Several high-seeded teams will suffer upsets during first-round play in the NCAA Tournament. That’s as certain as anything, including that sportswriters like me will tell you about it ahead of time as if we’ve just made some great, on-a-limb discovery.
Upsets are the cost of doing business, and if you pick enough of them correctly, maybe you’ll win a bracket competition. Here are some of those picks, classified and ranked by how certain I am that they’re going to happen. SB Nation accepts no liability for you taking my advice and then that advice being wrong.
No. 9 Vanderbilt is probably going to beat No. 8 Northwestern in the West region, but nobody worth their upset-picking salt counts an 8-9 game as an upset. Here are a couple of brackets we’ve made for you to follow along: virtual and printable.
To the upsets:
Definitely going to happen
1. No. 10 Wichita State over No. 7 Dayton, South
The Shockers are badly under-seeded, as they often have been during Gregg Marshall’s brilliant run in Wichita. This might be the best 10th seed in tournament history. It almost feels cheap to consider this an upset — Wichita opened as a 6-point favorite in Vegas — but the seed lines are the seed lines. Ken Pomeroy’s rating system gives Wichita a 75 percent chance to win. I think it might be higher than that, given how dominant the Shockers have looked in recent weeks.
Probably going to happen
2. No. 11 Xavier over No. 6 Maryland, West
The Terps limped to the finish, losing six of their last 10 games and exiting the Big Ten tournament early. The Musketeers went on a brutal six-game losing streak that ran through February, but they’ve settled down and played two quality games in a row: a narrow win over Butler, a narrow loss to Creighton.
Maryland won’t win any tournament games unless Melo Trimble is superhuman. That could well happen; he’s a great player. But pick the Musketeers for now, and you’ll have a good shot to get rewarded.
Look, there’s a real chance
3. No. 12 UNC Wilmington over No. 5 Virginia, East
I have a theory about why Virginia always loses before it should in the Big Dance. Tony Bennett has the Hoos play at a sloth’s pace, which holds down possessions and keeps the score low. This is terrific when UVA is playing more talented offensive teams, but it’s limiting when it plays teams it should crush.
The lack of possessions means there’s less opportunity to pull away, and the Hoos have lost to teams scoring fewer than 70 points in each of the last three tournaments. It’d sure be a shame if UVA had to play a first-round game against an opponent with a top-20 efficient offense that could take advantage of a cold Hoos’ shooting day by making shots against UVA’s elite defense. Wait, that’s exactly what UVA has to do.
4. No. 13 Winthrop over No. 4 Butler, South
Winthrop has played three good opponents this year: Florida State, Illinois, and Dayton (I’m using the word “good” in a relative sense, in Illinois’s case). The Eagles narrowly beat the Illini, and they lost by 16 to Dayton and 14 to FSU. But the Eagles have played great ball of late.
In their 25 games since the loss at Dayton on Dec. 3, they’re 22-3, with those losses by a combined eight points and in an average of one overtime period per defeat. Tiny guard Keon Johnson is primed to become a March Cinderella hero.
5. No. 11 Rhode Island over No. 6 Creighton, Midwest
The Rams have a passable offense and a pretty good defense. They’ve beaten Cincinnati, a better team than the Bluejays. They’ve beaten VCU, which is worse but not drastically so. Creighton has three or four losses to teams not nearly as good as the Rams. There’s just a lot of resume overlap here, in terms of quality, and the Bluejays’ poor rebounding and foul shooting could really flare up.
I don’t know. I could kind of see it.
6. No. 12 Princeton over No. 5 Notre Dame, West
Notre Dame is good, and the Irish have some deep tournament experience. But the Irish are vulnerable because their genius is so wrapped up in shot-making. That’s fine! They’re good at it! This year, they’re No. 1 in free throw-making, though they don’t get to the line often. Their shooting is worse than it’s been in years prior but still good. Princeton has a top-50 defense and can score a little. Notre Dame’s not a ripe-for-the-picking upset contender, but Princeton still feels like legitimate opposition.