- Mic Smith/AP
The 2017 NCAA men’s basketball tournament is around the corner, which means time is running out to complete your bracket and then drive yourself crazy obsessively tinkering with your picks.
It wouldn’t be March Madness, of course, if there weren’t at least a few Cinderella teams that will invariably come out of nowhere and knock off some big-name programs in the early rounds.
That random 11-seed from the Big South, say, is always the one you curse as you tear up your bracket and vow to not do this again next year.
Luckily, this year we’ve got you covered – for the first round, anyway.
With the help of several college basketball experts around the internet, we narrowed in on five first-round upset picks that will put you well on your way to winning your office pool. Of course, there is a reason these are upset picks, so tread carefully and please don’t take this as gospel.
Below are our five favorite upset picks.
No. 10 Wichita State over No. 7 Dayton
The college hoops world can’t understand how the tournament committee settled on a 10-seed for Wichita State, a program that’s been among college basketball’s best and most consistent over the past five years. This year, KenPom has the Shockers ranked eighth – not in their quarter of the draw but in the entire tournament. With that in mind, Wichita State seems like as safe an upset pick as you can find. Plus, KenPom gives them a 75% chance of reaching the second round, which really only means this qualifies as an upset pick because of the mysterious seeding.
No. 11 Rhode Island over No. 6 Creighton
Creighton lost their best player, point guard Mo Watson, midway through the season and have been a completely different team without him (18-1 with Watson; 7-8 without him). Rhode Island, on the other hand, enters the tournament on a hot streak – winners of eight straight and 12 of their last 14.
No. 11 Xavier over No. 6 Maryland
Maryland has cooled off lately, and will be without their starting big-man, Michal Cekovsky. There’s not a ton of bench depth for the Terps, which could potentially mean trouble against a scrappy Xavier squad. As Bleacher Report explained:
“[Xavier is] a rugged post team that sit 20th in the nation with a 6.6 rebounding margin, perNCAA stats. They can also play zone defense, which isn’t good for the aforementioned cold-shooting Terps.”
Xavier has struggled through its own injury problems this season, but SI still likes their odds – a 54.9% chance of beating the Terps.
No. 12 Middle Tennessee St. over No. 5 Minnesota
Middle Tennessee is dynamite in transition (a top-5 team in the country), and plays a variety of stingy defenses. As SI noted, they’ll often show a variety of different defensive schemes over the course of a game: a man-to-man heavy on switching, a 2-3 zone, a trapping 1-3-1 zone, and more.
Also, Middle Tennessee is led by a point guard named Giddy Potts. If that’s not enough of a reason to pick Middle Tennessee here, what is?
No. 12 UNC Wilmington over No. 5 UVA
Hey, why not?
Wilmington and UVA exist on completely opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to basketball identity. UVA is the best defensive team in the country, plays at a slower pace than anyone, and typically just grinds games away without much offensive pizzazz. Wilmington, meanwhile, is an offensive juggernaut and plays at a dizzying pace.
“They are 10th nationally with 85 points per game and 18th in adjusted offensive efficiency, per KemPom. Behind point guard C.J. Bryce and with a pretty athletic squad, the Seahawks could make hay running on the Cavs. Easier said than done against an ACC team that prides itself on never letting the other team get behind it, but still.”
Will Wilmington get the job done? Who knows! That’s the fun of March Madness.
Enjoy the tournament, everyone.