NCAA tournament upset picks


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Oregon was also a #12 seed in 2013. That year, they beat not only the #5


It’s that time of year again.  Over the next few days, roughly 40 million Americans will fill out their March Madness brackets.  With only a one in 9.2 quintillion chance of filling out a perfect bracket according to Duke University, it is inevitable that yours will be busted.  Last year’s tournament was one of the wildest in recent memory, as a 16 seed beat a 1 seed for the first time in 136 tries, and 11 seed Loyola-Chicago advanced all the way to the final four.  Although my bracket ended in shambles (I had Virginia in my final four), I predicted a couple huge upsets as well, 13 seeded Buffalo over #4 Arizona, and another 13 over 4 matchup in Marshall and Wichita State.  I also had Loyola beating Miami, although I had them losing in the next round. So here are my top five first round upset picks for this year’s big dance, ranked by how likely I think they are.

1. #12 Oregon over #5 Wisconsin

All seemed lost for Oregon once they lost their potential first round pick, the 7-foot-3 Bol Bol, to season-ending injury.  Alas, not so much. The Ducks have rattled off eight straight wins, culminating in a 68-48 demolition of Washington (a 9-seed) in the Pac-12 championship game.  Oregon has a great defense- their opponent’s points per game, and their defensive efficiency both rank in the top 20 nationwide. The defense is bolstered by its height.  Against Washington, Oregon had four starters at 6’9”. After a rough patch at the turn of the new year, Wisconsin looked to be hitting their stride in February and March before a brutal 12 point loss to Michigan State in the Big 10 Tournament.  Like previous Wisconsin teams, this one is strong defensively, but lacking on the other end. This means that they can keep games with really good teams close, but could be prone to an upset.

  2. #12 Murray State over #5 Marquette

Murray State’s hopes rests on the shoulders of one man and one man only, likely NBA top-three pick, Ja Morant.  Morant’s superstar status has grown throughout the year, bolstered by high-flying dunks. He just scored 36 points in the Ohio Valley tournament championship to send the racers to the round of 64 in an upset win over Belmont (more on them later).  The rest of the team is quite good as well, as the offense, which runs at a breathtaking pace, scores over 80 points a game, good for 10th in the nation. Marquette is a good team, but they are limping into the tournament, having lost 5 of their last 6 games.

3. #11 Saint Mary’s over #6 Villanova

Coming off a national title a year ago, Villanova seemed poised to make another run when college basketball season started.  But they’ve lost some key pieces, and have struggled to return to form. Saint Mary’s is fresh off a 13-point blowout win over #1 seed Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference championship, and they have been on a roll as of late.  They also run their offense at a slower pace than almost any other team in the nation, something that can be off-putting to really good teams like Villanova.

4. #11 Belmont over #6 Maryland

Belmont suffered a loss to the aforementioned Murray State that jeopardized their championship hopes, but a win in the first four yesterday put them through to the round of 64.  Their offense is second in the nation in points per game, and the scoring is reasonably balanced- if one of their shooters is having a bad night, someone else can step up. On the flip side, Maryland looks particularly vulnerable.  They got bounced in the first round of the Big 10 championship after an up-and-down year.

5. #14 Georgia State over #3 Houston

Admittedly, this is a stretch.  Houston hasn’t been this good since Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon were running the show.  They are not a big upset target but Georgia State is one of the best teams in the nation in shooting threes.  If their shooters get hot at the right time, they could pull off a shocker. And this team has been here before.  In 2015, their 14-seeded team took down #3 Oregon on a last-second buzzer-beater. And Houston is entering the tournament on a loss to Cincinnati on Sunday, one in which their shooting was cold, and their offense never got going.  In the unlikely event that they replicate that poor performance, they could be in for a surprise.