Now that the brackets have been released, and you’ve been able to get your initial observations out of the way, it’s time to start talking upsets. So check below for 6 first round upsets to have in your bracket.
No. 12 UTEP over No. 5 Butler
Every year, a favorite upset matchup of both fans and writers alike always seems to circle around the 5-12 seeded games. This year is no exception. UTEP may have lost to Houston in the Conference-USA championship, but make no mistake about it: the Miners are loaded with talent. UTEP (15-1 conference, 26-6 overall) has not lost this season by more than 10 points and has marquee wins over Oklahoma, UAB and Marshall. Junior guards Randy Culpepper and Christian Polk can score in a hurry and the resurgence of former Louisville forward Derrick Caracter has become a force inside for the Miners. On the other side of the ball, Butler has also played extremely well. The Bulldogs (18-0, 28-4) went undefeated in conference play and their only losses have come against Minnesota, Clemson, Georgetown and UAB (all during the first half of the year). The Bulldogs will look to their pair of stellar sophomores, Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack, to handle the bulk of the scoring. However, for the Bulldogs to step over lower-seeded UTEP, they will have to match the physicality and length of UTEP’s wings. If UTEP can win the battle of the boards and limit Butler’s shooting from outside the three-point arc, the Miners have the ability to pull off a first-round upset in San Jose.
No. 11 Minnesota over No. 6 Xavier
Upon initial review, a few of you may be raising an eyebrow to this pick. Why Minnesota (9-9, 21-13), who has no dominant scorer and has lost to Northwestern and to Michigan twice? Surely not over Xavier (14-2, 24-8) and LeBron’s dunk buddy, Jordan Crawford. Yes, but I’ll start off with saying that I think coach Chris Mack has done an amazing job filling in for Sean Miller after he set sail for Arizona. That being said, Xavier is going to have their hands full with Minnesota. Minus a 90-61 point whooping to Ohio State in the Big-10 championship game, the Gophers have been great through the end of the season; beating Illinois, Michigan State and Purdue. In order for Minnesota to beat the Musketeers, Tubby Smith is obviously going to need to get good production out of Lawrence Westbrook and Blake Hoffarber. But what will ultimately separate the game, is if UM’s role guys can step up – and I’m talking specifically about both Ralph Sampson III and a guy who’s had a roller coaster season, Rodney Williams. The combination of Westbrook and Minnesota’s bigs might just be too potent of an attack for Xavier to handle. However, Xavier is supremely talented and if they can body Minnesota inside the paint and continue to defend well on the perimeter, then Smith and company will have a tough time pulling off the upset.
No. 10 Saint Mary’s over No. 7 Richmond
Not only did Saint Mary’s overtake huge-favorite Gonzaga for the West Coast Conference crown, they are playing their best basketball at just the right time. The Gaels (11-3, 26-5) have only lost three games in-conference all season, two of which to the ‘Zags and one to early season NCAA at-large favorite Portland in overtime. Freshman guard Matthew Dellavedova is not only one of the best freshmen on the West Coast, he has to be considered one of the best frosh across the nation. If the Gaels are hitting shots from deep – with consequently guarding Richmond on the perimeter – and limiting their own mistakes, then look for Saint Mary’s to pull off the upset in Providence. That, and the Gaels are entering their contest against the Spiders with an extreme amount of confidence after knocking off Gonzaga. On the other side of the line, I think that Richmond has played really well this season – and in a tougher conference than the WCC. The Spiders had beaten Dayton, Charlotte, Massachusetts and Xavier before losing to Temple 56-52 in the A-10 championship. Both of these teams are dangerous mid-majors and whichever moves on from this game will be a very legitimate threat to make it to the Sweet 16.
No. 9 Northern Iowa over No. 8 UNLV
There’s no question that the Running Rebels (11-5, 25-8) have been hot lately, winning 6-of-7 to close the year. This season, UNLV has taken care of business against Nevada, Louisville and at New Mexico (for which I have making noise of their own in the Tournament). Still, going into the Midwest Regional, you have to give the momentum edge to Northern Iowa. Not only did the Panthers (15-3, 28-4) win the Missouri Valley Conference championship, they have stayed extremely consistent all season long. In their four losses this year (DePaul, Wichita St., Bradley, Evansville), the Panthers have kept each defeat in the single-digits. Even though the MVC hasn’t been as deep from top-to-bottom as in years past – and subsequently, the Mountain West has been the stronger conference – it shouldn’t deter from what the Panthers have accomplished. Northern Iowa looks to spread its offense across the board and it will need its bench to contribute in order to steal this game from UNLV. If the Rebels are going to survive the upset, junior guard and leading scorer Tre’Von Willis needs to get help on the perimeter with the scoring load – because the Panthers will beat you on the defensive end. If Northern Iowa can go on a run and knock down some threes, it could be a long night for UNLV.
