NCAA Men's Tournament 2021: Upset Meter for Every Game

Mandela Namaste@@mandiba13Contributor IMarch 24, 2021

NCAA Men's Tournament 2021: Upset Meter for Every Game

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    We can't be the only ones who want more March Madness.

    After waiting nearly two years for the men's NCAA tournament to return, it is back and better than ever. Four double-digit seeds survived the first weekend, top-seeded Illinois fell in the round of 32 and just one Big Ten team remains after a dominant regular season. This is the event we know and love, restored in all its chaotic goodness.

    It's only right to expect and predict more upsets this weekend. We've ranked each of the eight Sweet 16 matchups by upset potential from least to most likely. The cases for and against a lower-seed triumph are presented alongside a verdict, ranging from unlikely to extremely likely.

    Let's dive in.

No. 3 Arkansas vs. No. 15 Oral Roberts

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    Robert Franklin/Associated Press

    Saturday, 7:25 p.m. ET


    The Case For

    Oral Roberts has won two games despite not shooting well, which was its calling card until last weekend. The Golden Eagles shot 32.3 percent from three against Ohio State and Florida after making 38.5 percent of their long-range attempts in the regular season.

    Might it be as simple as strong defense combined with the nation's leading scorer? Max Abmas has been effective despite the teamwide shooting slump, pouring in 55 points against the Buckeyes and Gators. Arkansas has a great defense and limited Abmas to 4-of-11 shooting in December, but that was months ago. Don't be surprised if the guard keeps scoring against the Razorbacks.


    The Case Against

    Arkansas is hot, winning 11 of its last 12 games. It beat Alabama by 15 points, defeated LSU by eight and pulled out a close victory over Texas Tech last weekend.

    The most important element of tournament success is finding a way to win when your strengths have been neutralized, and the Razorbacks have done so. Against the Red Raiders, everybody outside of Moses Moody, Justin Smith and Davonte Davis struggled, shooting 16.0 percent. Nevertheless, Eric Musselman's team willed its way to victory. If this game goes down to the wire, we'll expect Arkansas to find a way to win it.


    Upset MeterUnlikely

No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 11 UCLA

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Sunday, 7:15 p.m. ET


    The Case For

    The Crimson Tide are playing as well as any non-Gonzaga team. If anything, the Bruins should hope to get into a long-distance battle, as they've shot 42.9 percent from three in the tournament and boast the 12th-best offense in the country, per Alabama's defense is ferocious, but can it stop this version of Johnny Juzang? Mick Cronin's team deserves praise for beating BYU and getting to the Sweet 16 without Chris Smith.


    The Case Against

    Alabama is playing like it's on a mission. Nate Oats' club can score with anybody and is arguably even better at preventing points. John Petty Jr. and Herbert Jones have NBA-caliber talent, while Jahvon Quinerly and Jaden Shackelford are a year or two away from reaching big boards themselves. The Crimson Tide beat Arkansas by 31 points in January and hung 96 on Maryland last weekend. They've been great for nearly three months and should be discussed more often as a Gonzaga-Baylor spoiler. All the questions this team needs to answer will come in the Elite Eight and beyond.

    Considering this as well as UCLA's four-game losing streak a few weeks ago, betting on a Crimson Tide victory seems safe.


    Upset Meter: Unlikely

No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 5 Creighton

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Sunday, 2:10 p.m. ET


    The Case For

    Creighton's run to the Sweet 16 has been surprising and compelling. After heading into the tournament having lost three of their last six, the Bluejays looked like a prime candidate to go home early, particularly against UC Santa Barbara, one of the country's best mid-majors. Not only did they beat the Gauchos, but they also stopped the momentum of Ohio, a tailor-made Cinderella. Creighton's focus is clearly on basketball, and things are going well.


    The Case Against

    None of those compliments are relevant to how the team matches up against Gonzaga. Spoiler alert: This game probably won't be pretty.

    There's no need to expound on the Bulldogs' greatness. They dominated several major-conference opponents, blasted the West Coast Conference as usual and looked unbothered against Norfolk State and Oklahoma. Jalen Suggs—a future top-five NBA draft pick—floated through the first round, and it didn't matter as Gonzaga won by 43 points.

    Greg McDermott is an experienced March coach, leading Creighton to six NCAA tournament berths. But this is his first time in the Sweet 16.


    Upset Meter: Unlikely

No. 8 Loyola-Chicago vs. No. 12 Oregon State

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Saturday, 2:40 p.m. ET


    The Case For

    Wayne Tinkle has his players rowing in the right direction. The Beavers have won their last five games, defeating UCLA, Oregon, Colorado, Tennessee and Oklahoma State to arrive in the Sweet 16.

    Oregon State is winning in a multitude of ways. The Beavers caught fire from deep, making 44.8 percent of their threes in the first four games of the winning streak. However, when the shots stopped falling against Oklahoma State, they turned up the defensive intensity, limiting Cade Cunningham to 6-of-20 shooting and the Cowboys to 27.7 percent from the field.

    Teams with the hot hand are not to be taken lightly in March. Oregon State is another example of this phenomenon.


    The Case Against

    Despite what the Selection Committee believes, Loyola-Chicago has been one of the best 10 to 15 teams in the nation all year long.

    The Ramblers didn't play the strongest schedule, but Porter Moser's team has the best defense by KenPom's metrics and proved its greatness last weekend, outplaying a healthy Illinois team from start to finish. It helps that Moser and star Cameron Krutwig have an understanding of Oregon State's mindset, having both been integral parts of Loyola's 2018 Final Four run.

