Everyone loves a good underdog win, unless of course your favorite team is the one getting trampled. March Madness is always riddled with upsets, and this year, in which there were the most losses by No. 1 ranked teams in NCAA regular season history, there’s bound to be an aura of unpredictability surrounding the whole tournament.
Here are my predictions for what could be the biggest upsets in each region:
Chattanooga (No. 12) over Indiana (No. 5)
Yes. Indiana won the Big Ten regular season conference title. But their conference strength of schedule was last in the conference. Yes. They have senior star Yogi Ferrell. But without Robert Johnson or James Blackmon, Jr., they are shorthanded, and were just upset by Michigan in the first round of the Big Ten tournament. Indiana’s momentum is lacking while Chattanooga is just coming off winning the Southern Conference tournament, and have an ongoing five-game win streak. They are filled with upperclassmen, all of whom are capable defenders, and have already created a few upsets this year, including wins over Dayton, Illinois, and Georgia. Although they have an RPI ranking of 53 while Indiana is ranked 24, the Mocs shouldn’t be overlooked just yet.
UNC Wilmington (No. 13) over Duke (No. 4)
The reigning 2015 National Champion Blue Devils are very shorthanded this year, using only a seven-man rotation regularly. Along with the players who left for the NBA last year, a key loss on this year’s team was senior Amile Jefferson, who was lost just nine games into the season to a foot injury. The wear and tear has been evident with Duke’s players, who went 3-4 in their last seven games of the season, including a loss to Notre Dame in the ACC tournament in which they failed to score in the final seven and a half minutes through overtime. Their star guard, Grayson Allen, was especially affected and fouled out in overtime even though he didn’t even record one foul in regulation time. Duke’s fatigue could give way to a solid and experienced UNC-Wilmington squad who has an RPI rating of 47 coming into the tournament. Even though they haven’t played any games against a top-50 team, they are 4-2 against numbers 51-100, and have won 10 of their last 12. This momentum, along with their depth (they go 10 or 11 deep at times) and experience, could be enough to pull down Coach K’s struggling and tired Blue Devils.
South Dakota State (No. 12) over Maryland (No. 5)
Maryland didn’t quite implode as much as their fellow Big Ten member, Iowa, but they did struggle at the end of the regular season. Many college basketball fans wonder how Maryland could be beaten as much as they were in the second half of the season since they combat any team with a very balanced attack and strong defense, and yet, they lost five of their last eight games. Maryland’s problems come from their high number of turnovers; the Terps turn the ball over 12.9 times per game, and teams that have beat them were able to capitalize on this. When star sophomore point guard Melo Trimble (14.4 PPG, 5.1 APG, 3.5 RBG, 1.3 SPG) is forced to do most of the work offensively, he struggles to finish around the rim and has been shooting poorly from behind the arc (33 percent). This was seen best when Maryland lost to the lowly Minnesota Gophers, a team the Jackrabbits beat soundly. South Dakota State may play safer defense than a lot of teams, but they are experienced, have a firecracker offensive talent in freshman forward Mike Daum (15.2 PPG, 6.1 RPG), and have momentum coming into the game. If SDSU’s defense can get Trimble flustered and make him do too much, they have a decent chance at upsetting the Terrapins in the Round of 64.
Iona (No. 13) over Iowa St. (No. 4)
Finally, the world will meet senior guard A.J. English (22.4 PPG, 6.2 APG, 5.0 RPG, 1.5 SPG) in the big dance. He led the Gaels to a MAAC tournament championship over the Monmouth Hawks, and is the No. 10 scorer in all of Division-1 NCAA basketball. They are on an eight game win streak, and truly peaking at the right time. Scoring 79.6 points per game (31st in nation), and creating 16.8 assists per game (15th in nation) make them a huge threat to Iowa State. The Cyclones have lost two in a row, and despite being in the Big 12, this is never the best way to enter a tournament. Likely a very high scoring game, both teams are offensive juggernauts (Iowa State scores 81.8 PPG, 15th in nation) and struggle to defend, which could result in a shootout. Additionally, Iowa State struggled last year, getting beat out by UAB in their very first game by a single point (60-59). History could repeat itself in 2016, as they have a tough draw in the Iona Gaels.
All of the games above have pretty big seeding differentials. I’ve put some of my favorite not-as-crazy upsets below.
VCU (No. 10) over Oregon State (No. 7)
Tres Tinkle is out with a foot injury, and without their best big man, Oregon State will be forced to play small ball. While this isn’t too much of an issue, as they rely mostly on the backcourt of Gary Payton II and Stephen Thompson Jr., it may become a problem to not have an inside threat since VCU’s two guards and small forward, Melvin Johnson, Korey Bilbury, and JeQuan Lewis combine for an average of 4.0 steals per game.
Temple (No. 10) over Iowa (No. 7)
Iowa has lost five of their last six games, and Temple’s Quentin DeCosey (15.6 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.3 SPG) and low turnover average (9.2, No. 1 in the nation) may prove to be a problem for Iowa’s defense.
Wichita St. (No. 11) over Arizona (No. 6)
This one just screams the cliché my high school basketball coach used as his mantra: “Defense wins championships!” Wichita State has the number one defense in the nation, per Ken Pomeroy, and these are two tournament-tested teams that have had huge expectations in the past two years. In fact, this one could be the best game in the Round of 64, and it could turn into a great upset for the Shockers, despite the fact that Arizona’s offense scores 81.2 PPG (19th in nation).