March Madness: 5 Upsets That Will Surely Happen
The charm of college basketball – and, specifically, the NCAA Tournament – is its unpredictability. Even the most powerful and talent-laden teams are far from invincible. People tune in hoping to see some tiny school they’ve never heard of take down a national elite like Kansas, North Carolina or Duke.
With so many teams in the field nowadays, we see more upsets than ever. We also know that sheer probability tells us that a major upset is most likely to go down within the first two rounds of the tourney. While simply going through your bracket and picking favored seeds is likely a sound strategy, where is the fun in that?
Picking the correct upsets can help separate you from the field. It can also prove to be quite lucrative if you happen to place a wager on the right underdog. So, with that in mind, what are five upsets we think will go down in the first round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament?
No. 12 Middle Tennessee State (+1) over No. 5 Minnesota (-1)
It’s early, but this is shaping up to be one of the most popular upset calls in the first round. Vegas seems to agree, as they have made the Golden Gophers just one-point favorites over those plucky underdogs from Middle Tennessee State. So, what’s the deal here?
Well, if we hit the rewind button and go back exactly one year, we’ll see that Middle Tennessee was in a similar position in the last tourney. They were a No. 15 seed last year and were going against Tom Izzo’s powerful Michigan State squad in round one. 15 seeds never beat 2-seeds, right?
Well, the Spartans evidently took the Blue Raiders likely, as MTSU came out and shocked them by winning 90-81. That team returned a bunch of starters this season, and they would go on to easily win their conference and conference tourney with a 30-4 record.
The battle of the boards in this one will be fascinating. Minnesota happens to be one of the very weakest defensive rebounding teams in the country, while Middle Tennessee State is quite strong on the glass. One way to pull an upset is to simply make it impossible for your opponent to get rebounds, and that’s one area in which the Blue Raiders would appear to have a sizable advantage.
MTSU is also excellent at forcing turnovers and making those opponents pay for coughing the ball up. The Blue Raiders had a plus-108 turnover differential this season and ranked fourth in all of college hoops in points per possession on fast breaks (1.18).
We also know the history of 12-seeds against 5-seeds. The four No. 5 seeds have swept the four first-round games against 12 seeds just once (2007) in the last 16 tournaments. If another happens this year, it’ll likely be Middle Tennessee State advancing again.
No. 11 Rhode Island (+1.5) over No. 6 Creighton (-1.5)
It’ll be interesting to see how Creighton deals with Rhode Island’s defense in this one. The Blue Jays tend to rely an awful lot on the three-pointer to have success offensively. Creighton shot better than 40 percent from deep this season, which was tied for the 17th-best mark in the nation.
However, Rhode Island is stingy defensively around that three-point line. The Rams allowed their opponents to shoot just under 30 percent from the long line during the regular season, which ranked 18th of all teams in the country. They’re also on fire, having won eight straight games including the Atlantic 10 title coming in.
Creighton was one of the highest-scoring teams in all of college basketball this season, but Rhode Island did rank 26th in America in defensive efficiency, allowing just 93.5 points per 100 possessions. Creighton, meanwhile, ranked 91st in the same metric.
The Jays have also been in shaky form since they lost Maurice Watson Jr. for the season with an injury. They went just 5-7 down-the-stretch without him in the lineup, and have yet to find a suitable replacement for his spot in the rotation.
These two teams are closely-matched enough for us to have confidence that the Rams can pull it off in the end. Free-throw shooting could prove problematic for them, but Creighton just hasn’t been nearly as strong since Watson was lost for the year.
No. 11 Xavier (+2) over No. 6 Maryland (-2)
The Terps don’t come into the tourney in the greatest of form. They were beaten by Northwestern in the Big Ten tournament and, as a result, weren’t necessarily a shoo-in to make it to the Big Dance in the first place.
Xavier didn’t have the greatest regular season themselves (21-13), but are plenty capable of giving Maryland some matchup issues. The Musketeers are another team that likes to crash the glass, and averaged seven more rebounds per game than their opponents. The Terrapins, on the flip side, finished just 166th in the country in rebounding.
The Musketeers impressively toppled Butler in the Big East tournament before faltering against Creighton. They also come into this one with plenty of experience, led by junior forward Trevon Bluiett. He has been a part of the Xavier teams that reached the Sweet 16 two years ago and made it to the third round last season.
Maryland is essentially a one-man show offensively. Melo Trimble is clearly one of the best scorers in all of college hoops, but he can’t do it all alone.
These teams are incredibly closely matched across-the-board, and no result would be particularly shocking. Xavier has the mettle to pull this thing out if they can keep from turning the ball over.
No. 10 Marquette (+1.5) over No. 7 South Carolina (-1.5)
While 12 over 5 upsets garner the most attention, we have seen our fair share of 10-seeds upsetting No. 7s in the past, as well. Two No. 10 seeds wound up advancing beyond the first round in 2016, and they wound up going 3-1 against the spread in round one.
This matchup has upset marked all over it. Marquette is your typical team that can get incredibly hot once the tourney gets going. They rank 17th in the nation in scoring (82.5 points per game) and lead the nation in three-point percentage (43 percent).
The Golden Eagles upset a then-No. 1 ranked Villanova squad back in January and also boasts two wins over Creighton on the year. Any team with as many marksmen as Marquette does is capable of making a deep run into the tournament.
Let’s also not forget that South Carolina isn’t exactly waltzing into the tourney. The Gamecocks lost six of their last nine games overall and don’t have a ton of experience up-and-down the roster. They’re another team that really struggles on the boards, ranking 145th in Division 1 in rebounding.
This is Marquette’s first appearance in the tournament since way back in 2013 when they stormed their way to the Elite 8 during the Vander Blue era. They’ll be happy to be back and ready to make some noise this time around.
No. 10 Wichita State (-6) over No. 7 Dayton (+6
A 10-seed beating a 7-seed would normally make for an upset, but Vegas doesn’t even believe this one. The Wichita State Shockers come into this one badly under-seeded, and bookies agree. The Shockers come into this game as whopping six-point favorites over Dayton.
Considering the seeding, though, we still get to label this one as an upset. Those are the rules.
Wichita State has been in fabulous form in the last few weeks. They went 30-4 during the regular season, with three of those losses coming against other teams that qualified for the tournament. They’ve won 21 of their last 22, but still were unable to earn the respect of the selection committee.
This is also a program that has been known to go on some serious runs once March rolls around. Gregg Marshall’s boys have made the tourney in each of the last five seasons, and have advanced beyond the first round in each of the last four. They made it to the Final Four back in 2013 before falling to eventual champion Louisville.
Dayton is nothing to shake a stick at, but it seems likely that they’ll be ousted in the first round as a 7-seed for the second year running. They were throttled in the first round last year by No. 10 Syracuse as the Orange staged a shocking run of their own to the Final Four.
This one almost seems too obvious to call. The Shockers get the job done. Poor Dayton.