You're going to see a lot of cockamamie ideas for picking brackets—coin flips, mascot fights, jersey colors, etc.—but what about an upset-filled slaughterhouse that could realistically occur?
No, we won't waste your time by trying to explain why a No. 16 seed will win it all. In fact, we have all of the No. 1 seeds, three of the No. 2 seeds and three of the No. 3 seeds at least surviving to the round of 32.
Between juicy matchups and unlikely upsets, though, this thing is filled with chaos and would ensure that everyone keep watching even after their brackets have literally gone up in flames—the one reason in this digital age to still print out a bracket and fill it out by hand. It's pyromania, but it's therapeutic.
If you just want an analytical list of where to make your best bets for early upsets, we've got you covered here. But don't be surprised if you look back at the bracket three weeks from now and determine that this piece was a much better predictor of what actually happened.
For the first three rounds, we'll go through region by region, hitting on and hopefully justifying the noteworthy upsets. Once we're into the Elite Eight—which features four incredible matchups, by the way—we'll start breaking them down game by game.
And to get the chaos properly started, we're not even going to start in the upper left quadrant of the bracket.
To the bottom right we go!
Biggest First-Round Upset: No. 14 Fresno State over No. 3 Utah
Here's a little more detail on why the biggest upset of the tournament could come on the first day of it, but the main takeaway is that Fresno State has one of the best guards in the country in Marvelle Harris and that the Utes lost by 31 the last time we saw them on the court.
Now, that doesn't necessarily mean a darn thing. NC State lost by 24 to Duke in last year's ACC tournament before upsetting No. 1 Villanova in the second round, and Oregon lost by 28 to Arizona in the 2015 Pac-12 championship game only to give No. 1 seed Wisconsin a run for its money in the round of 32. But it was an ugly look in advance of a very difficult opening-round game.
Seth Davis @SethDavisHoops
Usually I am the upset guy. This year couldn't find many. Biggest is Iona over Iowa State in the first round.3/14/2016, 3:26:34 PM
Other first-round upsets: Iona over Iowa State, Gonzaga over Seton Hall, Syracuse over Dayton, Butler over Texas Tech
Elite Eight Pairing: No. 5 Purdue vs. No. 11 Gonzaga
When the Midwest Region was revealed, the immediate thought for Virginia fans was, "Oh no. Michigan State again. I hate you, selection committee, I really hate you." And that's still the matchup we'll be salivating for in the Sweet 16, as this is the one region where we actually have both the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds getting that far.
But Purdue and Gonzaga are going to spoil the possibility of a third straight tournament with a Spartans vs. Cavaliers showdown.
Of the two, Purdue has the much easier path. With Iona beating Iowa State at its own fast-paced game and Purdue's size way too much for either Arkansas-Little Rock or Iona to handle, the Boilermakers will practically moonwalk to the Sweet 16 where they are fully capable of knocking off Virginia.
Harp on Purdue's lack of guards all you want, but P.J. Thompson is insanely efficient. He actually reminds me a lot of freshman year London Perrantes, as UVA's point guard had an incredible ACC season in 2014, recording an O-rating of 129.4 while shooting 51.2 percent from three, but only taking 11.3 percent of the team's shots while on the floor. Thompson's numbers in those categories in Big Ten play were 135.9, 46.8 and 12.4, respectively.
Stopping Malcolm Brogdon will be tough, but Rapheal Davis will be all up in his pockets while A.J. Hammons and Caleb Swanigan dominate Virginia's frontcourt.
Meanwhile, Gonzaga has a very difficult opener against Seton Hall. If you're all aboard the Isaiah Whitehead bandwagon, feel free to pencil in the Pirates for a run to the Elite Eight instead of Gonzaga, because whoever wins that first game is going to be a nightmare for Michigan State.
When it comes down to it, though, there's no better duo in the country than Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis. No one can stop either of them. You just have to hope that Wiltjer isn't making his shots and/or that Sabonis gets into early foul trouble, because that's about the only way Gonzaga has struggled this season.
