There isn't anything more fun and simultaneously infuriating than trying to predict first-round upsets in the NCAA tournament. As the old saying goes, you can't win your office pool in the first round, but you can certainly lose it.
Or something like that.
But never fear, my fellow bracket addicts, for I've diagnosed the upset potential in the first round for every region. Spoiler alert: Don't expect any of the No. 1 seeds or No. 2 seeds to lose. This year may have been crazy for the top teams, but I still expect those teams to keep things chalky in the opening round.
But there will be upsets. Oh, there will be upsets. Below, I've outlined the games I believe will go to the lower seeds, and those that are trendy upset picks but you should avoid on your bracket.
One of the early upset favorites has been Oregon defeating Oklahoma State in the 5-12 matchup, but I actually like Oklahoma State in this game.
Oklahoma State has the best player in the game, Marcus Smart, has a better offensive and defensive efficiency rating (according to KenPom.com) and has better quality wins over NC State, at Kansas and Oklahoma. I would actually stay away from this trendy upset pick.
Truthfully, I like mostly chalk in the Midwest. Cincinnati is capable of beating Creighton, but the Bluejays could also shoot the inconsistent Bearcats right out of the gym and have the game's best player in Doug McDermott.
I don't think any of the top five seeds—Louisville, Duke, Michigan State, Saint Louis and Oklahoma State—will lose, which leads us to Memphis. We don't even know who Memphis will play yet—the Tigers get the winner of Middle Tennessee State and Saint Mary's—but they seem ripe for the upset.
Memphis doesn't have any truly impressive wins on the resume and it turns the ball over way too often, always an indicator that a team could be an upset candidate. If you're going to predict a team to be upset in the Midwest, I'd suggest starting with Memphis.
Ole Miss beating Wisconsin has been a somewhat trendy upset, but I don't like it.
The Rebels may have the controversial and talented Marshall Henderson—and watching Wisconsin run its offense is akin to watching paint dry—but the Badgers have seven wins over teams ranked in the AP top 15 this year and are third in the nation in KemPom's defensive efficiency.
Do not take Wisconsin lightly; they could very well end up being a Final Four team.
The upset special you want out West is Belmont over Arizona, a team I wrote on yesterday that could be one of the sleepers of the tournament. Belmont can really light up the scoreboard, especially from beyond the arc, which is trouble for an Arizona team that ranks 287th in the nation in three-point defense.
And don't forget about Iowa State. While I don't think the Cyclones will survive the Round of 32 if they face Ohio State, I have no doubt the team can get past Notre Dame. Iowa State has the eighth-best offensive efficiency (according to KenPom) and scores 79.6 points per game (fourth in the nation) by running an unselfish offensive attack and hitting the boards.
Notre Dame is also very dangerous on offense, but in a game that will surely evolve into a shootout, Iowa State has a shot.
Don't bet against VCU, especially with an Akron team that won't have starting point guard Alex Abreu due to a suspension. Against the relentless VCU pressure defense, that's not the position where you want to have questions.
But there are plenty of other options for upsets here. South Dakota State has beaten New Mexico, features Nate Wolters (22.5 points per game)—who could be this tournament's Steph Curry—and has the offensive prowess to keep up with Michigan or pull off the win if the young Wolverines have an off night.
UCLA also looks primed for an upset against Minnesota, mostly because the Bruins will be without second-leading scorer Jordan Adams, lost for the season to a broken foot in the Pac-12 tournament.
Meanwhile, Minnesota has wins over Memphis, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Indiana, even if the Golden Gophers did limp down the stretch, finishing the season 5-11 after starting 15-1. Still, Minnesota has plenty of talent and should be able to get past a UCLA team missing one of its best players.
And don't sleep on Oklahoma against San Diego State. The Aztecs are a scrappy team that has won more than a few games on sheer will and determination, but do they have the talent to contain Romero Osby or a deep Oklahoma roster?
I don't think so.
For my money, Cal and UNLV is a toss-up. When these teams first met in December—yes, they already played, and yes, it's ridiculous they are meeting in the Round of 64—UNLV won 76-75.
Cal went 7-2 down the stretch and Allen Crabbe is a star, but UNLV is really talented and has a very solid defensive efficiency (15th in the nation, according to KenPom). If they can slow down Crabbe or he gets in foul trouble, Cal is sunk. I like UNLV to stave off the upset.
I don't like Montana upsetting Syracuse, either. Montana may have the perimeter scoring needed to beat Syracuse's zone, but I think the Orange are simply too talented to bow out in the first round.
Finally, Davidson can certainly beat Marquette, but I like the Golden Eagles steady play, depth and offensive efficiency (17th in the nation, according to KenPom) to simply wear down the Wildcats.
But I do like Bucknell to upset Butler. Center Mike Muscala is an NBA prospect for Bucknell and could take over this game, while Butler turns the ball over too often and doesn't play strong enough defense to make a long tournament run this year.
Yes, I know that Butler has beaten Indiana, Gonzaga, Marquette and North Carolina this season. But I think they were over-seeded and could be in danger of falling to Bucknell.
Illinois against Colorado could go either way, but I like a deeper Illinois team with wins over Butler, Gonzaga, Ohio State and Indiana this year against a Colorado team that simply plays much better on its home court.
Don't expect too many upsets in the East Region, despite the bracket looking ripe for a slew of shockers.
Hit me up on Twitter—my tweets are busting brackets and beating the buzzer all week long.
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