Giant Killers: Cal, Notre Dame among potential Giants ripe for an upset

Ivan Rabb and Jaylen Brown lead Cal's talented freshmen. Are the Bears vulnerable against a Giant Killer? AP Photo/Ben Margot

Everybody loves an underdog, but it takes two teams to dance the toxic tango that leads a Giant to fall into a Killer’s clutches. So it’s high time that we train our statistical model on teams that could land in the top third of this year’s NCAA tournament brackets, and analyze the tendencies of those that could be vulnerable to upsets.

In general, to pull off unexpected wins, Giant Killers must play a high-risk, high-reward style, seeking to maximize the volume and value of their possessions by forcing turnovers, shooting 3-pointers and/or crashing the boards. And it’s precisely those tactics that successful Giants must squelch. Goliaths who stop Davids from going on runs can assert their own superiority and ward off upsets.

Statistically, that means offensive rebounding is the most important trait for overdogs looking to stay safe: Grab your own missed shots, and you not only keep the ball away from the other guys, but you can survive a subpar shooting night. Teams whose game centers on dominating the offensive boards (like North Carolina this season) have suffered the fewest upsets historically, and we call them Power Giants. But other styles work, too. Gambling Giants (such as Iowa) essentially give up on defensive rebounding to work the perimeter and force turnovers. Conversely, Pack-Line Giants (like Arizona) focus on controlling the defensive boards. Where high seeds tend to stumble is when they’re not strong at rebounding at either end or winning turnover battles. Such Generic Giants -- a group that includes both Maryland and Iowa State in 2016 -- lose nearly 40 percent of their matchups to Killers.