March Madness: 5 Potential Round of 64 Upsets
Bracket-busting upsets are a common occurrence in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
In 2019, eight teams seeded 10 or lower won their round of 64 matchups. That number was six in 2018 and five in 2017. And in 2016, it was a whopping 10(!!). I could keep going, but you get the drift.
Considering that 17 of the last 18 Champions have been a 3 seed or better, picking the correct upsets in the opening round can give your brackets a sizable advantage.
Using our metrics, let's take a look at this year's most likely opening-round upsets, ranking them from least to most probable, according to our game projections -- we'll focus on teams seeded 11-16. For those of you who may be new to numberFire, nERD measures the number of points we'd expect a team to win by against an average opponent on a neutral court.
5. Texas (3) vs. Abilene Christian (14)
This matchup features an adequate 14 seed taking on a 3 seed that seems a bit overrated. Texas comes in with a nERD score of 12.06, which is dead last among the 12 top-three seeds. KenPom has the Longhorns ranked 26th in overall adjusted efficiency, which is third-worst among the 24 teams seeded 1-6. Our very own Brandon Gdula ranked Texas as the fourth-most-overrated team in the tournament.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats come in 86th in KenPom's rankings, which is second-best among the 12 teams seeded 14 or lower. They're also the only team seeded at 12 or below to have a defense inside the top 40, per KenPom. In fact, Abilene Christian (30) ranks ahead of Texas (36) on that side of the ball.
The Wildcats' ability to limit the opposition from behind the arc could go a long way toward pulling off this upset. The Longhorns relied on 8.7 made threes per game while hitting at a 35.6% clip this season -- the Wildcats held their opponents to just 30.6% from downtown, which was good for 34th in the country.
4. Colorado (5) vs. Georgetown (12)
Among all the teams that earned a 12 seed or lower, Georgetown has the second-best win probability at 23.9%. The Hoyas have the third-best nERD score among the teams in that group, and they rank highest in efficiency, per KenPom.
Now, Colorado isn't a bad team by any stretch of the imagination, but they're also not as good as your average 5 seed. Historically, the 5 seed has had, on average, a nERD score of 13.22 -- the Buffaloes come in at 13.02. Again, not bad, but also not great.
Georgetown enters the tournaments with a record of 13-12, though they did play the 15th-toughest schedule of any team that made it to the dance, per KenPom -- Colorado, meanwhile, came 35th in strength of schedule.
3. San Diego State (6) vs. Syracuse (11)
Syracuse comes in with a nERD score of 9.41, which is second-best among the 28 teams seeded 11-16 (four of whom will be knocked out in Thursday's play-in games). Per numberFire's algorithm, the Orange possess the third-best win probability -- 35.27% -- of any of these lower seeds.
Jim Boeheim's team will draw San Diego State in the first round. The Aztecs come in as KenPom's 20th-ranked team in the country, though they find themselves just 44th on the offensive end of the court. Meanwhile, the Orange rank 22nd offensively.
Like Texas, San Diego St. relies on hitting a high percentage of their attempts from downtown -- their 37.5% clip from three was one of the best rates in D1 basketball. Defending the three-point line just so happens to be one of the strengths of Syracuse's zone scheme. The Orange allowed their opponents to hit just 31.8% of their attempts from outside, and that's despite facing a whopping 26.8 attempts per game.
2. Texas Tech (6) vs. Utah State (11)
The Aggies sport the nation's eighth-best adjusted defense, per KenPom, and they have the 15th-best scoring defense. Meanwhile, the Red Raiders aren't inside the top-24 in adjusted offensive or defensive efficiency, which is not ideal.
numberFire's metrics don't have these two teams all that far apart. Texas Tech comes in with a nERD score of 11.54, below the historical average for a 6 seed (12.20). As for Utah State, their nERD score is 9.21. As a result, our algorithm gives the Aggies a 36.64% chance of taking this matchup, which is second-best among the teams seeded 11-16.
1. Arkansas (3) vs. Colgate (14)
numberFire's algorithm gives the Raiders a nERD score of 11.84, which is higher than all but one team that is not a top 6 seed. In fact, per our metrics, only 23 teams are better than them in this year's tournament -- and they're a 14 seed.
Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, our model doesn't think very highly of them, especially for a 3 seed. Gdula notes that the Razorbacks are the eight-most overrated team in the tournament. Their nERD score of 12.43 is far below the historical average for a 3 seed (14.68).
Arkansas will have to contend against a Colgate team that allowed their opponents to hit on just 26.1% of their three-point attempts, a full percentage point lower than any other team in the nation.
And it's not just the defense that makes the Raiders a scary 14 seed. Only Gonzaga sported a higher-scoring offense than Colgate (86.3), who also ranked seventh in the nation in field goal percentage (49.8%). All of that factors into the Raiders being the most underrated team in the tournament.
Colgate is a bit of a tough read since they only faced five opponents (14-1 record), but our algorithm gives them a whopping 45.9% chance of pulling off the upset. That'll play.