It seems like every year we get a few upsets in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament and everyone wonders “how didn’t we see that coming?”. Well, you have no excuse this season, because I’ve picked 5 upsets I think there is a good chance we’ll see. If you’re a fan of any of the teams I’ve picked to be upset, don’t worry… I’m almost guaranteed to be wrong considering I picked three 11-seeds to upset the 6-seed. Maybe I’ll get lucky and hit on at least one of the 6v11 match ups. I don’t see any of the teams I’ve picked to upset the higher seeds to turn into another Cinderella story, but they could wreak havoc on anyone who thinks a middle of the pack team from a major conference will make a run into the later rounds. I’m not one to bore you with a bunch of stats. These upset picks are derived from my gut feelings and misguided logic.
(14) Montana over (3) Michigan
This is the upset pick I feel the least confident about, but I’m very weary of any Big Ten team having a strong showing after the long layoff. For whatever reason, they were insistent on playing their conference tournament at Madison Square Garden but there was just one problem. The Big East has that site booked for their conference tourney from now until the end of time. So, what does the B1G do? They just start their tournament the week before the standard conference tournament schedules. It makes zero sense and they did nothing but hurt their conference’s chances of cutting down the nets in San Antonio. That being said, I fully expect to eat crow on this when we end up with Michigan State, Michigan and Purdue making up 3/4 of the Final Four.
Montana comes into the tournament on a six-game winning streak, led by junior guard Ahmaad Rorie (Oregon transfer) who averaged 17.2pts per game and was the fastest player in Montana history to reach the 1,000-point mark. Will he be too much for John Beilein’s Wolverines? Probably not, but if Montana gets hot and Michigan struggles to get things going early due to their 10-day layoff, we could see a lot of brackets busted compliments of the Grizzlies.
(12) South Dakota St. over (5) Ohio St.
The Jackrabbits of South Dakota St. have won 11-straight heading into the tourney. Ohio State was a massive surprise on the national scene this season, rising as high as #8 in the AP Top 25. However, the Buckeyes have lost 3 of their last 5 which includes two losses to a Penn State team that failed to make the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, I think the 13-day layoff after being bounced from the Big Ten Tournament by Penn State will be a huge factor. Ohio State went on runs throughout the season, most notably an 8-game winning streak that included an 80-64 throttling of then #1 Michigan State.
South Dakota St. will benefit greatly by catching a Buckeye team that seems to have lost their way somewhere in mid-February. It will be a close, highly contested game, but I think the Jackrabbits have a good chance of sending the Chris Holtmann led Scarlet and Gray back to Columbus.
(11) San Diego St. over (6) Houston
Outside of Cincinnati, I don’t feel great about anyone out of the American Athletic Conference. Wichita State has a shot at making a run into the second weekend, but Houston is a prime candidate to get bounced in the first round. They will need an strong showing out of senior guard Rob Gray to keep the Cougars’ season alive after facing SDSU. The Aztecs would not be in the tournament if it wasn’t for their conference tournament run, winning the Mountain West’s automatic bid despite finishing 4th in the regular season standings.
This upset pick is an instance of a hot team continuing their run against a team who had a very deflating loss to end their conference tournament. There was so much energy and emotion in the AAC final vs. Cincinnati that Houston may have a let down against a streaking Aztec squad when they square off Thursday night. Look for the Aztecs to get out to a hot start and the Cougars running out of gas late in the second half right when you think they’re back in it.
(11) St. Bonaventure over (6) Florida
Bonnies gonna Bon. I’m not sure why, but I’ve just never bought into Florida being a good team this season. They lost a non-conference game to Loyola, got beat by the bottom four teams in the SEC (Georgia, South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Ole Miss) and failed to get to the semifinals of the conference tournament. Florida is one of those teams where you look at who they beat and are impressed (Gonzaga, Cincinnati, Kentucky 2x), but when you consider how poorly they performed against the bottom half of the SEC, you can see how they’d be fully expected to lose in the First Round.
St. Bonaventure is coming off of a hard fought battle with UCLA in the First Four played in Dayton, Ohio, so they will have a lot of momentum coming into Thursday. However, they’ll still have to battle fatigue, having such a quick turnaround with traveling every other day after finding out their fate on Selection Sunday. Regardless of what the Bonnies have been through in the past week, I think they come out ahead of Florida and get their shot at the winner of Texas Tech and Stephen F. Austin.
(11) Arizona St./Syracuse over (6) TCU
The TCU Horned Frogs are making their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1998, which is hard to believe. Its hard to believe that it’s been 20 years, but it’s doubly hard to believe that 1998 was TWENTY years ago. Man I’m old. Seventh grade Mac doesn’t remember the Horned Frogs getting beat by Florida State in the First Round, but if you told him it’d be 20 years until their next chance, I’m sure I would’ve tuned in.
Orangemen Orangepeople (to be PC) fought their way into the Round of 64 so they have some momentum coming into a contest with a team that has zero tournament experience. Granted, the Syracuse players are getting their first taste of NCAA Tournament action themselves due to previous seasons being overshadowed by a self-imposed ban and poor play following the loss of scholarships. Regardless of the players’ lack of experience, you have a coaching and training staff that has been there, so I look for the Orange to roll past the Horned Frogs Friday.
Best of luck to everyone during the best two days of the year for college basketball. Don’t forget, nobody else gives a shit about how you’re doing in your bracket and which upset you almost picked.