Tony Parker, Tosin MehintiAndy Lyons/Getty ImagesTony Parker and UCLA have only a 14.7 percent chance of beating Gonzaga, per the GK model.
One. One measly game. That’s all we’ve got left in the Sweet 16, at least as far as Giant Killing opportunities go, the result of the chalky results that have defined this season’s NCAA tournament. Of the eight games to be played on Thursday and Friday, only one features a pair of teams separated by five or more seeds -- Gonzaga versus UCLA. The Bruins, seeded 11th in the South, are the lone double-digit seed left in the tournament, and as strange as it sounds, they are the Killer and the Zags are the Giant. So, what sort of a chance do they have of extending their run into the weekend?
Fred VanVleetWilliam Purnell/Icon SportswireBack in a Giant Killer role, Fred VanVleet and Wichita State could thrive.
As soon as we saw the seedings for this year’s NCAA tournament, we here at Giant Killer Central were considerably more excited about Giant vs. Killer matchups that might emerge in the round of 32 than upset possibilities in the first two days of play. And here’s a Sunday underdog you can get behind: Our statistical model says Wichita State has a 37.6 percent chance to knock off Kansas -- and there’s good reason to think those odds are understated. For starters, this is not your typical 2 vs. 7 matchup. Kansas, ranking 14th in our basic power ratings, is slightly over-seeded. And Wichita State, which year after year is underappreciated by the NCAA selection committee, is terribly under-seeded, ranking 19th. We estimate there’s a difference of only 3.3 points per 100 possessions in these teams’ fundamental strengths, less than half the average gap between 2- and 7-seeds since 2007.

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SibertJoe Robbins/Getty ImagesJordan Sibert and Dayton's guard-heavy lineup have only increased its Giant Killer viability.
Dayton beat Providence on Friday night going away, and with a classic Flyers performance: They moved the ball around and hoisted a lot of 3s (55 percent of attempts). They grabbed eight steals and forced turnovers on nearly a quarter of the Friars’ possessions. They harassed their opponent’s key scorers, holding LaDontae Henton and Kris Dunn to shooting just 23 percent (6-26). And they did it all while collecting just three offensive rebounds. It’s a style Dayton has evolved out of necessity. This season, the Flyers have lost players to transfer, ineligibility and suspensions, leaving them with just six scholarship athletes, and forcing them into an extremely undersized, guard-heavy lineup. It’s a very efficient but high-risk/high-reward formula -- exactly what Giant Killers need at this time of year. It’s also a lot of fun to watch.

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Ron HunterAP Photo/Rick WilsonRon Hunter and Georgia State have a 47.4 percent chance of advancing to the Sweet 16.
There were three Giant Killings on Day 1 of the NCAA tournament. But it felt like more. From a pair of 14-seeds going crazy (UAB, Georgia State) to near misses from Boston teams (Northeastern, Harvard), from a goaltending call being analyzed like the Zapruder film (UCLA) to a pair of 12-seeds who came oh-so-close (Stephen F. Austin, Wofford), the entire opening day felt like a treatise in Giant Killing. If our model had sweat glands, it would need a towel. But when the dust cleared, UAB, Georgia State and UCLA were moving on, and the Blazers and Bruins will actually face each other in a rare 11-14 game Saturday. That doesn’t even qualify as a Giant Killer matchup, so there’s no need to worry about whether the Blazers can do it again. They don’t have to. But Georgia State? They’re back on the board. And they’ve got a heck of a shot.

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MORE GIANT KILLERS: Midwest | West | East | South If you’re still looking for underdogs to fill out your brackets, Tuesday night’s immensely entertaining Ole Miss-BYU game carried an important lesson: This year, you’ll find Giant Killers on the 11-line, including the remaining play-in game between Boise State and Dayton. And we think this is a trend. We know what you’re supposed to think, that it’s matchups between 5-seeds and 12-seeds where upsets are surprisingly common. "SportsCenter" just produced an excellent story on that very subject, featuring longtime GK fave VCU. Our colleagues at FiveThirtyEight just published a piece called “Why No. 5 Seeds Are Jinxed.” And it’s true that at least one 12-seed has pulled off an NCAA tournament win in every year since 2007.

