NCAA Tournament 2017: Early Upset Picks for March Madness Bracket

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistMarch 13, 2017

C.J. Bryce leads upset-minded North Carolina-Wilmington.
C.J. Bryce leads upset-minded North Carolina-Wilmington.Mic Smith/Associated Press

College basketball comes to life very quietly for fans in mid-October when NCAA basketball teams begin to practice for the first time.

However, the sport is dwarfed by college football, and many fans really don't take notice until the bowl season ends, when basketball no longer has to share the main stage.

The intensity picks up during the conference tournaments, and the frenzy reaches a new level on Selection Sunday when 68 teams are named to the NCAA tournament.

As the competition gets underway, there's nothing that gets blood pumping for sports fans like tournament upsets.

When a lower seed beats a higher seed or a point-spread underdog beats a favorite—these are not necessarily mutually exclusive events—it is often accompanied by a buzzer-beating shot or a come-from-behind effort.

While the NCAA tournament will get underway Tuesday and Wednesday with the First Four games, it begins in earnest with the round of 64 on Thursday and Friday. While there's a theoretical chance for an upset in every game, there are several that stand out.

Fifth-seeded Virginia (22-10) is a hard-nosed defensive team coached by Tony Bennett out of the ACC, which is often considered the best basketball conference in the nation.

UVA faces 12th-seeded North Carolina-Wilmington (29-10) Thursday in Orlando, Florida, and the Cavaliers are 8.5-point favorites. If Virginia's hard-nosed defense doesn't cause big problems for the Seahawks from start to finish, it will have a hard time keeping up with the Colonial Athletic Association champions.

Guard C.J. Bryce is the Seahawks' leading scorer, as he is averaging 17.6 points per game and shooting 49.1 percent from the field. Chris Flemmings is right behind with an average of 15.8 points per night, and they are joined by Denzel Ingram and Devontae Cacock as double-digit scorers.

Cacock is a 6'7" sophomore forward who is connecting on a shocking 79.9 percent of his field-goal attempts.

Virginia will try to counter with guard London Perrantes leading the way. He is averaging 12.1 points per game and shooting 81.0 percent from the free-throw line, but he is only starter on Bennett's team averaging in double figures.

The Seahawks have more scoring options than the Cavaliers, and if they can execute consistently in the half court, North Carolina-Wilmington should be able to come up with the 5-12 upset.

Click here for B/R's printable bracket.

Look for 11th-seeded Xavier to come up with the win over sixth-seeded Maryland when those two teams meet in Orlando, Florida.

Start off with the Terrapins, who are two-point favorites in the game. They are not coming into the tournament off of a high, as they were beaten in the Big Ten tournament by plucky Northwestern.

This was not a case of a team assured of an NCAA tournament berth dialing it back in its conference tournament. The Big Ten held its end-of-season event in Washington, D.C., and the Terps had the benefit of playing in its backyard and potentially winning its first Big Ten title since coming over from the ACC in 2014.

Despite the presence of All-Big Ten guard Melo Trimble, the Terps did not execute well enough when the game was on the line. 

Xavier (21-13) can present all kinds of issues for the Terps as they are led by guards Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura. Blueitt is averaging 18.1 points and 5.8 rebounds per night, while Macura is averaging 14.5 points per game and is capable of heating up from the outside.

The Musketeers are also a relentless team on the boards who finished with a plus-7.0 advantage in rebounds per game. If they can keep turnovers to a minimum, Xavier has an excellent chance of registering the upset.

Rhode Island has the firepower to come up with an upset of Creighton in the first round of NCAA tournament.
Rhode Island has the firepower to come up with an upset of Creighton in the first round of NCAA tournament.Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

It would not be a shocker if 11th-seeded Rhode Island upsets sixth-seeded Creighton in the West Region Friday in Sacramento, California.

This would be a narrow upset from a point spread perspective, as the Blue Jays are 1.5-point favorites in the game. Creighton is led by high-scoring junior guard Marcus Foster, who is averaging 18.3 points per night. Freshman center Justin Patton is connecting on 69.4 percent of his shots from the field and is second on the team in scoring with 13.1 points per game.

Rhode Island will try to counter with hard-nosed defense, and the Rams allow 64.9 points per game that ranks 32nd in the nation

Guard E.C. Matthews is averaging a team-high 14.9 points per game, while forward Hassan Martin is scoring 14.1 points per night and connecting on 59.6 percent of his shots from the field.

Look for the Rams to turn up the defensive heat before Matthews and Martin control the offensive flow and come up with the upset.

Finally, the fourth-seeded Purdue Boilermakers won the Big Ten regular-season title before they were eliminated from the conference tournament by Michigan. The Boilermakers are led by hard-nosed forward Caleb Swanigan, who had 25 double-doubles this season.

The Boilermakers do a lot of things well, but they have no standout characteristic, with the possible exception of toughness. There may be some vulnerability when they take on the 13th-seeded Vermont Catamounts (29-5). Purdue is an 8.5-point favorite in the game.

Vermont is on a tremendous roll, having won 21 straight games going into their Thursday game with the Boilermakers in Milwaukee.

Vermont will try to attack Purdue in the paint, and while interior defense is one of Purdue's strengths, Vermont is not about to back down.

The Catamounts also rate a slight edge in offensive creativity, and they will come up with the hard-fought victory.

All odds courtesy of OddsShark.


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