- Peter Keating
From regular-season conference leaders such as Green Bay, Iona and Vermont, to long shots with slingshots such as Denver and St. Mary's, we have already seen all kinds of Giant Killers swallowed by the gaping maw of championship week. What potential remains for upsets, and which Cinderellas are stepping forward? Glad you asked.
Here are the top 10 potential Giant Killers, according to our statistical model. We have limited ourselves to looking only at teams that could face Giants in the Round of 64, meaning they could plausibly earn 11-seeds or below. And we've ranked them by their Giant Killer rating, which measures the estimated likelihood they could beat a typical Giant, on a scale from zero to 100.
Pittsburgh Panthers (GK rating: 40.8)
Pitt falls squarely into a category we call "wounded assassins" -- teams, usually from power conferences, that have failed so thoroughly to meet expectations that they fall to a low seed but retain the talent to knock off a Giant. The Panthers got off to an 18-2 start, then stumbled and won just four of their next 10 games as they faced tougher competition. And last weekend, when one more loss might have pushed them out of NCAA tournament contention entirely, they barely eked out an overtime victory against Clemson to close their regular season. At this point, Pittsburgh is running fifth in a conference that most fans and analysts believe has four good-to-great teams. But the numbers don't match that public perception.
Our statistical model still sees Pitt as a top-20 team, with a highly efficient offense (115.5 points per 100 possessions, ranking 17th in the country) keyed by outstanding offensive rebounding. And we're not alone; the Panthers rank 15th in BPI and 21st on KenPom.com. Now consider: North Carolina has the same record as Pitt (23-8), is seeded one spot higher in the ACC tournament and beat Pitt by all of four points last month (in Chapel Hill), yet somehow UNC is now in line for a seed six or seven slots higher in the NCAA tournament.
From regular-season conference leaders such as Green Bay, Iona and Vermont, to long shots with slingshots such as Denver and St. Mary's, we have already seen all kinds of Giant Killers swallowed by the gaping maw of championship week.