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Inline: Playbook Wooden 02George Frey/Getty ImagesIf they get past the First Four, Tyler Haws and BYU could be a big threat to Xavier.
The gears are grinding here in GK Central, as we have started the process of mining our statistical model for every piece of upset-related info you could possibly want before Thursday. We will have detailed regional breakdowns for you on Monday and Tuesday, but first we wanted to share some quick initial thoughts, and to pass along our annual list of the top-10 potential upsets in the Round of 64.

It’s not a great year for Killers, as several of our model’s favorite teams, such as Central Michigan, Eastern Kentucky and Illinois State, lost in their conference tournaments. And the NCAA selection committee didn’t do underdogs any favors, either. Our model’s top two Giant Killers -- VCU and Ohio State -- will face each other in a 7-10 game. The only upside there is that we’re guaranteed a chance to see an excellent Giant Killer face Arizona in the Round of 32.

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Treveon GrahamBill Streicher/Icon SportswireWith Briante Weber out for VCU, Treveon Graham carries more of the burden.
BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Six weeks ago, VCU was riding a 12-game winning streak, undefeated in the Atlantic 10 and eyeing a top-four seed in the NCAA tournament. Some 285 miles to the south, Davidson found itself staring at a 5-4 conference record in early February, its postseason chances seemingly slim.

Things can change quickly in college basketball.

When the two schools meet in the A-10 semifinals Saturday, Davidson will be wearing white, the reward for a nine-game winning streak to close the regular season. And perhaps the only thing as improbable as the Wildcats’ regular-season title in their inaugural A-10 season was VCU finishing tied for fourth. Even after a pair of victories in the A-10 tournament, the Rams have still lost six of their past 13 games, and Joe Lunardi now projects them to be a 10-seed in the NCAA tournament. Davidson? A 9-seed.

As much as these two teams have been traveling in opposite directions, they share a common trait on the eve of Selection Sunday: They both project as excellent Giant Killers. That shouldn’t be a surprise. They have authored some of the most impressive underdog runs since we launched the Giant Killers project in 2006, particularly Davidson’s journey to the Elite Eight in 2008 (they had a guard on that team who was pretty good. What was his name again?) and VCU’s Final Four trip in 2011.

This season, our model ranks them among the best potential Giant Killers in the field. Davidson sports a 26.2 GK rating. If you are new to the blog, that means it has a 26.2 percent chance of beating an average Giant. Meanwhile, VCU is annually at the top of the GK rankings, and this year is no different, as they sport a typically insane 54.3 mark. However, as we discussed recently, if you look only at the 12 games VCU has played since Briante Weber hurt his knee, that number drops to 27.7.

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Ohio StateAP Images/Tony DingD'Angelo Russell and the Buckeyes have struggled of late, but remain dangerous.
We call them "wounded assassins." In contrast to the tourney teams that emerge out of small conferences with gaudy records but a lack of battle scars, these teams have taken their lumps. They play in multibid conferences and have the losses to prove it, and they will enter the NCAA tournament with a decent seed and little fanfare.

But here at GK Central, we look at them differently. Through the lens of our statistical model, we can see through their struggles to identify key attributes that lead to tourney upsets. Some of these teams are legitimately mediocre, but others are like the 2012-13 Minnesota squad that went 8-10 in the Big Ten and limped into the tourney as an 11-seed, only to wallop UCLA by 20 points in the Round of 64.

So who will be this year’s Minnesota? We examined the power-conference teams (plus those from the Atlantic 10, Big East, American and Mountain West) seeded seventh or worse in Joe Lunardi’s latest Bracketology, as well as his first eight teams on the wrong side of the bubble. And wouldn’t you know it -- there are plenty of teams that have finished licking their wounds and are ready to dish out some payback.



