Giant Killers returns: Identifying this season's early sleepers

Valparaiso's Alec Peters and Northern Iowa's Wes Washpun could ruin some brackets this spring. Getty Images

Welcome back to Giant Killers, our annual metrics-based forecast of NCAA tournament upsets. Over the decade since we began hunting for springtime Cinderellas, we have built and refined a statistical model to identify common traits among low seeds that topple top teams in March, as well as characteristics of the Giants that lose those matchups. And this season, we are launching our analysis earlier than ever, simply because there's just so much more data available -- as well as interest from fans and analysts -- than in the days when we began plucking needles from haystacks.

Giant Killers isn't about ranking the best mid-major teams. We are after something a bit different, and more elusive: Teams that are good enough to dominate inferior opponents during the regular season, but also smart or reckless enough to go high-risk/reward against Giants. Typically that means excelling at some combination of boosting the value of shots by shooting lots of 3s and generating extra possessions through offensive rebounds or forced turnovers. (Think Shaka Smart's VCU teams.) With all due respect to Evansville, which is primed to have a good season, you won't see the Purple Aces on this list, because they just don't do many of the things Killers must to upset Giants.

For this first edition of Giant Killers for 2015-16, our methodology is less formal than it will be once we have more data. In addition to 2014-15 stats and records, we looked at returning players, coaching styles and conference changes to come up with 10 teams that could blow up brackets if they make it to the Big Dance. One important note: These candidates do not include any programs from the Atlantic 10. The A-10 is loaded with potential Killers, many with clashing styles and interesting stories, and we plan to analyze them separately.