The time has come, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls of the Big Blue Nation. Time to fill out those brackets, whether for fun or profit. Time to think about which teams besides the Wildcats are going to make it to the Final Four, and which top seeds are going to find an early demise to a lower seed. It happens every year. I have come to view it as inevitable. This post will take a quick look at some of the upsets I see as likely.
Just so you know, in case you haven't figured it out from the headline, Yahoo! Sports is running a NCAA Tournament Pick-Em for your entertainment pleasure. BigSkyCat normally also does a bracket challenge for A Sea of Blue which I'm sure she'll have up later, and this year, we'll have a prize, so look for that also. But I strongly recommend picking some brackets for the Yahoo! challenge as well, as that prize will be a lot bigger!
Okay, let's get to my first round possible upsets. You all know that I am fond of statistics, so I'll be referring to two of my favorite Internet sports statistical gurus (besides our own JLeverenz and Dan Harris), Luke Winn and Ken Pomeroy, for guidance:
- 7-10 game, Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Xavier Musketeers. I like Xavier in this one. Pomeroy has Xavier at only a 44% chance to win, but I consider that a pick-em and Xavier closed the season out better than Notre Dame did, although that loss to St. Bonaventure is reason for pause. Xavier has a ton of talent, and I think Notre Dame has overachieved this year. Overachievers are often early outs in March.
- 2-15 game, Duke Blue Devils vs. Lehigh Mountain Hawks. I am picking this as an upset for two reasons: #1 is because log5 gives Duke only a 77% chance to win, lowest among all 2-15 games, and because of the injury to Ryan Kelly that may slow him down just enough. Lehigh runs a ball pressure game similar to Duke, and Lehigh takes better care of the ball.
- 4-13 game. Indiana Hoosiers vs. New Mexico St. Aggies. New Mexico St. is a dangerous team because of one huge reason -- offensive rebounding. The Aggies are the #4 OR% team in the entire nation, and the Hoosiers are just a so-so defensive rebounding team. The Aggies also get to the line a lot, a very efficient way to score. The downside is, they don't make free throws well at all.
- 7-10 game. Virginia Cavaliers vs. Florida Gators. This is strength against strength, offense against defense. Florida can score, Virginia defends like mad and has the 13th best 3-point defense in the country.
- 5-12 game. Long Beach St. 49ers vs. New Mexico Lobos. This is a much weaker call than the 7-10, but Long Beach St. game North Carolina a rough go in December and beat Xavier, Auburn, and Pittsburgh in the non-con.
- 7-10 game. Purdue Boilermakers vs. St. Mary's Gaels. This is the strongest upset probability in the first round.
- 8-9 game. Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Creighton Bluejays. Alabama is by far the strongest 9 seed in the tournament. Creighton has one really impressive win on their schedule at Witchita St., and good wins vs. Long Beach St. and San Diego St., but they are just not tested enough to defeat the tough Crimson Tide, who have finally reached the NCAA tournament despite a ton of adversity.
- 6-11 game. N.C. State Wolfpack vs. San Diego St. Aztecs. San Diego St. made a great run last year, but this year's Wolfpack team has not been to the NCAA tournament since 2005-06, and the Columbus, OH venue is a much shorter drive from Raleigh than from San Diego.
- 6-11 game. Texas Longhorns vs. Cincinnati Bearcats. To be honest, this is not a slam dunk, and UC could just as easily win as UT. I'm picking it as an upset because Texas is the kind of team that could surprise people this year. They are far more talented than their record would indicate, and their offense is rock solid, as is their offensive rebounding.
Okay, there we go, my best choices for first round upsets. Disclaimer -- I am historically awful at picking the tournament, and if you take my advice, well, the old adage, "a fool and his money are soon parted" comes immediately to mind.
Enjoy picking your brackets this year!
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