The 4 Most Likely NCAA Tournament Upsets on Saturday, Presented By The Belko Experiment
Thursday's slate of NCAA Tournament games left us without many bracket-busting upsets, and that means that Saturday's schedule is light on double-digit seeds.
What do our algorithms have to say about the matter of the most likely upsets on Saturday?
Middle Tennessee (12) versus Butler (4)
Fortunately for those who love chaos, our algorithms are still slightly optimistic about the prospects of a double-digit seed earning a Sweet 16 bid on Saturday. While Xavier's win odds against Florida State are around 33%, Middle Tennessee has roughly a 44% chance to knock off Butler, a long-time upset favorite in their own right.
Based on adjusted offensive rating, according to Sports Reference, Middle Tennessee possessed the 59th-ranked offense in the nation this season. On defense, they were 65th. Combined, they outscored opponents by 15.8 points per 100 possessions after adjusting for opponent, the 65th-best net rating in the country.
By contrast, Butler sat 16th on offense, 43rd on defense, and 24th overall (27.7 points per 100 possession better than their opponents).
However, both teams are slow. Butler ranked 290th in pace this season, and Middle Tennessee ranked 304th. Fewer possessions could lead to more randomness, and that could help the Blue Raiders build on their recent tournament success.
Saint Mary's (7) versus Arizona (2)
Our algorithms see Saint Mary's advancing to the Sweet 16 roughly 40% of the time, making this game pretty close after considering the discrepancy in seeding. Per Pinnacle, Arizona is favored by 4 points.
In terms of adjusted offensive rating, Saint Mary's owned the nation's 14th-best offense this season at 119.9 points per 100 possessions. Arizona ranked 27th at 117.5 points per 100 possessions. Defensively, Arizona (90.1) fared better -- but only slightly, as Saint Mary's allowed 90.9 points per 100 possessions.
In all, Saint Mary's adjusted net rating of 29.0 ranked 20th in the nation, and Arizona's 27.4 ranked 25th.
This game could come down to offensive style, though, as Saint Mary's ranked 343rd this year in free throw rate (0.266 free throw attempts per field goal), and Arizona ranked 43rd (0.410). However, the Gaels frequently attempted shots from beyond the three-point line (41.6% of their field goal attempts were three-pointers, 54th in the nation), and the Wildcats (30.8%, 298th) relied much more on shots inside the arc.
Iowa State (5) versus Purdue (4)
The Boilermakers of Purdue owned the 20th-best offense in the nation after adjusting for opponent (118.6 points per 100 possessions) and the 14th-best defense (87.3 points allowed per 100 possessions). In all, they possessed the 11th-best net rating in the nation.
The Cyclones weren't far off. They scored 119.8 points per 100 possessions, 15th in the country, and allowed 90.6 defensively, culminating in a net rating of 29.3. That ranked them 18th in the country.
In terms of our nERD metric, Purdue is the nation's 13th-best team, and Iowa State ranks 17th.
The key for Purdue is securing boards, as they ranked 13th in rebounding rate this season, collecting 55.0% of possible rebounds. Iowa State, conversely, ranked 297th at 47.5%.
And despite the low-turnover (12.6% turnover rate, third-best in the nation) nature of Iowa State's offense thanks to point guard Monte Morris, the Boilermakers have the clear edge on assisted buckets, ranking third in assist rate (64.9%). Iowa State (53.8%) ranked 148th.
Limiting big man Caleb Swanigan, who ranked third in defensive rebounding rate in the nation, will likely dictate the fate for the Cyclones.
Virginia (5) versus Florida (4)
Again, a 5-over-4 doesn't evoke the true spirit of March Madness, but that's what Thursday left us with.
Still, this should be a well-played, tight game. The Florida Gators are a one-point favorite over the Virginia Cavaliers, and according to nERD, the Gators are the nation's 5th-best team, and the Cavaliers sit 10th.
The Gators are 10th in adjusted net rating (31.9), on the strength of the 6th-best defense (84.9) and 30th-best offense (116.8) in the country. The Wahoos grade out similarly: 35th in offensive efficiency (115.9), 1st in defense (80.8), and 4th overall (35.0).
It's unfortunate that this game will take place without John Egbunu, who was lost for the season about a month ago, as these two squads can play with the nation's best at full strength. But the pressure could actually be on the Cavaliers, who had their hands full against UNC Wilmington in the opening round.
In all, the Gators should reach the Sweet 16 roughly 58% of the time, per our algorithms.