    If the Ramblers defense continues to swallow opponents whole, they shouldn't have much difficulty with Oregon State.


    Upset Meter: Moderately Likely

No. 1 Baylor vs. No. 5 Villanova

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Saturday, 5:15 p.m. ET


    The Case For

    Jay Wright is at it again. Villanova could have folded after Collin Gillespie tore his MCL, and considering the team lost its first two games without him, an early exit seemed likely against 23-1 Winthrop. Instead, Wright's team willed itself to a 10-point victory over the Eagles and then cut loose against North Texas, shooting 15-of-30 from three in an 84-61 second-round win.

    You can't make a case for Baylor to lose this game—more an argument for Villanova to win it. Much like Jim Boeheim, you can't count Wright out until the final buzzer. He's made miracles happen for years on this stage, and there's no reason to suspect he'll stop.


    The Case Against

    Baylor would have been the favorite even if Gillespie was healthy, but without him, this isn't a conversation. ESPN's Myron Medcalf summarized how dominant Scott Drew's team was against Wisconsin: "In its 76-63 win over Wisconsin in the second round, the Bears excelled against a Badgers team that was top-20 in adjusted defensive efficiency. Baylor's 119 points per 100 possessions in that game was comparable to the clip that the NBA-leading Brooklyn Nets' offense has averaged this season."

    All year, we've looked for candidates to upset the expected Gonzaga-Baylor national championship, but Occam's razor exists for a reason. Sometimes, the teams that appear to be the best are, in fact, the best.


    Upset Meter: Moderately Likely

No. 1 Michigan vs. No. 4 Florida State

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Sunday, 5 p.m. ET


    The Case For

    Leonard Hamilton has seemingly cracked the code to March Madness, leading his school to three consecutive Sweet 16 berths. The Seminoles don't have the same top-line talent as in past seasons, but Hamilton is still at the top of his game. FSU won its first-round matchup against UNC Greensboro despite not making a three-pointer and demolished a solid Colorado team two days later, forcing 19 turnovers in an 18-point victory.

    With a balanced, versatile and athletic roster, Hamilton looks ready to make his second Elite Eight in three tournaments.


    The Case Against

    If Michigan plays up to its potential as it did last weekend, it will win. Despite playing without Isaiah Livers, the Wolverines cruised, beating Texas Southern by 16 in the first round and going on a crucial 14-1 run in the second half against LSU to pull out a tight victory.

    Juwan Howard's team isn't just well-coached—it's deep too. With Hunter Dickinson in foul trouble against the Tigers, veteran guard Eli Brooks nailed five threes and recorded seven assists to carry the day. Then there's Franz Wagner, who has rocketed up NBA big boards thanks to his basketball intelligence and sweet shooting.

    Picking against the Maize and Blue seems easy on paper, but they're always a tougher out than we recall.


    Upset Meter: Could Go Either Way

No. 6 USC vs. No. 7 Oregon

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    Sunday, 9:45 p.m. ET


    The Case For

    Considering the seedings, this wouldn't be much of an upset, but USC did comfortably beat Oregon in February. However, that defeat was a blip in a dominant stretch for Dana Altman's Ducks. They've won 12 of their last 14 and looked unbothered after a forfeited first-round game, confidently shutting down an Iowa team that ranked in the Top Five for much of the season.

    Altman has emerged as one of the country's best postseason tacticians, guiding Oregon to four of the last five Sweet 16s and making the Final Four in 2017. He's not to be overlooked.


    The Case Against

    A 34-point victory over Kansas looks pretty good. Andy Enfield's Trojans made 61.1 percent of their threes in a throttling of the Jayhawks and are rounding into shape at a dangerous moment. This has been the season of Evan Mobley, but his brother Isaiah has made the difference lately. The sophomore has averaged 16.0 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists in two tournament games while shooting 57.1 percent overall and 71.4 percent from three on 3.5 attempts.

    If the brothers continue to get the best out of each other and Enfield digs into his bag of March tricks, then this is arguably one of the five best teams left.


    Upset Meter: Could Go Either Way

No. 2 Houston vs. No. 11 Syracuse

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Saturday, 9:55 p.m. ET


    The Case For

    Jim Boeheim has mastered the art of peaking in March. This is the third time in five seasons Syracuse has made the Sweet 16 as a double-digit seed, and neither of those teams had a player as hot as Buddy Boeheim. The coach's son averaged 27.5 points per game while shooting 56.5 percent from three against San Diego State and West Virginia.

    It helps that Houston looked shaky in its second-round win over Rutgers. Though winning close games in March is impressive, it's easier to trust Boeheim than Kelvin Sampson if this matchup goes down to the wire.


    The Case Against

    First, senior guard DeJon Jarreau needs to be healthy. He left Sunday's game several times with a hip injury, and while his absence wouldn't be a death sentence, Houston's path to victory is cleaner with him available.

    Second, Quentin Grimes needs to continue playing this well. The AAC's co-Player of the Year has been great all season, but the last six weeks have seen him level up even higher. Since February, Grimes has averaged 19.8 points per game on 45.7/47.7/66.7 shooting splits with seven games of at least 20 points. If he's able to solve Syracuse's storied 2-3 zone, then Houston has a shot at its first Elite Eight berth in 37 years.


    Upset Meter: Very Likely