VCU Rams (54.4 Giant Killer rating on a 100-point scale)

Key stat: Force steals on 14.9 percent of opponents’ possessions.

The Rams’ late-season swoon (they’ve lost three of their last four games and five of their last 11) has Lunardi projecting them as a 10-seed. That places them back in a familiar underdog role and, in typical fashion, our model salutes their high-risk/high-reward style by giving them a 54.4 percent chance of beating an average Giant. But that comes with a major catch: VCU has not been the same team since Briante Weber blew out his knee against Richmond, the game that started the Rams’ recent slide. Taking only the Rams' 10 games without Weber into account, their GK rating drops to 27.7, and they plummet to 82nd overall in the power rankings section of the model (they rank 37th if you include all games). In other words, proceed with caution.



Ohio State Buckeyes (54.2 Giant Killer rating)

Key stat: 27.4 SRS score according to our model, 10th in the country.

Advanced rating systems love the Buckeyes. In addition to the power ranking section of our model, which practically fawns over Ohio State, KenPom.com rates the Buckeyes 18th in the nation, and ESPN’s BPI places them 16th. So why does Lunardi have them as a No. 8 seed? Ohio State has lost nine games. All but one of those, though, came by single digits, and three were by a bucket or less. By contrast, Ohio State has won 20 of its 22 games by double digits. That’s the sign of a strong team that has faced some bad luck. Then, when you add in a defense that forces turnovers on 22.5 percent of opponents’ possessions and an offense that rebounds 34.1 percent of its missed shots, you have a seriously dangerous Giant Killer. Trust us -- no top-seeded team wants to see D’Angelo Russell & Co. looming in the Round of 32.


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Karl Cochran, Glenn Robinson IIIAP Photo/Jeffrey PhelpsKarl Cochran and Wofford (shown here in last year's NCAA tournament) are worth watching.
Here’s what we have found by combing through potential Giant Killers this year: In 2015, there are very few teams likely to earn low seeds with genuinely outstanding Killer traits, like Tennessee last season, Minnesota in 2013 or VCU in 2011. But there’s an unusually large group with a puncher’s chance -- say, 5 percent to 15 percent -- to knock out a Giant. Basically, these teams aren’t good enough to be 11- or 12-seeds, but would make very interesting 15s or 16s.

So this time around, we are extending our analysis of deep sleepers. On Wednesday, we looked at the top 10 mid-major conferences by Killer candidates, and Friday we examine the next 10, with a couple of bonus comments to cover just about the entire country.

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Stephen F. Austin LumberjacksChristopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY SportsWill this NCAA tournament scene repeat itself for Brad Underwood and Stephen F. Austin?
With conference tournaments getting underway, we have a very specific focus here at GK Central: We’re rooting for the teams that can go on to inflict maximum damage as Giant Killers in NCAA brackets later this month. So here’s a rundown of the mid-majors with the best Cinderella candidates, in order of their upset potential.

We have included three conferences that will probably send Giants to the Big Dance, but where Killers could still force their way into the field with conference-tournament runs. We’ll get to deeper underdogs (who could turn into surprisingly strong 15- and 16-seeds) on Friday. And we will cover conferences that could send both Giants and Killers (such as the American Athletic Conference and Atlantic 10) as their tournaments evolve. For the moment, if you like upsets, get to know these teams -- and get behind them as autobids.


Southland Conference



Best Killer: Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks (Giant Killer rating: 31.7, on a scale of zero to 100)

Key stats: Forcing turnovers on 24.9 percent of opponent possessions (ranking seventh in the NCAA); offensive rebounds on 37.7 percent of missed shots (ranking 13th); effective field goal percentage of 56 percent (ranking 10th)

Our take: We’ll keep this brief, because we have already made the case for Stephen F. Austin here. The Lumberjacks have played better than last season, and against a tougher schedule, to the point where they would be a legitimate at-large NCAA tournament team. And their basic strength is amped substantially (7.7 points per 100 possessions) by their outstanding Killer characteristics, including improved 3-point shooting. Matchups always matter, but SFA has a chance to be the next VCU.

