March Madness baby – Let’s Go! You guys have until Thursday to try and put together the perfect bracket. Fun Fact: there has been no confirmed perfect bracket, ever! It’s damn near impossible. The amount of games played in the tournament is far too high for someone to remain perfect from start to finish. Just to get to the Sweet 16 with a perfect bracket you’d have to pick 48 consecutive games correct, upsets and all. But, what you can do is play a Pick Em’ Pool with friends on pretty much every sports platform where they give you points for picking wins correct, and whoever finishes with the most points at the end wins. Picking the top seeds correct is the easy part, but where you’ll set your bracket apart from the rest is by picking the correct upsets. There’s no better place to start looking for your March Madness Bracket Busters than the #12 vs #5 matchups. In 29 of the last 34 years, at least one #12 seed has won and knocked off a 5-seed. Twenty of the #12 seeds have advanced on to at least the Sweet Sixteen, but only Missouri in 2002 was able to advance to the Elite 8 as a #12-seed. The #11 seed has also been a popular upset pick over the years and with good reason. The #11 seed has upset the 6-seed 51 times out of 136 opening round match-ups, which equates to 37.5% of the time. So the point is, that upsets are going to happen and luckily for you guys, you’ll have my input below to help influence who you have pulling off the upsets in your bracket. I’m giving you guys my upset selections, and detailed analysis as to why I’m rolling with the underdogs. So as you read below, you’ll see and learn about every lower seeded team I have advancing past the first round and why I think they’ll pull off the shocker. Let’s get to it!
#9 UCF over #8 VCU
Is picking a 9-seed over an 8-seed even an upset? These match-ups are so evenly matched that they could go either way. VCU is an outstanding program who has consistently made noise in the tournament. In 2011 the Rams became a national darling when they somehow advanced to the Final Four. Head Coach Rhoades has built one of the best defensive teams in the country, and his team can wreak havoc on opposing teams ball handlers, forcing them into a turnover on 23% of their possessions. As a whole, the Rams rank #7 in the country for overall defensive efficiency. However, their offense can struggle at times, and they don’t have a real go-to guy who can take over a game all by himself. UCF, on the other hand, can fill it up in a hurry and have a pair of elite 3-point shooters in guards Aubrey Dawkins and BJ Taylor. Not to mention the Knights have the nation’s tallest player at 7’6” in Tacko Fall manning the middle. Fall’s size makes it extremely difficult for the opposing teams to get any solid looks from inside the paint, and forces teams to have to beat the Knights from beyond the arc — a formula for victory that doesn’t fit VCU’s style of play. With VCU not being an elite shooting team, I believe points will be too hard for them to come by in this matchup, and UCF will pull away late. I’m not so sure a win even matters for either team; however, as the Duke Blue Devils will be waiting to play the winner in the second round.
#12 Liberty over #5 Mississippi State
The Liberty Flames set a school record 28 wins this year for a program who punched their NCAA Tournament ticket by winning the ASUN’s Conference Championship. The offensive efficiency of the Flames is their ticket to punching an upset and knocking off the SEC’s Mississippi State Bulldogs. The Flames shoot 49.1% from the field as a team, which ranks 12th in the country. They also play as many as nine guys in their rotation and have six players averaging over 7ppg. The balance scoring attack makes it hard for opponents to game plan for any one player in particular and it gives the Flames an assortment of options to find baskets. Junior forward Scottie James is the heart and soul of this Liberty Flames squad who averages over 13ppg and nearly 9rpg. James has been underrated all season long and can fill up the scoreboard from all 3-levels offensively. The Mississippi State Bulldogs are making their first NCAA Tournament appearance in the last ten years. The Bulldogs have athletes all over the floor but are far too inconsistent offensively. The Dogs are definitely the more talented team on paper, but Flames are the more consistent team on the court and are a bad matchup for the Bulldogs from a style of play standpoint. If the Bulldogs aren’t efficient on offense, Liberty will pull away early with their steady offensive attack.
#11 Belmont over #6 Maryland
Belmont saw their hopes of winning the Ohio Valley conference championship taken right before their eyes to the fate of Ja Morant and the Murray State Racers, as Morant made a tough and-1 game-winner in the final minute of the game. The loss put the Bruins on the bubble and left their hopes of advancing to the Big Dance in the fate of the committee. Luckily for the Bruins, however, the committee felt like the team was good enough to earn an At-Large bid, and they were selected into the tourney as an 11-seed set for a play in game against Temple. While Temple is a solid team, we expect the Bruins to cruise past them to a matchup against the 6th seeded Terrapins. Belmont has enough offensive firepower to make a run. They are led by seniors Dylan Windler (21.4ppg, 10.7rpg, & 43.0 3PT%) and Kevin McClain (16.3ppg). The Bruins average an impressive 87.4 points per game as a unit and have nation’s 20th ranked overall offense. The health of their freshman center Nick Muszynski in their X-factor. The 6’10” freshman is this teams 3rd leading scorer averaging just under 15ppg and by far this best rim protector. He rolled his ankle in their conference tournament semifinal and was forced to sit out against Murray State in the championship. If he’s 100% healthy and good to go for the Bruins tournament run, then this team can play and compete against anyone.
