyers can advance to the Sweet 16. Is the Syracuse Orange actually a better matchup for Dayton than OSU was? And can the Crimson survive a date with the Michigan State Spartans? Despite Tom Izzo's squad's position on the short list of title favorites, the Giant Killers sees Harvard with a 1-in-4 shot to topple Michigan State.

Why Crimson can keep rolling

Round of 32 upset odds: 24.0 percent

How they beat the Bearcats: We hate to say we told you so, but ... Aw, who are we trying to kid? We told you so! Here at GK Central, we thought the key to the Cincinnati-Harvard matchup would be whether the Ivy Leaguers would recognize the need to take more risks against top-flight competition, change their style and shoot more 3s. Based on our study of their previous games against nonconference opponents, we expected they would, writing, "This could be the week the chameleon turns crimson." And they did: The Crimson took seven of their first 15 shots from downtown, and 38.6 percent for the game (17-of-44) -- way up from their regular-season proportion of 28.2 percent, which ranked just 287th in the country. They hit on 35.3 percent of those shots, and, just as important, because the Bearcats couldn't help off sharpshooter Laurent Rivard, driving lanes opened up for the Crimson.

Can they do it again?: Harvard didn't even play particularly well in this game. The Crimson committed 12 turnovers, grabbed just nine offensive rebounds against a Cincinnati team that doesn't hit the defensive glass and hit only 17 of 28 free throws (60.7 percent). That is one reason they have a stronger chance than you would probably expect against Michigan State, a team many are picking to win the national championship.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

We’ve spent the past two days preparing you for every possible upset in the round of 64. But that’s not enough to win your pool. So we’ve put together all the realistic Giant Killer matchups for the round of 32 and computed upset chances for each potential contest.

Since the 8-9 and 7-10 games don’t count as GK upsets, this will be our first look at those 16 teams, as we profile their chances of knocking off a No. 1 or No. 2 seed. And even in a year that is light on highly rated Killers, some of those top programs are in serious jeopardy.

Enough pretense, let’s get to the upsets.


No. 1 Virginia Cavaliers vs. No. 8 Memphis Tigers or No. 9 George Washington Colonials
Upset chances: 24.7 percent vs. Memphis | 21.2 percent vs. GW

Virginia is somewhat more vulnerable than the typical No. 1 seed, in part because the Cavs don’t force many turnovers and also because our model sees them as the No. 8 team in the nation, rather than a top-four squad. Memphis does a good job of combining offensive rebounding with a defense that forces bundles of steals (12.2 percent), while GW employs a similar combo of tactics -- just slightly less effectively.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

The Jay Bilas tournament upset audit 

March, 19, 2014
Massachusetts Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsAccording to both Jay Bilas and the GK model, the Minutemen were over-seeded as a No. 6.
Top upset picks: West | South | East | Midwest
Because you can never have too much expert analysis, we asked Jay Bilas to make a guest appearance and offer his insights on the most-likely upset predictions seen by the Giant Killers team. When it comes to lower seeds toppling the top squads, consider five of these six games GK-tested and Bilas-approved.

UMass Minutemen vs. Iowa Hawkeyes/Tennessee Volunteers

GK upset odds: 78.4 percent / 70.1 percent

As the model identifies, UMass was overseeded as a No. 6, and Tennessee and Iowa are both far more capable than the No. 11 seed would suggest. Iowa is deep and talented, and particularly with Gabe Olaseni, the best hedge defender I saw this season, the Hawkeyes can contain Chaz Williams off ball screens.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Chaz WilliamsAP Photo/Charles KrupaChaz Williams and UMass will be on upset watch against either Iowa or Tennessee.
Here at GK Central, we've been issuing warnings for a while that this was shaping up to be a bad season for big upsets, and this weekend has confirmed our fears. Two more teams with solid Cinderella potential (Louisiana Tech and Georgia State) went down in their conference tournaments. The NCAA selection committee left out some of our statistical model's favorite squads (Southern Mississippi, Minnesota), bumped key "wounded assassins" into middle-bracket territory (Oklahoma State, Pittsburgh) and gave some Killers terrible matchups (Eastern Kentucky vs. Kansas, Dayton vs. Ohio State).

Here's the cherry on top: Iowa and Tennessee, the two strongest Killers in the field of 68, will now face off in the first round. Result: As groups, the No. 16, No. 15, No. 14, No. 13 and No. 12 seeds in this year's brackets are all worse than average, according to our historical spreadsheets. Take that in the spirit of a financial adviser urging you to play it safe in an overvalued market.

We'll get to a full analysis of Giant vs. Killer matchups in the coming days, but for now, here's our instant reading of the top 10 potential upsets in the round of 64.