Denzel Valentine is a college basketball god and deserves the Wooden Award despite missing four games this season, but it's even easier to play the "If Bryn Forbes isn't hitting shots" game than the Wiltjer variety, because Forbes shot 16.0 percent from three-point range in Michigan State's five losses.
If any of the "Big Four" in Michigan State vs. Gonzaga is going to have an off night, we're betting it's Forbes, so we're picking Gonzaga to win.
Biggest Upset: No. 13 UNC-Wilmington over No. 4 Duke
First and foremost, it's not truly a chaotic bracket until Duke loses its first game.
But here's why this is a bad matchup for Duke: UNC-Wilmington plays extremely physical basketball. The Seahawks rank 350th in the nation in defensive free-throw rate, only edging out West Virginia in that category. And when you're putting opponents on the line as often as Press Virginia, you are not a team that a coach with a six-man rotation wants to deal with.
It would be one thing if UNC-Wilmington committed 35 fouls while its opponent stayed out of foul trouble.
In most games, UNC-Wilmington is able to get its opponent to follow suit. Georgetown committed 27 fouls when it faced the Seahawks back in December, and they have played 17 games in which the opponent committed as least 20 fouls.
The Blue Devils barely have enough guys to commit 20 fouls. They committed 25 in the loss to Notre Dame in the ACC quarterfinal and lost Grayson Allen, Marshall Plumlee and Chase Jeter to disqualifications in the process.
Even if the Blue Devils don't get into foul trouble, UNC-Wilmington will try to push them around and make them uncomfortable. That might be enough to send Duke packing.
Other first-round upsets: Yale over Baylor
Elite Eight Pairing: No. 1 Oregon vs. No. 7 Oregon State
CJ Moore @CJMooreBR
Top half of South and East are loaded. Top half of West not so much. Oregon should be ecstatic.3/14/2016, 6:21:48 PM
With Duke and Baylor both bowing out in the first round, Oregon gets a pretty cushy trip to the Elite Eight. Dealing with DeAndre' Bembry and Isaiah Miles in the second round will be no picnic, but the Ducks have way more dudes than the Hawks and should be able to handle the duo. We have Yale over UNC-Wilmington in the No. 12 vs. No. 13 game, but either way, quack quack.
The other half of the Civil War undoubtedly requires a little more explanation.
The Beavers should be able to handle VCU in the first round. Unless he's forcing the issue, Gary Payton II rarely commits turnovers, so what's left of HAVOC shouldn't be a problem.
In the round of 32, they run into an Oklahoma team with a remarkably wide array of expectations that has been more bust than boom as of late. It's fun to remember Oklahoma as the team that played that 109-106 triple-overtime game against Kansas, but the Sooners have failed to score 80 points in 11 straight games, going 6-5 in them.
Moreover, Buddy Hield scored just six points against West Virginia in the Big 12 semifinal. We don't expect him to have another night that bad, but we also don't expect Jordan Woodard, Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler to all be playing their best game on the same night. It's an unlikely upset, but a potential one.
In the Sweet 16, Oregon State gets the winner of Texas vs. Texas A&M, where we're giving the nod to the Longhorns. Payton against Isaiah Taylor will be a fun battle, but it's one that Payton should win on the defensive end.
Bonus consideration for Oregon State if Derrick Bruce continues to ball out. The 54.3 percent three-point shooting freshman didn't get much run until Tres Tinkle went down with a foot injury, but he scored 25 against Cal his last time out and has averaged 14.7 over his last three games.
Every Batman needs a Robin. A guy named Bruce would make sense in that equation.
Biggest Upset: No. 15 Weber State over No. 2 Xavier
This is your one last chance to heed my warnings about Xavier. This team does not play defense and has lost five consecutive games in which it fails to shoot at least 42 percent from the field.