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Inline: Playbook Wooden 02George Frey/Getty ImagesCan Tyler Haws lift the BYU Cougars to the NCAA tourney?
It’s Bracket Builder week at ESPN, meaning teams are putting final touches on their tourney résumés, while Joe Lunardi is locked in a dungeon somewhere, trying to make sense of it all. Well, we here at GK Central are nothing if not helpful, so we’re offering Joe -- and you, dear readers -- our own take on the bubble.

What if we were to ditch comparative tools like quality road wins or schedule strength and focus, instead, on one simple idea: Which teams have the best chance at upsetting a high seed? That’s what our model is for, and we set it loose on Lunardi’s bubble teams. Below, we’ve rearranged his 16 teams on the fringe of the tourney, sorting them into his typical categories (from “Last Four Byes” to “Next Four Out”) by virtue of our model’s Giant Killer rating. It certainly leads to a different look -- and a more entertaining opening round.

Last Four Byes



BYU Cougars (23.5 Giant Killer Rating on a 100-point scale.)

The Cougars dug themselves a serious hole early in conference play, and if they don’t make the tourney, they can blame it on Pepperdine, which swept their season series. But if you like upsets, you should root for BYU to find its way into the bracket, because the Cougars are dangerous.

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Bob Huggins, Jonathan Holton, Devin Williams, Jaysean PaigeAP Photo/Mike StoneBob Huggins and West Virginia have been one of the nation's tougher teams to figure out.
From a conventional standpoint, you could say West Virginia is having a nice bounce-back season. After missing the NCAA tournament for two straight years, Bob Huggins decided to turn up the defensive pressure, and on Monday, the Mountaineers upset Kansas for their 20th win.

Actually, something much more exciting is brewing in Morgantown: West Virginia has improved drastically in precisely the statistical categories that are most important in a Giant Killer matchup.

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Five Giant Killers to watch 

February, 12, 2015
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Stephen F. Austin LumberjacksChristopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY SportsThe Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks were a Giant Killer last season, and are dangerous again.
For once in your life, don’t wait until the last minute. Don’t put off the inevitable. Don’t cram. Instead of spending the days after Selection Sunday feverishly trying to learn all you can about small schools whose mere existence might surprise you, start boning up now. There are more games televised than ever before, more data readily available and more Giant Killers, baby.

For the next month, we’ll guide you by the hand through the wilderness of mid-major hoops so that by the time the bracket is set, you can break down the differences between St. Francis (N.Y.) and St. Francis (Pa.).

To start your training, we offer up five of the top potential Giant Killers currently hiding outside of the power conferences. As always, their GK Rating is expressed on a 100-point scale representing their likelihood of upsetting an average Giant.

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Rondae Hollis-JeffersonColin Prenger/J and L Photography/Getty Images Offensive rebounding could be the Wildcats' ultimate downfall.
Read their tea leaves correctly, or at least their tempo-free statistics, and you can divine not only which top-notch teams deserve NCAA tournament berths but also which squads are likely to advance or trip in March. That’s the promise of our Giant Killers project. For 10 years, we have refined a statistical model to identify traits common to deep underdogs that pull off big tournament upsets and to heavy favorites that topple. And we can already glean which Giants are shaping up as vulnerable.

For details about how our annual metrics-based forecast works, you can check this out. But here are the definitions you need to get started: A Giant is a team that plays an NCAA tournament opponent seeded at least five spots lower in any round; a Giant Killer is a team that beats a Giant; and a team’s Giant Rating is our estimate of its percentage chance of defeating an average Killer, based on data from 2007 to 2014. Over the years, we have found that successful Killers tend to play high-risk, high-reward styles, increasing the variability of their scoring. Giants need to snuff out opponents’ chance-taking to ward them off.

So who could make it to the Big Dance only to be upstaged by Cinderella? Without further ado, five Giants whose slips are showing.

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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.

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