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Upset Watch: Meet the little guys that could win in the Round of 64

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It’s always fun to root for the little guy.

Every year, people across the country always root for upsets in the NCAA Tournament because it brings a unique excitement to America’s most unpredictable sporting event. Whether you’re just purely into the “David topples Goliah” storyline, or you want to be that person that brags to their friends about knowing way too much about Ohio Valley Conference basketball, everyone seems to root for lower seeds to beat some of the most storied programs in America.

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Here are five potential upsets in the Round of 64 involved double-digit seeds.

No. 12 seed Stephen F. Austin over No. 5 seed VCU

Winners of 28 straight games, the Lumberjacks went through the Southland Conference unscathed as first-year head coach Brad Underwood has done a tremendous job this season getting this balanced group to bye in. With five starters averaging at least 9.6 points per game — and all five shoot at least 35 percent from the three-point line — Stephen F. Austin is incredibly dangerous on offense thanks to their balance and ability to stretch the floor at all five positions. If the Lumberjacks can handle VCU’s pressure, they could hit enough shots to get past Shaka Smart’s ballclub.

No. 12 seed North Dakota State over No. 5 seed Oklahoma

Senior-laden North Dakota State will be a tough out in the Round of 64 thanks to their tremendous shot selection and leadership. Summit League Player of the Year Taylor Braun is a do-it-all senior forward that shoots it well from everywhere on the floor and senior center Marshall Bjorkland has been in the top-ten in the country the last two seasons in field goal percentage, as he hovered in the mid-60s — percentage wise — both seasons. With the way Oklahoma can give up easy buckets, you have to like Bison’s chances if they can get stops on the other end.

MORE: 8 teams that can win it all | TV times | Bracket contest

No. 12 seed North Carolina State over No. 5 seed Saint Louis

If N.C. State can get past Xavier in Dayton — and they should — they pose a major threat for the rest of the field thanks in large part to sophomore scoring sensation T.J. Warren. The forward is the most ruthless and effeicient scorer in the country not named “Doug McDermott” and he’s a matchup nightmare for nearly every team in the field. Saint Louis is also struggling, having lost four of their last five games entering the tournament. If Warren gets hot enough, N.C. State is a very dangerous team in this field.

UPDATE: NC State beat Xavier, 74-59, on Monday.

No. 11 seed Tennessee over No. 6 UMass

If Tennessee gets past Iowa in Dayton, then they should be a potential upset to watch against No. 6 seed UMass. The Volunteers are playing much better basketball down the stretch and won five straight games before falling to No. 1 overall seed Florida in the SEC Tournament. Four of those wins came by double-digits and the inside-outside combination of Jordan McRae and Jarnell Stokes is tough to stop. The Minutemen also struggled entering the field as they’ve alternated wins and losses since March began and lost all three games that they played against NCAA Tournament teams during that stretch.

No. 11 Providence over No. 6 North Carolina

After winning the Big East Tournament in dramatic fashion at Madison Square Garden, the Friars are very confident heading into the tournament. Even though senior guard Bryce Cotton is an All-American performer, the Friars won two of the Big East Tournament games with Cotton playing well below his normal output. Providence only goes six deep, but all six players contributed heavily in the Big East Tournament and the Friars can get points and rebounds from nearly everyone on the floor. It’s not that North Carolina is susceptible to a loss as much as Providence is playing well and matches up well with the Tar Heels. This should be a good one.

Have any upset predictions of your own that we didn’t profile? Let us know your Round of 64 upsets — and why — in the comments section.

Whitehead to stay in NBA Draft

Seton Hall guard Isaiah Whitehead (15) shoots past Xavier forward Sean O'Mara (54) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
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Seton Hall sophomore guard Isaiah Whitehead has signed with an agent and will remain in the NBA Draft, according to multiple reports.

Whitehead averaged 18.2 points, 5.1 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game last season for Seton Hall, which went 25-9 and reached the NCAA tournament. He likely projects as a second-round pick with a bit of a shaky shot, but a high usage and assist rates. His strong finish to the season likely lifted him on some draft boards, but his inefficiency will cap his ceiling in June’s draft.

The loss is significant for the Pirates as Whitehead was so much of their offense, but they’ll bring back Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez, Angel Delgado and Ismael Sanogo. It’s a group that will miss Whitehead’s playmaking, but is still a solid enough foundation that Seton Hall will still likely be competitive in the Big East and vying for another NCAA tournament berth.

Hart returning for Villanova’s title defense

LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 26:  Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats reacts in the second half against the Kansas Jayhawks during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at KFC YUM! Center on March 26, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Villanova’s title defense just got a whole lot stouter.

Josh Hart, the leading scorer of the Wildcats’ national championship team, will return for his senior season, he announced on Twitter.

The decision for Hart to return is a major boost for Villanova in its quest to become the first back-to-back champions since Florida in 2006 and 2007. Hart, a 6-foot-5 guard,  averaged 15.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while shooting 51.3 percent from the floor and 35.7 percent from 3-point range.