Granted, shooting 42 percent as a team doesn't put you in an exclusive club. Wyoming was the definition of average in field-goal percentage this season, and the Cowboys collectively shot 44.3 percent for the year. But the Musketeers have so many inconsistent players—most notably, Edmond Sumner and Jalen Reynolds—that it's not too hard for them to miss 60 percent of their shots in any given game.
As far as the matchup is concerned, Weber State ranks ninth in the nation in two-point field-goal percentage and fourth in free-throw rate, and Jeremy Senglin (106-of-240 from three-point range) is one of the deadliest three-point shooters in the country. Throw in Joel Bolomboy as a monster on the glass and this team is fully capable of taking all the points that Xavier wants to give up.
Other first-round upsets: Tulsa over Notre Dame, Providence over USC
Elite Eight Pairing: No. 5 Indiana vs. No. 7 Wisconsin
Would there be anything more chaotic about this year's bracket than Indiana and head coach Tom Crean going through Kentucky and North Carolina to reach the Elite Eight just a few months after a blowout loss to Duke that had everyone screaming for his head?
As far as seeding is concerned, a No. 1 over a No. 9 and a No. 5 over a No. 4 can hardly be considered chaos, but I can't begin to imagine how much tweeting there will be for Indiana vs. Kentucky followed by Indiana vs. North Carolina.
And while it's not particularly likely that Indiana scores a victory in consecutive games against two of the favorites to win the national championship, but with this offense, are you prepared to say it's impossible? We sure aren't.
As has been the case in the other regions thus far, the bottom half might need a little more explaining. But with Xavier losing in the first round, you should be able to agree that Wisconsin could at least reach the Sweet 16 by knocking off Pitt and Weber State.
The Badgers get even more help from the bracket with perhaps our biggest upset pick of them all: Tulsa to the Sweet 16!
It's a crazy idea, but doesn't it always seem like the "least deserving" team makes a bit of a run? VCU had no business in the tournament in 2011, but the Rams reached the Final Four. UCLA was the one that had everyone scratching their heads on Selection Sunday 2015, yet the Bruins reached the Sweet 16.
Why not Tulsa?
If nothing else, this is the most experienced team in the country with an eight-man rotation made up of seven seniors and a junior. And the Golden Hurricane really couldn't have hand-picked a better draw, as their guard-oriented roster can dismiss Michigan, take care of a struggling Notre Dame and protect the ball well enough to ward off Press Virginia.
What everyone missed in the Tulsa outrage is that, yes, the Golden Hurricane were beaten soundly by Memphis twice in two weeks, but that was just a bad matchup. For as much as they struggled this season, the Tigers still have a great frontcourt duo in Shaq Goodwin and Dedric Lawson, and Tulsa doesn't have the size to deal with both of them.
But Michigan doesn't have a frontcourt presence, and Notre Dame's power forward is 6'5" on a good day. The Golden Hurricane will struggle with West Virginia when Devin Williams and Jonathan Holton are on the floor together but should be able to hold their own for the rest of the game.
If the Badgers end up facing Press Virginia, though, they have the ball-control mindset to deal with that pressure. If they do get Tulsa, they have too many big guys for the Golden Hurricane to handle, setting up a juicy Big Ten matchup in the Elite Eight.
Biggest First-Round Upset: No. 13 Hawaii over No. 4 California
As with No. 14 Fresno State over No. 3 Utah, this is a potential upset that I've already written about, so I won't rehash all the gory details here. The TL;DR version is that Cal struggles away from home and Hawaii played pretty darn well while the mainland slept.
Of all the potential first-round upsets by a team seeded No. 13 or lower, this is the one that I feel is most likely to happen. And it looks as though KenPom.com agrees. At just 69 percent, Cal has the lowest win expectancy of any team on the top four seed lines for Thursday and Friday. The only other ones lower than 75 percent are No. 4 Duke (72 percent) and No. 3 West Virginia (70 percent).