#12 Murray State over #5 Marquette
This #12 vs #5 matchup is one of the most anticipated first-round games in the entire field. Two of the nation’s best point guards are set to go toe-to-toe in a game that will have tons of NBA scouts in the crowd. Junior point guard Markus Howard for the Marquette Golden Eagles is arguably the nation’s best scorer and can create enough space off the dribble to get his shot off whenever he wants. Howard is averaging 25ppg on the season and has scored over 45 points in a game on three different occasions this season, including a 53-point performance back in January against Creighton. On the other side of the ball is Murray State’s star point guard Ja Morant who has taken the collegiate world by storm. Morant was once an unranked recruit who had zero scholarship offers. Then one of the Murray State assistants found this hidden star playing pickup ball in a side court after he finished scouting the player he was sent on the trip to scout and the rest is history. Morant’s Russell Westbrook like athleticism and his Chris Paul like vision has made him an internet sensation and put every NBA scout in existence on notice. Morant is projected as the current #2 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft behind only Duke’s freshman sensation Zion Williamson. Ja leads the country in assists per game, and he’s the only player averaging over 10 per game. He’s also putting up 24.6ppg and singlehandedly willing this Murray State team to victories. He dominated in his team’s conference championship game scoring 36 points, including the game-winning and-1 bucket in the final minute of the game. With Marquette’s Markus Howard dealing with a wrist injury, Morant and the Racers are primed for an upset. Morant’s athleticism and speed allow him to get out in transition with ease and feed shooters on the wing. If you don’t stop the ball, Morant is going to shatter the rim with groundbreaking slams. He’s a defenses worst nightmare, and the Golden Eagles are going to become first-hand witnesses to just how special this kid is. I’m beyond stoked for this kid to take the world by storm for one last run before going pro and you should be too.
#10 Florida over #7 Nevada
The Florida Gators are a prime example of getting hot and playing your best basketball at just the right time. For much of the season, the Gators looked like anything besides a tournament team, struggling to put together any consistent stretches of good basketball. Head coach Mike White constantly challenged the veteran leaders of the team to become more consistent and to be a voice in the locker room for the freshman in their rotation. The Gators lost their final three games of the regular season but salvaged their NCAA Tournament hopes by knocking off the top-seeded LSU Tigers in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament and then lost to the eventual SEC Champion Auburn Tigers by 3-points in the semifinals on a controversial no-call at the buzzer. With seniors KeVaughn Allen and Jalen Hudson leading the scoring charge, the Gators real x-factors are their three freshmen who play vital roles. Starting freshman point guard Andrew Nembhard is the heart and soul of the Florida offense, and the team’s offense is generated through his playmaking and ability to get into the paint. Freshman shooting guard Noah Locke has set the team record for most 3s made by a freshman, and the Gators are going to need him to be lethal from beyond the arc to make a deep tournament run. Freshman forward Keyontae Johnson may be the biggest x-factor for this Florida team. Johnson’s athleticism can overwhelm opponents, and he’s been shooting the ball well from deep as of late. If Florida’s three key freshman, and their two veteran guards can play to the best of their abilities, this team has a chance to extend deep into the competition. The Gators are one of the more disruptive defensive units in the country, and they’ve shown throughout the season that they can play with anyone. This team will go as far as their offense can take them, which I certainly think will at least get them a first-round victory.
#12 Oregon over #5 Wisconsin
After watching Oregon go on their four-game run to win the PAC-12 tournament, one thing was apparent. This team can play with anyone. This isn’t the same Oregon team they would be if freshman superstar Bol Bol were healthy, but this version of the Ducks are confident, resilient, and clicking on all cylinders at just the right time. The Ducks are amid a season-high eight game winning streak, and junior Payton Pritchard is playing incredible basketball. After having an up-and-down year for most of the season, Pritchard has flipped a switch as of late and has looked like one of the best guards in America over the last couple of weeks. The Ducks defense has been swarming, just ask Washington. The Huskies were the regular season PAC-12 champs but were utterly obliterated by the Ducks in the conference tournament championship game. The Ducks held Washington to their two worst offensive outputs of the season in their last two meetings. Stifling defense and a star guard in Pritchard playing the best basketball of his career are a solid combination to pull off some tournament upsets. Wisconsin is first in line, and they shouldn’t be excited to face a team as hot as the Ducks. This time of the year is all about momentum, and the Ducks have the train steaming ahead at full speed right now. Scary, scary!