Ranking the Probable Upsets

One of the many things that makes March Madness the greatest sporting event in the history of the world is the upsets. It’s one of the few times where it seems like all of America is together, pulling for the underdog. It’s electric television.

Then those plucky underdogs win one too many games and everybody complains when the Sweet 16 rolls around and you’re forced to watch La Salle and Wichita State play in a rather lifeless Staples Center.

There is nothing that feels greater than picking an upset correctly. But it’s getting harder. The 6/11 and 5/12 games barely count anymore. Three of the 6/11 games will basically be toss-ups and the 5/12 games aren’t far off.

If you really want to impress, you need to start calling those 13 and 14 and possibly 15 seed winners.

That’s what we’re trying to do here. Last year in this space, our top 3 most likely 11 seeds winning happened, the top 2 most likely 12 seeds happened, and the 13 seed (Hawaii) and 14 seed (SFA) that pulled the upsets were our most likely as well.

Big swing and a miss on MTSU over Michigan State, though. That’s on me. If I recall correctly, I did a bit of editorializing on that one.

None of that this year. This is strictly by the power ratings. No X’s and O’s, just the numbers.

Who’s Getting Upset In Round One?

6 vs. 11 Games

11 seeds win 35.1% of the time or about 1.4 per year. I believe it’s something like six years in a row that one of the 11 seeds that wins a play-in game, wins the next game.

1. Rhode Island over Creighton

They basically have the exact same score. To make matters worse, Rhody’s score is negatively impacted by the injury issues they had during the year and they’ve been fully healthy and playing their best basketball lately. On the other hand, Creighton is positively impacted by Mo Watson playing a large portion of the season, while his services are no longer available.

The Bluejays had a nice run in the Big East tourney, but it hasn’t even crossed my mind to pick them in this game.

2. Kansas State/Wake Forest over Cincinnati

This is working under the assumption, that Kansas State wins. They have a much higher score than Wake Forest. In reality, both of them have a pretty decent shot of winning the game. Like I said, most of these 6/11 are basically coin flips. I’d definitely say that this game is the one to pick a play-in winner if you believe in that trend.

3. Xavier over Maryland

KenPom actually has the Muskies as a very slight favorite. Neither team is really headed in the right direction and I have a hard time seeing either of them in the second weekend, so I’m not really sure it matters who wins.

4. USC/Providence over SMU

USC has the better score, but I’d still consider SMU a decent-sized favorite against either of them.

5 vs. 12 Games

12 seeds win 33.1% of the time or about 1.3 per year.

1. Middle Tennessee over Minnesota

Everybody and their mother is on this one. I like MTSU, but for matchup reasons, I don’t think I will be.

2. Nevada over Iowa State

There’s some similarities between this game and ISU’s matchup with Iona last year. Difference is, I think Nevada’s a better and much more talented team than Iona. Neither result would surprise me, but what I do know is this game will bring the juice late on Thursday night.

3. Princeton over Notre Dame

Pretty similar teams. I think the biggest X-factor might be VJ Beachem. The Tigers don’t have anyone like him and I’m not sure they’ve been forced to guard anyone like him all season. In a game that will be played at a slow pace without many turnovers, it may just come down to who’s hitting from the outside.

4. UNC Wilmington over Virginia

I like Wilmington, but I think this is a worst-case matchup for them. Virginia will make them play in the halfcourt and that’s not the Seahawks game at all.

4 vs. 13 Games

13 seed win 19.7% of the time or about 0.7 per year.

1. Vermont over Purdue

I don’t like the matchup for the Catamounts, but they’re the best 13 seed. John Becker’s defensive scheme is typically to run off shooters and it leaves them kind of susceptible inside. That’s the opposite of what’s worked against Purdue this year.

Whatever he does, it better be different than last year when the two teams met and Purdue scored 107 points without their best player.

2. Bucknell over West Virginia

Two things working against Bucknell here: they turn it over at an above average rate and they shoot free throws at a below average percentage. That’s not the winning recipe against West Virginia. But they’ll have a few days to at least prepare for that pressure. If they limit the turnovers, they can guard the Mountaineers in the halfcourt.

3. Winthrop over Butler

If I were to pick one, it would actually be this one. I don’t trust Butler’s defense at all and Keon Johnson is capable of taking over any game.

4. East Tennessee St. over Florida

The Bucs will be just find defending Florida in the halfcourt, but they’re in big trouble if they turn it over 15+ times, an area that’s hampered them all year. TJ Cromer fits the same mold of Keon Johnson in this game.


3 vs. 14 Games

14 seeds win 16.4% of the time or about 0.6 per year.

1. New Mexico St. over Baylor

None of these stick out like SFA-WVU did last year, but NMSU isn’t a terrible bet, especially if you’re planning on SMU winning the next round anyway. The Aggies do have a win at Arizona State under their belt this year. Wasn’t even close, really.

The concern has to be what NMSU’s answer to Motley and Lual-Acuil is going to be. The Aggies are active themselves on the glass, but will the two bigs for the Bears just be able to shoot right over them?

2. Florida Gulf Coast over Florida St.

I’m not real big on the Noles, but I also don’t see many advantages for the Eagles in this game.

3. Iona over Oregon

Not a good matchup for the Gaels.

4. Kent St. over UCLA

The Flashes just don’t have enough offensive firepower to keep pace.

Image may contain: 2 people, people playing sports and basketball court

2 vs. 15 Games

15 seeds win 6.8% of the time or about 0.2 per year.

1. Jacksonville St. over Louisville

This one should be a slow, relatively low scoring game. With that in mind, if the Cardinal backcourt is having a cold shooting day, it could get interesting.

2. Troy over Duke

The Blue Devils better be ready to defend because the Trojans have three legit scorers who have all been playing well recently.

3. Northern Kentucky over Kentucky

Norse just have to make all their threes. Boom. Easy.

4. North Dakota over Arizona

Zona is the worst 2 seed by a wide margin, but UND is the worst 15 seed by a wider margin, so here we are.

1 vs. 16 Games

A 16 seed has never won.

1. NC Central/UC Irvine over Kansas

The only one that’s remotely conceivable is if NCCU wins their play-in game on Wednesday. They’re better than all the 15 seeds and Kansas is the worst 1 seed.

2. Texas Southern over UNC

3. New Orleans/Mount St. Mary’s over Villanova

4. South Dakota St. over Gonzaga

Top 2 Seeds Who Are Going Home Early

In the previous piece I mentioned that at least two of the top-2 seeds have gone home in the first weekend the last six years and three of them have done so on a couple of occasions in that span. Who are the most likely candidates this year?

1. Arizona

Xavier was our team in this slot last year and that one rang true. Arizona doesn’t rate nearly as poorly, but they’re definitely on the low end of your typical top 2 seed.

This is largely based on the prospects of them meeting Saint Mary’s in the second round. The good news for the Cats is I wouldn’t be surprised to see VCU take out the Gaels for them.

2. Kentucky

Kentucky got screwed. They were 5th on the seed list and they get KenPom’s #8 team in their pod.

3. Villanova

This is because of Wisconsin. Remember, the Badgers were the ones who took out Xavier in the first weekend last year. They’ll be comfortable in a grind it out game with Nova.

4. Kansas

The 8/9 game in their pod with Miami and Michigan State presents two teams that can actually guard the Jayhawk backcourt fairly well.

5. Louisville

They’re either gonna get scorching hot Michigan or underseeded Oklahoma State in the second round.

6. North Carolina

They’re not getting beat.

7. Gonzaga

Neither are they.

8. Duke

Duke gets the kiss of death. Michigan State was in this spot last year.


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