One thing I didn't mention in the link above is that even though it might seem like Cal has a nice size advantage with 6'11" Ivan Rabb, 7'0" Kameron Rooks and 7'1" Kingsley Okoroh, Hawaii knows a thing or two about dealing with big dudes. The Warriors won a pair of games against a UC Irvine team that starts a 6'10" forward and a 7'6" center and brings a 7'2" center off the bench.
Other first-round upsets: Vanderbilt/Wichita State over Arizona, Temple over Iowa, Connecticut over Colorado
Elite Eight Pairing: No. 9 Connecticut vs. No. 2 Villanova
It has been a while since the No. 1 overall seed fell flat on its face, but it has happened.
The last four (Kentucky in 2012 and 2015, Louisville in 2013, Florida in 2014) at least advanced as far as the Final Four. Prior to that, though, it was anyone's guess how that team would fare. Ohio State lost in the Sweet 16 in 2011, Kansas lost to Northern Iowa in the round of 32 in 2010, Duke lost in the Sweet 16 in 2006 and Kentucky lost to UAB in the round of 32 in 2004.
Aren't we due for that type of chaos? And doesn't this Connecticut team feel like the right one to make it happen?
Like Kentucky in 2013-14, Connecticut entered the season as a Top 25 team with high expectations. (Not quite as high as Kentucky's, but bear with me.) But they sputtered repeatedly to fall onto the bubble before looking good in the final few games before Selection Sunday and ultimately entering the NCAA tournament as a 24-10 sleeper team.
That Kentucky team didn't have an epic four-overtime win in the SEC tournament like this Connecticut team had in the AAC tournament, but both were clearly peaking at the right time.
The Huskies are finally getting quality play out of freshman Jalen Adams, and sophomore Daniel Hamilton is back to looking like a triple-double threat every night. Sterling Gibbs is hitting triples. Shonn Miller is scoring better in the paint. Amida Brimah has blocked at least two shots in nine straight games. Even sporadically used Omar Calhoun is playing pretty well as of late.
It's all starting to click, and even though Kansas is the best team in the country, Connecticut's ceiling might be just as high.
Besides, it's not a chaos bracket unless the favorite loses early.
The bottom half isn't anywhere near as crazy with No. 2 seed Villanova, but given how much has been made of the Wildcats' tournament struggles over the past few years, it almost would seem chaotic for them to actually live up to their seed potential.
No. 5 Purdue over No. 11 Gonzaga
In a battle between two of the best frontcourts in the country, Purdue gets the edge because of its depth. Wiltjer and Sabonis are awesome, but Purdue has Hammons, Swanigan, Isaac Haas and Vince Edwards. The Boilermakers can just throw guys at Sabonis until he gets into foul trouble, and Edwards—a 6'8", 40.6 percent three-point shooter—is versatile enough to at least keep Wiltjer from popping off for a 40 burger.
Plus, for as much as people have griped about Purdue's backcourt situation, the next time someone praises Gonzaga's backcourt as a strength would be the first time this season. Thompson, Davis, Dakota Mathias and Ryan Cline should win the battle of the guards, if necessary.
No. 5 Indiana over No. 7 Wisconsin
At some point, Indiana's red-hot offense is going to cool off, but it won't be against this Big Ten rival with whom the Hoosiers split the regular-season series.
They shot a combined 14-of-33 (42.4 percent) from downtown in those two games against the Badgers. That isn't their normal volume of triples, but they also shot well inside the arc and very well (26-of-28) from the free-throw line. As long as they can avoid committing so many turnovers (19 in each of the first two games) in Round 3, they should move on for another Big Ten showdown.
No. 1 Oregon over No. 7 Oregon State
The Civil War is a bitter college football rivalry, and this could be the beginning of even more hatred on the basketball court with both of these teams nationally relevant in the same season for the first time ever. In fact, this is the first time that both Oregon and Oregon State even participated in the same NCAA tournament.
It may feel like Oregon is the drastically better team, but the Beavers actually outscored the Ducks this season, winning by 13 on their home floor before Oregon won by 10 in Eugene.