Most draft pundits had him pegged as a potential end-of-the-first-round pick in next month’s draft though he could have certainly slid into the second should he had decided to forego his senior season. Instead, Hart will be a potential first-team All-American exhausting his eligibility in Philadelphia.

The 2016-17 season is taking shape nicely, and Hart returning to Villanova only increases the strength of the field at the top. Title game hero Kris Jenkins as well as Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth and Mikal Bridges are also back for the defending champs while the super recruiting classes of Duke, Kentucky and Michigan State, Kansas’ returning core along with Josh Jackson and a solid group of teams including North Carolina, Arizona, Louisville and Wisconsin make for an intriguing upper-tier of teams that could very well make for a top-heavy season following last year’s free for all.

College basketball isn’t the NFL. Parity doesn’t equal strength and quality, and when the sport has a handful high-quality teams, it is at its best. It’s looking like that is a possibility for the 2016-17 campaign.

UConn duo returning to school

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Connecticut may have lost its 6-foot-7 wing scorer but it is keeping its defensive stalwart and leading scorer.

Center Amida Brimah and guard Rodney Purvis have withdrawn their names from NBA Draft consideration and will return to the Huskies for another year, the school announced Tuesday.

The decisions from Brimah, a 7-foot center, and Purvis, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard, help soften the blow dealt by Daniel Hamilton’s decision to sign with an agent and leave school despite having some shaky draft stock. The Huskies may not open the season as a top-25 team, but they won’t be far behind and will be one of the AAC’s favorites, along with Cincinnati.

Brimah averaged 6.5 points per game last year, but blocked 2.7 shots per game. He missed 11 games last season with a broken finger. Purvis registered 12.8 points per game while shooting 43.4 percent from the floor.

Neither Brimah or Purvis were among those invited to this month’s NBA Draft combine nor were either expected to be drafted should they have kept their names in the draft.

Gonzaga’s Karnowski returning for fifth year

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The man in the middle is returning to Gonzaga.

Przemek Karnowski will return to the Bulldogs for his final year after a medical redshirt waiver was granted allowing him a fifth season in Spokane, the school announced Tuesday.

“I’m excited to be coming back,” Karnowski said in a statement. “After talking with the coaches, my parents and the team, I decided this was the best decision for me. I still have a ways to go with my rehab, but I’m staying positive about the upcoming season.”

The 7-foot-1 Karnowski, a Poland native, would have, at minimum, had professional opportunities overseas, but instead will return to play for the Bulldogs once more after a back injury limited him to five games last season. He averaged 10.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game as a junior in 2014-15.

With Karnowski returning along with  Josh Perkins and Silas Melson, Gonzaga coach Mark Few will be having newcomers Nigel Williams-Goss, Zach Norvell, Johnathan Williams II and Zach Collins joining an experienced and talented group.

Gonzaga (shocker) will be the West Coast Conference favorite once more, but the Bulldogs will also be fielding a team that should open the season in most everyone’s top-15.

Michigan St. at Duke highlights ACC/Big Ten Challenge

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A matchup in Durham of likely top-10 teams is the headliner of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, whose schedule was released Tuesday.

Michigan State, expected to open the season in the top-10, and Duke, the presumptive preseason No. 1, will meet Tuesday, Nov. 29, at Cameron Indoor Stadium in the most intriguing contest of the 14-game event.

The Spartans are losing Denzel Valentin, Bryn Forbes and Matt Costello, but the recruiting class of Miles Bridges, Cassius Winston, Joshua Langford and Nick Ward is one of coach Tom Izzo’s best and has Michigan State positioned as one of the Big Ten’s favorites.

Izzo’s recruiting class, though, pales in comparison to what coach Mike Krzyzewski is bringing to the Blue Devils, with Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, Marques Bolden, Frank Jackson and Javin DeLaurier in their 2016 class, which is why, when paired with the likes of Grayson Allen, Amile Jefferson and Luke Kennard, make Duke nearly everyone’s No. 1 heading into next season.

Krzyzewski is 9-1 all-time against Izzo’s Spartans.

Among the other highlights of the conference competition is Syracuse at Wisconsin (Nov. 29) Pittsburgh at Maryland (Nov. 29), Purdue at Louisville (Nov. 30) and Ohio State at Virginia (Nov. 30).  

Monday, Nov. 28

Minnesota at Florida State

Wake Forest at Northwestern

Tuesday, Nov. 29

Syracuse at Wisconsin

Michigan State at Duke

Pittsburgh at Maryland

Iowa at Notre Dame

Georgia Tech at Penn State

N.C. State at Illinois

 

Wednesday, Nov. 30

Purdue at Louisville

North Carolina at Indiana

Ohio State at Virginia

Virginia Tech at Michigan

Rutgers at Miami (Fla.)

Nebraska at Clemson