Teams on Upset Alert in Day 1 of the 2019 NCAA Men's Tournament

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistMarch 21, 2019

Teams on Upset Alert in Day 1 of the 2019 NCAA Men's Tournament

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    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    It's Bracket 101 to choose at least a few No. 11 and No. 12 seeds to win their first-round games.

    The No. 11 seeds in the NCAA men's tournament have won 51 times in 136 opening matchups, according to NCAA.com, good for a 37.5 percent win rate.

    The No. 12 seeds are not far behind with a 34.6 percent win rate. Just five times in the past 34 years has at least one 12th seed failed to advance beyond the first round.

    In other words, the No. 5- and No. 6-seeded teams are clearly on upset alert.

    Four of those teams will be in action Thursday, so let's take a closer look at the higher-seeded teams who will be trying to fend off upsets.

Auburn Tigers (Midwest Region, No. 5 Seed)

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    Bryce Brown
    Bryce BrownAndy Lyons/Getty Images

    Opponent: No. 12 New Mexico State (30-4, NET: 40)

    Point Spread: Auburn (-5½)

    At times this year, Auburn has looked like a legitimate title contender.

    A 20-point shellacking of Tennessee in the SEC tournament title game the last time they took the floor is the perfect example, as they were nothing short of dominant.

    At other times, the Tigers have looked beatable.

    A 3-5 stretch in conference play dropped them out of the AP poll for a good portion of the season before their late push.

    That's life when you live and die by the three-ball.

    The Tigers score roughly 42 percent of their points from beyond the arc, and when they've gone cold from deep, they've lost their offense.

    New Mexico State might not be good enough to beat the Tigers if they play up to their potential, but the Aggies are more than good enough to steal a win if Auburn comes with anything but its A-game.

Marquette Golden Eagles (West Region, No. 5 Seed)

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    Markus Howard
    Markus HowardSteven Ryan/Getty Images

    Opponent: No. 12 Murray State (27-4, NET: 44)

    Point Spread: Marquette (-3½)

    The Marquette and Murray State game features the best superstar matchup of the first round.

    Golden Eagles point guard Markus Howard led the Big East and finished sixth in the nation in scoring, while Racers point guard Ja Morant was right behind him at eighth in scoring while pacing Division I in assists.

    • Howard: 25.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 4.0 APG, 40.8 3PT%
    • Morant: 24.6 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 10.0 APG, 33.6 3PT%

    Morant showed he was capable of putting the team on his shoulders during the Ohio Valley Conference tournament title game, pouring in 36 points on 13-of-25 shooting with seven rebounds and three assists in the victory over Belmont.

    That said, the future lottery pick can also be turnover-prone, averaging 5.2 giveaways per contest in 2018-19.

    If Morant can have a big game while still playing within himself and the Racers can stop Howard from going off for 30-plus, an upset is possible.

Maryland Terrapins (East Region, No. 6 Seed)

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    Bruno Fernando
    Bruno FernandoMitchell Layton/Getty Images

    Opponent: No. 11 Belmont (27-5, NET: 47)

    Point Spread: Maryland (-3)

    For those who had not seen Belmont play this season, the Bruins' convincing 81-70 win in Dayton, Ohio, on Tuesday night in their First Four matchup with Temple had to be eye-opening.

    For those who have seen them play, it was far from a surprise.

    Even with star Dylan Windler limited to five points, the Bruins found a way to win. No. 2 option Kevin McClain went off for 29 points, and redshirt freshman center Nick Muszynski returned from an ankle injury to drop 16 points on 8-of-12 shooting.

    Can Maryland slow down a Belmont offense that averages 87.2 points per game and ranks 19th in KenPom.com's offensive efficiency (115 points per 100 possessions)?

    After a 16-3 start to the season, the Terrapins went 6-7 the rest of the way, including a 69-61 loss to NIT-bound Nebraska in their first game of the Big Ten tournament.

    Center Bruno Fernando (13.7 PPG, 10.4 RPG) can be a handful in the post, and point guard Anthony Cowan Jr. (16.0 PPG, 4.3 APG) is an excellent facilitator.

    The Bruins are more than up to the task of outgunning the Terrapins, though.

Villanova Wildcats (South Region, No. 6 Seed)

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    Phil Booth
    Phil BoothElsa/Getty Images

    Opponent: No. 11 Saint Mary's (22-11, NET: 32)

    Point Spread: Villanova (-4½)

    It's fair to say the season has been a disappointing one for the Villanova Wildcats. They settled for a No. 6 seed after starting the year at No. 9 in the AP poll.

    Similar to Auburn, they too are a team that leans heavily on the three-ball.

    Villanova finished the regular season third in the nation in three-point attempts (1,023), but they didn't always connect at a high clip, with their 35.3 percent rate tied for just 126th in the country.

    Saint Mary's plays at a similarly slow pace and has a go-to scorer in Jordan Ford (21.3 PPG, 42.3 3PT%), who leads the way for an offense that ranks 21st in KenPom's efficiency (114.7 points per 100 possessions).

    Even after losing its top four scorers from last year's championship team, Villanova is a battle-tested group capable of going on a run, evidenced by their Big East tournament title.

    The Gaels went on a run of their own, though, taking down the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the West Coast Conference tournament to force their way into the Big Dance.

    Simply put, any team that beats this year's Gonzaga squad is capable of beating anyone.

                         

    All stats courtesy of Sports Reference unless otherwise noted. Point spreads courtesy of the Vegas Insider consensus.