But Oregon State is a bit banged up with Tinkle still sidelined by a foot injury, and Oregon is healthier and hotter than it has been all season. Don't rule out Payton having a monster game. He's so focused on winning that he couldn't even be bothered to celebrate the announcement that Oregon State made it into the tournament.
Ben Creighton @Ben__Creighton
DANCING! @OregonStateMBB will face VCU #gobeavs https://t.co/E8OYvMtkZK3/13/2016, 10:15:36 PM
No. 9 Connecticut over No. 2 Villanova
No reason to stop now. How often do we get a No. 9 seed that has won four of the last 17 national championships?
In addition to the intrigue of getting to watch history in the making, this just doesn't feel like a good match for Villanova. The Wildcats rely heavily on the three ball, but aside from the four-overtime game in which Cincinnati made 10 triples, Connecticut hasn't allowed an opponent to make more than nine threes in a game since mid-December.
And it's not like Brimah is an easy guy to try to score against in the paint, either.
No. 5 Purdue over No. 5 Indiana
Guard play usually reigns supreme in the early rounds, but you need quality big men to succeed in the Final Four, especially this year in NRG Stadium—a cavernous dome that has been a nightmare for three-point shooters in years past.
Indiana was on fire in the regular-season battle between these teams, shooting 12-of-28 from three and finishing plus-nine in the turnover battle. What happens when that 42.9 three-point percentage drops to roughly 34, though, and it becomes more of a battle for rebounding and frontcourt production?
Thomas Bryant is good, but he's not "One man against Purdue's entire front line" good. In a game played in the low 60s, Purdue's size and strength prove too much for the Hoosiers' finesse.
No. 9 Connecticut over No. 1 Oregon
My gut says Oregon would win this game comfortably, but it's bad enough that we have a No. 1 seed in the Final Four of our chaos bracket. We can't push it through to the national championship game, too.
It would make for an intriguing battle, though, as these are two of the best shot-blocking teams in the country. Between Amida Brimah, Chris Boucher and Jordan Bell, it would be a swat party in the paint.
At that point, it's a question of who can hit mid-range jumpers. Dillon Brooks and Elgin Cook are pretty darn good at those, but if Jalen Adams keeps playing well, the Huskies have four guys who can score with regularity from 12-15 feet out, led by Daniel Hamilton.
He's the ultimate X-factor in this entire run. A lite and less consistent version of Denzel Valentine, when Hamilton flirts with a triple-double, Connecticut is almost unbeatable.
No. 5 Purdue over No. 9 Connecticut
Jon Rothstein @JonRothstein
If Purdue gets a combined 8 points, 8 assists, and just 3 turnovers from Thompson/Hill moving forward then Boilers can get to a Final Four.3/12/2016, 1:35:02 PM
This has been the year of the three-pointer. According to KenPom.com, the national average is 35.4 percent of field-goal attempts from beyond the arc. For most of the 2010s, that number was down around 33.0 percent. Dating back to the beginning of the KenPom.com era (2001-02 season), the highest three-point rate was 34.5 in 2008.
The Golden State effect on college basketball is real.
But in one last bastion of chaos, our national championship game features two teams that don't rely on the long ball all that much. Purdue is right at the national average in three-point rate and Connecticut is well below it. This could mean a lower-scoring title game, but hopefully it wouldn't be "2011 Connecticut vs. Butler" on the watchable scale.
It was a tough call, but in the end, Hamilton, Adams and Rodney Purvis just aren't efficient enough to win a grind-it-out type of game against a Purdue team that many will be surprised to learn is now rated in the top 10 on KenPom.com. We've primarily focused on their frontcourt advantage in most games, but the Boilermakers have an excellent defense, dominate the glass and score efficiently.
If it happens, it would be the first time in NCAA tournament history that a No. 5 seed wins the national championship, but every other seed No. 1-8 has hoisted the trophy.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.
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