One of the best parts about March Madness is watching a true underdog upset a higher seed and then carry that wave of momentum into the Sweet 16 or farther. If your office pool rewards picking upsets correctly by awarding extra points, then pinpointing potential upsets and Cinderella teams in advance can also be profitable in addition to being naturally thrilling.
Over the next couple of days, we’ll look for potential Cinderella teams and sleepers that can make deep runs, as well as higher seeds that may be in store for early round disappointments. Until then, here are five potential first round upsets, including at least one from each region…
Midwest Region – No. 12 Oregon vs. No. 5 Oklahoma State
The Ducks were ranked for parts of this season, are coming off of a Pac-12 tournament title and boast a top-20 defence in terms of defensive efficiency. In other words, this team is much stronger than a traditional 12-seed, and Oklahoma State should find that out the hard way on Thursday afternoon.
South Region – No. 11 Minnesota vs. No. 6 UCLA
On the surface, you may notice that Minnesota heads into the NCAA tournament on a three-game losing streak and losers of 11 of their last 16 while UCLA is coming off of a Pac-12 tournament final appearance and think to yourself that the Bruins should be heavy favourites here. But look beyond those recent trends and you’ll see that these two teams are separated by just six spots in the RPI Rankings and that the Golden Gophers excel in an important facet of the game that UCLA struggles with – rebounding. Minnesota has the eighth-best rebound rate (55.7%) in the country while UCLA has a pitiful rebound rate of just 48.9 per cent, good for 228th in the country and one of the worst marks among all tournament teams. In addition, the Bruins will be without their second-leading scorer after freshman Jordan Adams suffered a broken foot in the Pac-12 semifinals.
East Region – No. 10 Colorado vs. No. 7 Illinois
If the bracket picking pool you entered properly awards correctly picked upsets (ie-awarding three points for a 10-seed over a 7-seed), then you should consider going with the more profitable seed whenever you find a matchup that looks more evenly matched than the seeds say it should be. This Colorado/Illinois matchup qualifies, as the Buffaloes and Fighting Illini are separated by just one spot in the RPI rankings, with 10-seed Colorado actually ranking much better than 7-seed Illinois (39th compared to 63rd) in ESPN’s BPI rankings.
West Region – No. 12 Ole Miss vs. No. 5 Wisconsin
The Rebels come into the tournament winners of five straight and seven of eight overall, which included an improbable run to the school’s first SEC championship in over 30 years. The run to the final all but guaranteed Mississippi an NCAA tournament berth, beating Florida in Sunday’s SEC final assured them of an automatic bid and steered them clear of the “First Four” (play-in) round, and now I’m picking Ole Miss to keep it going right through to the Sweet 16. It starts with a matchup against a Badgers team that upset Indiana in the Big Ten semis before losing to Ohio State on Sunday, and I’ll admit this is more of a “gut feeling” thing than anything else. I’ll also admit that I can’t wait to see how Marshall Henderson taunts Wisconsin fans…
Midwest Region bonus – No. 11 Saint Mary’s* (Middle Tennessee) vs. No. 6 Memphis
The Tigers don’t take care of the ball very well and are a potential upset victim no matter who emerges from the play-in game between Saint Mary’s and Middle Tennessee, but I’ll be a lot more comfortable about this pick once the Gaels and their fourth-most efficient offence in the country take care of business in that “First Four” matchup against the Blue Raiders.
I’m actually going with the five upsets above in my bracket, but there are plenty more potential upsets in the making when looking at the Thursday/Friday matchups. If you’re feeling really adventurous, consider these five choices as well:
East Region – No. 14 Davidson vs. No. 3 Marquette
South Region – No. 13 South Dakota State vs. No. 4 Michigan
East Region – No. 12 California vs. No. 5 UNLV (UNLV held off Cal by just one point back in December and this game will be played in the state of California)
East Region – No. 11 Bucknell vs. No. 6 Butler
South Region – No. 10 Oklahoma vs. No. 7 San Diego State