NCAA Upset Predictions 2021: Cinderella Picks for March Madness Bracket

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistMarch 15, 2021

NCAA Upset Predictions 2021: Cinderella Picks for March Madness Bracket

0 of 3

    Nell Redmond/Associated Press

    After two years, March Madness is finally back in our lives—and it wouldn't be the Big Dance without the possibility of some Cinderella stories.

    The popularity of the tournament is tied to so many things: the chance to prove you're smarter than everyone in your office, the thrill of buzzer-beaters and the improbable runs from underdogs that few saw coming.

    From No. 15 seed Florida Gulf Coast's run to the Sweet 16 in 2013 to No. 11 seed Loyola-Chicago's run to the Final Four in 2018, the tournament has a way of bringing out the best in some of these underdogs.

    With Selection Sunday behind us, the road for the next improbable Cinderella story has been laid out. The only thing to figure out is who will break brackets and shock the world with a deep run.

    According to ESPN, there has been at least one double-digit seed in the Sweet 16 in 33 of the past 35 tournaments. Let's take a look at who has the best chance to join that distinguished group.

    Bracket Challenge Game – Join the Bleacher Report Group

    Start Your 2021 Bracket

No. 11 Syracuse Orange

1 of 3

    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    Jim Boeheim and Syracuse have turned peaking at tournament time into an art form. The Orange didn't put together the most impressive resume during the regular season, but they are no stranger to making a run as a double-digit seed.

    They have been a 10th or 11th seed in two of the past three seasons, and each time they made a run to at least the Sweet 16.

    Part of that is because Syracuse's zone defense is notoriously difficult to prepare for. This season, that defense won't be their only weapon—they rank 22nd in offensive efficiency, per

    Much of that has to do with the other Boeheim involved. Buddy Boeheim is among the most explosive scorers in the country going into the tournament. Over his past seven games, he's averaging 23.3 points and shooting 46.3 percent from three-point range, per Chris Carlson of

    No. 11 seeds have been highly successful in recent tournament history. They're 21-19 against No. 6 seeds over the past 10 years, per Joe Boozell of

No. 12 Winthrop Eagles

2 of 3

    Nell Redmond/Associated Press

    The Big South champion Winthrop Eagles were awarded a 12-seed after a 23-1 season, but their potential to make a run to the Sweet 16 is better than that of your average double-digit seed.

    First, the Eagles were fortunate in drawing Villanova in the South Region. Jay Wright's Wildcats have developed a reputation as a hit-or-miss team come tournament time. Their national championships in 2018 and 2016 have distracted from second-round exits in 2019, 2017 and 2015.

    Compounding that trend this year is the fact that they are entering the tournament hobbled. Collin Gillespie has been lost for the season with a knee injury and Justin Moore, who would have taken over most of his duties, recently suffered a sprained ankle.

    That version of the Wildcats was ousted by Georgetown—also a 12-seed—in the Big East Tournament.

    The Eagles crash the offensive glass (fifth among all tournament teams in offensive rebound percentage) and are unselfish (15 assists per game). That starts with star player Chandler Vaudrin who averages 12.2 points, 7.2 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game.

    A lot can be accomplished by a team that rebounds well, shares the rock and has a lot of experience. Winthrop's starting lineup features three seniors, a junior and a sophomore. That could spell trouble for Villanova and potentially Purdue in the next round.

No. 9 Wisconsin Badgers

3 of 3

    John Peterson/Associated Press

    OK, so Wisconsin isn't a double-digit seed, but the Badgers making the Sweet 16 would still be a shocking development. After all, if they can find a way around North Carolina, they will have to beat No. 1 seed Baylor to advance.

    On the surface, the Badgers aren't all that scary. They finished the season on a 2-6 stretch. But always be wary when the metrics and a team's seeding don't line up. Wisconsin is ranked 10th in overall efficiency on KenPom, yet they are a 9-seed.

    That isn't the product of extreme efficiency on one side of the court, either. They are 32nd in offense and 13th in defense. They bring a ton of experience to the table as well, with their top five scorers all being seniors.

    That 2-6 record is a bit deceptive too. Three of those losses were to Iowa, and the others were to Michigan, Illinois and Purdue. All of those teams are at least top-four seeds in their respective regions.

    All but one of those losses was by single digits. The Badgers have the kind of balance and experience that will make them a tough out, even as the lower seed in both of their first two games.