One of the best things about March Madness is the upsets and unpredictability of the tournament. While it is impossible to see everything coming in college basketball this time of year, there are a few teams that have the makings of being a March Madness Cinderella.
There are certain principles most of us know are true when picking upsets. Do not pick a No. 16 seed to win, as they have never defeated a No. 1 seed. Pick at least one No. 12 seed to upset a No. 5 seed. According to NCAA.com, the No. 12 seeds win almost 36 percent of their games, a high rate for an underdog. This may tell you the seeds to identify, but it doesn’t narrow down the teams. That’s where we are here to help identify the teams that have the best chance of pulling off an upset.
According to NCAA.com, seeds 10-15 average about six upset wins in the first round every year. Before you go picking your six upsets, here is a word of caution. While we like these teams chances in the opening round, very few sleepers have a chance of making it past the Sweet 16. Picking the wrong upsets could end up costing you your bracket pool, so proceed with caution. Your Final Four picks should be full of familiar names, as the majority of upsets happen in the opening round of games. As the tournament progresses, there tends to be less and less Cinderellas.
What are you looking for in potential sleepers in this year’s tournament? A team does not need to have all these characteristics, but some combination could be the right formula for pulling off upsets in March. Look for strong guard play, and it is an added bonus if the team as NCAA tournament experience. A team that shoots it well from the three-point line has a chance to get hot in a couple March Madness games allowing them to pull off upsets.
Teams in smaller conferences that have won both their regular season and conference tournaments. This indicates they were a dominant mid-major team and displayed consistency throughout the season. Have they been tested with a strong non-conference schedule allowing them to play against teams in major conferences like they will face in the tournament? Finally, allow Vegas to be your friend, by identifying matchups with narrow point spreads.
The teams listed below are the sleepers I expect to make some noise in the tournament, and will be updated once the matchups are announced.
Here are the teams who will wear Cinderella’s slipper during the 2018 NCAA tournament.
March Madness Upset Picks 2018
Loyola heads into March Madness on a 10-game win streak, and did not lose in the month of February. Like most of the mid-major teams I like, they not only won the MVC regular season title, but followed it up with by winning the MVC conference tournament. Loyola was dominant in the title game defeating Illinois State by 16 points.
The Ramblers played against Boise State and Florida this season. Loyola pulled out a six-point road win against Florida proving they not only have what it takes to compete against the big boys, but have the talent to get an NCAA tournament victory. Loyola ranks a respectable No. 42 in the Ken Pom rankings, ahead of notable teams like Oklahoma, Rhode Island and Kansas State. Given their win over Florida, Loyola is going to be one of the popular upset picks.
Could it be the nation was a year too early when jumping on the Bucknell upset train? The Bison narrowly lost to West Virginia in last year’s tournament. Bucknell’s three key players are all seniors and a part of last year’s tournament run. Bucknell does lack a signature win this season, but the team has played a strong non-conference schedule. Bucknell played North Carolina, Arkansas, Maryland, St. Joe’s and Vermont this season.
Bucknell won the Patriot League regular season title and followed it up by winning the conference tournament. Bucknell won the title game by 19 points, and their semifinal matchup by 31 points. The Bison come in tested with tournament experience, and could make a run into the second weekend.
Georgia State coach Ron Hunter is no stranger to NCAA tournament success as Hunter has led the Panthers to March Madness runs in the past. Guard D’Marcus Simonds is one of the best scorers in the country, and has a good chance to be a first round pick in the 2019 NBA Draft if he returns to Atlanta for another season. Georgia State survived a poor February to find their footing in the Sun Belt tournament. The Panthers do not have a lot of quality wins, but did defeat Georgia Tech in an exhibition game for hurricane relief. Georgia State also played Ole Miss, Montana and Dayton this season. I like Simonds chances of leading Georgia State to multiple victories.
Buffalo enters the NCAA tournament tested thanks to a non-conference schedule that included Cincinnati, St. Bonaventure, Syracuse, South Dakota State and Texas A&M. The Bulls have won eight of their last nine contests. Buffalo spreads the wealth with four players averaging 14 or more points. The Bulls have three key juniors that were part of Buffalo’s 2016 tournament appearance. Buffalo does not have many signature wins, but their schedule means they won’t be overwhelmed by March Madness.
Murray State comes into the NCAA tournament with one of the nation’s longest winning streaks at 13 straight games. The Racers have not lost since mid-January and defeated the perennial class of the OVC, Belmont, in the conference title game by 17 points. Murray State also won the regular season title. The Racers do not have a lot of experience this season playing against big time opponents, but did only lose to Auburn by four points.
South Dakota State
South Dakota State has one loss this calendar year. The Jackrabbits have won 11 straight games and 19 of their last 20 contests. South Dakota State is 12th in the country in three-point percentage as the Jackrabbits shoot over 40 percent from behind the arc. South Dakota State has wins over Iowa, Buffalo and Ole Miss. The Jackrabbits also played against Kansas, Wichita State and Colorado this season. The Jackrabbits made the tournament last season as a No. 16 seed, but will have a more favorable seed this time around.
Not Cinderella, But the Shoe Fits
Here are a few schools that don’t fit the traditional description of a March Madness Cinderella (double-digit seeds from smaller conferences), but have a good chance to pull off a few upsets. The majority of these schools are in a major conference, but are higher-seeded teams that have a chance to win multiple games in the NCAA tournament.
The Crimson Tide went from being a bubble team to having a Collin Sexton buzzer beater cement their tournament fate. Alabama has all the makings of a team that could go on a run, and make the Sweet 16. They played in the SEC, which is one of the deepest conferences in the country. Alabama has wins over BYU, Rhode Island, Texas A&M (twice), Auburn (twice), Oklahoma, Florida and Tennessee. Sexton showed what he is capable of in the SEC tournament, and I like teams in March that have NBA-level guard play.