Each year, millions of people fill out their brackets and prepare for March Madness. You do all the research, you know the teams, and you think you’ve got it figured out. Just when that seems to be the case, the team you picked to win the whole thing gets upset in the very first round and your bracket gets busted. Every tournament features a fair share of these upsets, knocking fans out of their pools almost immediately.
This year looks to be no different. There are plenty of early matchups that are ripe for this kind of surprise. None may be as monumental as 16 seeded UMBC blowing out #1 Virginia last tournament, but there are still going to be some notable ones. When filling out your bracket, how do you pick the right upset? Which teams are susceptible to falling to a lower seed? Who is prime for a historic Cinderella performance? These are our thoughts on the five best candidates.
And while you’re at it, check out this list of the 5 biggest March Madness upsets in history.
5. Abilene Christian Wildcats
We’ll start with the biggest longshot of the bunch. Abilene Christian is a #15 seed. In NCAA Tournament history, #15 seeds have only beaten #2 seeds eight times. However, half of those have come since 2012 and it happened twice that year. Abilene Christian is matched up against a very talented Kentucky team that some are picking to go all the way. However, these Wildcats may prove to be a difficult matchup. One of their strengths is the three point ball. They nearly hit 40% of them and Kentucky has had major issues defending the three this year. If Abilene Christian gets going from deep, Kentucky will be in major trouble.
4. Murray State
That 12-5 matchup is always tricky. It sounds like a #12 winning would be a major surprise, but it happens more often than almost any other lower seed victory in NCAA Tournament history. You’ll usually get two or even three of them in a single tournament. Nobody will be truly stunned if Murray State beats Marquette, but it’s still technically an upset. Ja Morant is the all-world point guard who will be going high in the NBA Draft. He can lead Murray State to victory against a Marquette team that has stumbled down the stretch. Morant did just that in the conference championship comeback victory.
3. Saint Louis
The Saint Louis Billikens didn’t have the toughest of schedules this season. However, they’re matched up against a Virginia Tech team that surprisingly had an even softer schedule. Saint Louis has picked things up after a rough middle of the season and enter the tournament as a team excelling at rebounding and on the defensive end. Those are two categories that usually bode well for a tournament upset. Throw in the fact that Virginia Tech has struggled mightily when they aren’t playing on their home court and you’ve got a recipe for an upset.
2. New Mexico State
The Aggies enter the NCAA Tournament on a 19 game winning streak. Entering the Big Dance while hot is usually a recipe for at least one victory. It helps that they are kind of set up for a battle that favors them. The Aggies are one of the top offensive rebounding teams in the nation. The last team to rank as well as they have in that category was a 2016 Yale unit that pulled off an upset of their own. New Mexico State’s opponents, the Auburn Tigers, rank near the bottom of the nation in terms of defensive rebounding. Things could get ugly on the boards for the SEC Champions.
1. UC Irvine
#4 Kansas State made an Elite Eight run last year but they’re vulnerable. Dean Wade is not at 100% and that could be a major blow to the team. With Kansas State missing their second-best scorer, UC Irvine’s stingy defense has an even better chance at shutting them down. Kansas State has been held under 60 points in 11 games, while UC Irvine has kept teams under 50 on seven occasions. UC Irvine doesn’t need to be an offensive juggernaut because their defensive should stymie Kansas State.