No. 10 Georgia Tech over No. 7 Oklahoma State
I love this pick for a few reasons. I think that G-Tech (7-9, 22-12) has too much force on the low-block for OSU to handle in both Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors (who will both likely be collecting some NBA green come summer). Paul Hewitt is still a great coach and is there any question that he will have Tech prepared for everything that James Anderson and Oklahoma State (9-7, 22-10) might throw at them? For State to be successful, they need to limit Tech’s inside touches and be able to hit the three with some consistency. But Anderson is a special player – as well as the Big 12 POY – and if the Cowboys are able to find the bottom of the net from distance, Hewitt and Co. will get a real battle. The Yellow Jackets are definitely a young team and one that has had some struggles this year, but they are well-tested and are entering the Tournament with momentum from their ACC championship game against Duke. I also like the toughness that Favors’ other freshmen teammates, Glen Rice Jr. and Mfon Udofia, bring even if they aren’t big-time contributors.
No. 10 Missouri over No. 7 Clemson
Mizzou (10-6, 22-10) and Clemson (9-2, 21-10) will have to meet in Buffalo on Friday for an exciting 10-7 matchup and I really like Missouri in this game. The Tigers have a better conference record than both Texas and Oklahoma State, but have had to battle inconsistencies all season long. For instance, they lost a tough one to Oral Roberts and then came back to crush Illinois three games later. Still, Mizzou has had strong showings against the elite of the Big 12 – minus Kansas. They lost to both Baylor and Texas A&M by five points combined, as well as securing wins over OSU and Texas Tech. Sophomore Laurence Bowers has shown flashes, and if senior guards Zaire Taylor and J.T. Tiller come to play with everything they have for potentially their final game as collegians, then Missouri has a good chance to overtake Clemson. In the ACC, Clemson is playing good basketball, but has also had its fare share of inconsistencies. The Clemson Tigers are a very well coached club and have a knack for staying with teams until the final five minutes. Where the problem arises, is finishing out games; only three of their 10 losses have been by double-digits.
Bonus: A Trio of 4-13 Games To Watch
No. 13 Siena vs. No. 4 Purdue – South Regional
First off, I don’t think that Purdue’s terrible 69-42 showing against Minnesota (which had the Gophers up 37-11 at the half) in the Big-10 tournament should become too big of a knock against them – but losing Robbie Hummel is. Siena (17-1, 27-6) is playing great basketball and coach Fran McCaffery has the MAAC champion Saints poised to do some damage in the NCAA Tournament. The Saints have four players averaging over 13 points a game apiece and are led in large part by upperclassmen. Losing Hummel and going up against a very solid 13th seed is definitely not “all she wrote” for the Boilermakers, but this will be an exciting game to keep an eye on for Siena nation (assuming they have one).
No. 13 Houston vs. No. 4 Maryland – Midwest Regional
Let me start this off with saying that I like what Gary Williams has done with Maryland (13-3, 23-8) this season and Greivis Vasquez is a bona fide All-American. Still, I think Maryland could have their defensive plate full with Houston’s Aubrey Coleman – who’s the nation’s top scorer (25.6 ppg). But this is going to be an extremely tough game for the Cougars (7-9, 19-15), and Conference-USA champs, to win. Houston is going to have to ride its emotions and success from the C-USA tournament into its matchup against the Terps. Williams will undoubtedly have his crew ready for battle and I wouldn’t be surprised if Vasquez dropped 30+. Where this game will ultimately be won and lost is with the supporting casts. Both coaches know that Vasquez and Coleman will get theirs on the offensive ends respectively, but for Houston to have a chance, the bench needs to step up. I think it’s a risky pick, but Houston definitely has a chance.
No. 14 Oakland vs. No. 3 Pittsburgh – West Regional
On paper, there is no way that little 14th seed Oakland (17-1, 26-8) has a chance over powerhouse Pitt, right? But the best thing about tournament time come March, is that what looks good on paper doesn’t always transfer to what happens on the court. The Summit League champion Oakland Golden Grizzlies are 20-1 coming into its matchup against Pitt – including 11 straight. What makes Oakland exciting to watch is the inside-outside presence of senior Johnathon Jones and 6-11 junior Keith Benson. Two years ago, I witnessed the 5-11 Jones drop 32 points against Oregon on the road and he has been on my radar ever since. This season, Jones has been electric – and fairly inconsistent – for the Golden Grizzlies, averaging just over 12 points and 6 assists a game. Pittsburgh (13-5, 24-8) has only had to battle one hard stretch this season, which was in the middle of Big East play – losing 4-of-5 — but seem to have righted its ship. Two of Pitt’s eight losses this season have come against Notre Dame, including their final exit in the Big East tourney. For Oakland to have a legitimate chance, they have to slow down Pitt’s Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker. Jones will also have to have a breakout performance and limit his team’s mistakes on defense, as well as keep his personal turnovers down. Pitt is no easy matchup, but if Oakland can weather the initial onslaught in the opening 12-15 minutes of the game, look for this contest to be competitive until the final buzzer.
What do you think? What upsets are you picking in your bracket?