March Madness: 5 Potential Round of 64 Upsets

It's bracket-filling season! And you know what that means -- picking upsets!

One of the best parts of March Madness is rooting for our upset specials in the round of 64. For those first couple of days -- one shining moment, if you will -- we can be filled with optimism and hope that this is the year our bracket wins it all. You know, before our bracket is inevitably busted by Sunday night.

But that's all part of the fun, right?

Let's take a look at this year's most likely round of 64 upsets, ranking them from least to most probable, according to numberFire's game projections. For the purposes of this exercise, we'll be looking strictly at teams that are seeded 11th or lower.

5. Indiana (4) vs. Kent State (13)

Of the 13 seeds, the Kent State Golden Flashes have the best shot of pulling off a first-round upset. Our model gives Kent State a 32.6% chance of defeating the Indiana Hoosiers, easily the highest among those seeds. The Furman Paladins are the only other 13 seed with a win probability over even 20%.

According to KenPom, Indiana is the nation's 30th-best squad, and BartTorvik largely agrees, ranking the Hoosiers 33rd. While that might seem like a daunting opponent for the Golden Flashes, Kent State isn't a bunch of scrubs. Both sites rank Kent State comfortably in the top 100, with solid marks of 71st (KenPom) and 79th (BartTorvik). Our nERD rankings are even more bullish, placing Kent State 63rd.

Both teams are strong on defense, cracking the top 50 in adjusted defensive efficiency, per BartTorvik. The question will be whether the Golden Flashes can do enough offensively. While the Hoosiers boast the 34th-best adjusted offense, Kent State sits at 117th.

The good news for Kent State is that they rarely cough up the ball offensively, ranking 54th in turnover rate. Coupled with Indiana being just 293rd in defensive turnover rate -- an area where the Golden Flashes excel (20th) -- and Kent State should have a clear path toward winning the turnover battle.

Additionally, Indiana could have a tough time mounting a comeback if they fall behind, as they're just 355th in three-point attempt rate -- the lowest mark among tournament teams.

The MAC champions enter the Big Dance in good form, as well, winning 11 of their last 12.

4. TCU (6) vs. Arizona State/Nevada (11)

We'll have to wait until Wednesday night to find out who the TCU Horned Frogs will face in the first round, but either one could prove to be a feisty opponent. The Nevada Wolf Pack would have a 39.5% win probability against TCU, per our algorithm, while the Arizona State Sun Devils would get a 32.2% chance.

While both KenPom and BartTorvik have the Horned Frogs just a spot or two outside the top 25, Nevada and Arizona State both crack the top 70. In fact, KenPom is quite high on Nevada, placing them at 43rd. Our rankings are also buying in on the Wolf Pack (41st).

The Horned Frogs are a balanced team, ranking 52nd in adjusted offensive efficiency and 26th in adjusted defensive efficiency. But the same can be said of Nevada. Although they trail in both metrics, the Wolf Pack are also well above average in both adjusted offense (77th) and adjusted defense (48th).

On the other hand, the Sun Devils will need their defense to carry the day if they want to move on. They're 135th in adjusted offense compared to 29th in adjusted defense. Unfortunately, they're simply not a great shooting team, ranking 307th in effective field goal percentage, which is why Nevada has the greater chance of coming through with the upset.

Despite TCU being a formidable team, they do possess some clear weaknesses, too. They don't shoot well or often from beyond the arc, sitting 338th in both three-point shooting percentage and three-point attempt rate, and they're also just 286th in defensive rebounding rate.

3. Duke (5) vs. Oral Roberts (12)

The Duke Blue Devils aren't a program we often see on first-round upset alert, but maybe they should be against the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles. Our model likes Oral Roberts to get the win a little over a third of the time (36.6%).

This is no disrespect to the Blue Devils, who are the country's 21st-best team, according to both KenPom and BartTorvik. It's just that the Golden Eagles aren't half-bad themselves.

KenPom sees Oral Roberts as a borderline top-50 team (56th), and nERD likes them even better (50th). Although BartTorvik is less bullish, the Golden Eagles still check in at a respectable 70th.

Given Duke's lofty ranking, it isn't surprising to see strong marks in both adjusted offense (41st) and adjusted defense (22nd) for the Blue Devils. But for Oral Roberts, it all comes down to whether they can pile on the points. While they're just 112th defensively, they own the 35th-best offense.

That potent offense comes from their elite effective field goal percentage (7th), which includes being 34th in three-point shooting percentage, and they're also the nation's top team in turnover rate. The Golden Eagles put that long-distance shooting to good use, as they live and die by the three -- they've made the country's second-most threes this season.

It also can't hurt that Oral Roberts is on a 17-game winning streak and hasn't lost since early January. This is a clear step up in competition against the ACC tourney champs, but the Golden Eagles will be a tough out if they get hot from three-point range.

Despite their high overall marks, Duke is middle-of-the-pack in effective field goal percentage (153rd) and prefers to play at a methodical adjusted tempo (286th), so they could be in trouble if they get down early to Oral Roberts.

2. Miami (5) vs. Drake (12)

The other 12/5 matchup that stands out is this one between the Drake Bulldogs and Miami (FL) Hurricanes. Drake is getting a 39.6% win probability, according to our numbers, which will certainly get our attention.

In fact, what's even more telling is that the Hurricanes are mere 2.5-point favorites over the Bulldogs on FanDuel Sportsbook. As of this writing, Drake is +118 on the moneyline, which implies 45.9% win odds.

This begs the question -- why is this five seed such a small favorite?

The answer is that not a whole lot actually separates these two squads. Miami ranks 40th on KenPom, while Drake is 66th. BarTorvik has the two even closer, with the Hurricanes at 38th and Bulldogs bumped up to 46th.

Drake is the more well-rounded of the two teams, as well. While Miami possesses a lethal adjusted offense (11th), they're not nearly as good defensively (136th). On the other hand, Drake is 68th in adjusted offense and 42nd in adjusted defense.

Any way you slice it, it looks like Miami will be in a dogfight if they want to advance, and that makes Drake one of the most appealing first-round underdogs to back in your brackets. The status of the Hurricanes' Norchad Omier (ankle) is uncertain, too, and his potential absence would be a big blow. Omier has averaged 13.6 points and 9.7 rebounds per game this season.

1. Kentucky (6) vs. Providence (11)

Of all the teams seeded 11th or lower, it's the Providence Friars that have the best odds to win their opening game. Our model gives the Friars a 41.4% chance against the Kentucky Wildcats.

Picking against Kentucky so early in the tournament would've been insane in past seasons -- even though they lost to a 15 seed last year -- but as their seeding would suggest, this was an up-and-down campaign, and they're just +800 to make the Final Four.

Much like the aforementioned Miami matchup, this one also features a tight spread, as Kentucky is a 3.5-point favorite over Providence. The Friars' moneyline price is +150, which implies a 40.0% win probability, falling in line with our projection.

Kentucky is roughly a top-30 team across the board, ranking 28th (KenPom), 27th (BartTorvik), and 31st (nERD). But Providence also fares well -- 44th (KenPom), 59th (BartTorvik), and 43rd (nERD). There's a good reason for the modest spread.

Both teams are top-20 in adjusted offense, so this will mostly boil down to whether the Friars' less-than-stellar defense (124th) can hold up. Luckily for Providence, Kentucky's defense may be better, but it isn't elite, either (74th).

Admittedly, the Friars stumbled down the stretch, winning just one of their last five games, which is a cause for concern. But the betting line and overall resume suggest that they can hang with the Wildcats, keeping them on the radar as an upset special.