No. 6 Massachusetts Minutemen vs. No. 11 Iowa Hawkeyes or Tennessee Volunteers
Upset odds for Iowa: 78.4 percent
Upset odds for Tennessee: 70.1 percent

Apparently, the selection committee misinterpreted a memo stating that UMass had been seeded sixth in its conference tournament and instead took it as a directive for how to slot the Midwest Region. Not only is our model's power rating skeptical of the Minutemen, calling them the 48th-best team in the nation, but it says Iowa (14th) and Tennessee (21st) are just as badly underseeded.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Nightmare matchups for top teams 

March, 16, 2014
Jim BoeheimGeoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsTeams that follow a strategy similar to Jim Boeheim's may be susceptible to certain Giant Killers.
With just a few hours to go until the NCAA selection committee announces its tournament picks, it's time to start thinking not just about who is going to make it to the Big Dance but about what matchups they might face. That makes this the perfect opportunity to introduce an exciting new idea fresh from the spreadsheets bubbling at Giant Killers Central: the concept of Giant and Killer families.

As longtime readers know well, our Giant Killers statistical model predicts big NCAA upsets in three steps. We start with basic team power rankings, based on margin of victory and strength of schedule. Then we use regression analysis to isolate the "special sauce" variables that lead some teams to over- or underperform in Giant vs. Killer matchups. Then we apply those factors to current teams to see how much, beyond their basic strength, they resemble past Giants and Killers. (Here's a more detailed explanation.)

So far, so good. But what about style matchups? Our model rates Stephen F. Austin as a better Killer than Harvard, but couldn't there be specific opponents that find the Crimson more dangerous than the Lumberjacks? Now we can start answering that question, thanks to a data-mining technique called cluster analysis, conducted for us by Liz Bouzarth, John Harris and Kevin Hutson of Furman University.

Cluster analysis figures out how to sift through a bunch of items so that things that are similar to each other end up grouped together. Imagine a pizza with toppings that seem randomly strewn about. Cluster analysis can tell us whether some areas are heavy on pepperoni or mushroom and how to slice the pie to find those regions. Now think about a set of basketball teams; cluster analysis can tell us which statistical similarities unite various groups of teams. You already know that, say, Iowa State plays a very different brand of hoops from San Diego State. Now we have the statistical tools to relate their stylistic contrasts to how they are likely to play against particular Killers.

It turns out we can group Giants and Killers into four families apiece. We will run through them briefly then turn to matchup implications.

The four families of Giants

Giants are heavily defined by their rebounding tendencies. One family is the Roy Williams Giants, which pile up good-to-massive offensive rebounding percentages, usually with very tall players, average defensive rebounding and few forced turnovers. North Carolina, naturally, is a Roy Williams Giant this season, as was Gonzaga last season and West Virginia in recent campaigns.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Joel EmbiidBo Rader/Wichita Eagle/MCT/Getty ImagesKansas freshman center Joel Embiid is out indefinitely with a stress fracture in his back.
Kansas lost again Friday night. That’s nine times this season for a team that, until Friday, was competing for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. That speaks both to the challenging schedule it has faced and the lack of deserving top seeds this season.

The Jayhawks’ two most recent losses, though, are the most interesting because they came without Joel Embiid. As the Jayhawks head into the NCAA tournament without the services of their freshman center -- through the first weekend, at minimum -- there is no doubt that they are a different team. But the looming question is whether those losses are harbingers of a result to come early in the tourney. Is Kansas, sans Embiid, more vulnerable to a Giant-Killing upset?

It sure would seem that way. But that’s why we rely on a dispassionate statistical model -- it even refused to party on Pi Day -- rather than our own eyes.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Doug McDermottDave Weaver/USA TODAY SportsStatistics suggest the Bluejays are susceptible, raising skepticism about their strength.

Back at my college paper, in the days between Selection Sunday and the first NCAA tournament game, we used to produce regional previews. It was largely a vanity exercise -- a chance to write about something other than track or lacrosse -- but we were expected to predict how the bracket would play out.

In 1997, I got assigned the Southeast region. And the one thing I knew was that Georgia, the No. 3 seed, wasn’t any good. So I looked up the small amount of info I could find about the Bulldogs’ opponent, the mighty Mocs of Chattanooga. They had a forward named Johnny Taylor who apparently was a future NBA player and seemed like a small-college version of Scottie Pippen. So, I talked myself into the idea that Taylor could overwhelm Georgia. And because I didn't like No. 6 seed Illinois, either, I penciled in Taylor and his anonymous teammates for an additional round. Sure enough, by the time the following weekend ended, Chattanooga was in the Sweet 16.

That was a happy accident. But these days, with the help of the Giant Killers project, we've come up with a (much) better way of pinpointing vulnerable top seeds using statistical similarities to past upset victims. So, with Selection Sunday just two days away, here are the Giants you can consider on upset alert -- the 10 weakest of Joe Lunardi’s projected top-six seeds across all four regions as of Friday morning.

10. Wichita State Shockers | 74.9

Our model continues to have an adverse reaction to Wichita State’s schedule. It is far and away the biggest reason why the Shockers have a negative “Secret Sauce,” although their average ability to force turnovers (18.5 percent of opponents’ possessions) doesn’t help. They’re also susceptible to a team of gunners -- Wichita State allows 35.3 percent of its opponents’ attempts to come from downtown. That could be a harbinger of a payback, as the Shockers used a stunning surge from 3-point range late in their round-of-32 game to topple No. 1 seed Gonzaga last season.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider