NCAAB
March 16, 2021

Ranking the 7 First Round March Madness Upsets That Could Totally Happen

Let’s be honest, the biggest reason we all watch the NCAA Tournament is for the upsets.

Unless our favorite team is playing or a team we picked to reach the Final Four in our office pool, we always root for the lower seed to win. Of course, the reality is that there are only about six to eight upsets according to seed out of 32 games in the First Round of the tournament.

At best, one out of every four games is an upset. That doesn’t make it easy to pick the upsets, especially now that Nos. 15 and 16 seeds are more dangerous than ever.

But before you finalize your March Madness bracket, let's breakdown the seven most-likely upsets in the first round. 

7. no. 14 Colgate Over no. 3 Arkansas

The Razorbacks are a trendy pick to make a deep run, as they should be with the way they’ve played down the stretch and the way Moses Moody can score in bunches. But Colgate is a serious threat after dominating the Patriot League all season.

The Raiders scored over 86 points per game and were top-10 nationally in assists. As a team, Colgate shoots 40% from the perimeter, including Jordan Burns and Jack Ferguson, who shoot 41.5% and 50.7% from three-point range, respectively.

The Razorbacks won’t be able to just outscore Colgate; they’ll have to win in other areas if they hope to create separation. Remember that Colgate nearly beat Tennessee two years ago as a No. 15 seed. Burns, Ferguson, and others were a part of that team, and two years later as a No. 14 seed, the Raiders will look to finish the job against another unsuspecting SEC team.

6. no. 13 Ohio Over no. 4 Virginia

For what it’s worth, if the Cavs can survive this game, they could pose a legitimate threat to Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 and have a chance to defend their title. But we all know that Tony Bennett is familiar with disappointing losses in the First Round.

More importantly, the Bobcats look dangerous after the way they took down the top two seeds in the MAC Tournament. Jason Preston is scary good for a player at a mid-major school. He can score just as well as he creates for others with 7.2 assists per game.

With Ohio averaging over 80 points per game, this is the ultimate clash of styles, so if the Bobcats can up the tempo and force a high-scoring game, Virginia could struggle to score enough points.

Keep in mind that Ohio has five players who average double digits while Virginia has just four players who average more than five points per game.

Unless the Cavs can impose their will defensively, they’ll be on upset alert all game.

5. no. 11 Utah State Over no. 6 Texas Tech

The Red Raiders have had plenty of quality wins in the Big 12 this season and should be considered a threat to make a run. However, their reliance on Mac McClung and the lack of consistency in their supporting cast makes them vulnerable.

If McClung has a mediocre game, Texas Tech probably won’t survive. The Red Raiders also have a weakness when it comes to size and being able to defend the post. This is where Utah State can give them trouble because seven-foot center Neemias Queta averages 15.1 points and 10 rebounds per game.

Queta is poised for a big game against Texas Tech. But he’s also a good passer and will kick it out when double-teamed, and since the Aggies have a couple of capable shooters, they have multiple ways of attacking Texas Tech and upsetting the Red Raiders.

4. no. 12 Oregon State Over no. 5 Tennessee

Even before they won the Pac-12 Tournament, the Beavers were showing signs of peaking at the right time.

Also, keep in mind that Oregon State beat three teams that made the field of 68 to win the Pac-12 Tournament, so it’s not as if they had a fortunate path. The Beavers earned their spot and have a ton of momentum against a Tennessee team that was 8-7 during the second half of the season.

The Vols remain strong defensively, but they are far too unreliable on the offensive end of the floor. Unless the Tennessee defense can hold Oregon State under 60 points, the Vols are going to have a tough time. The Beavers are surprisingly deep and have good size inside, not to mention a dynamic backcourt of Ethan Thompson and Jarod Lucas.

In the end, they’ll do enough damage against the Vols to pull off an old-fashioned 12 over 5 upset.

3. no. 11 Syracuse Over no. 6 San Diego State

Fun fact about Syracuse, they are 7-2 in the NCAA Tournament during their last two trips as a double-digit seed. Jim Boeheim’s teams always seem to get better late in the season, which is why the Orange went to the Final Four as a No. 10 seed in 2016 and reached the Sweet 16 after playing in the First Four two years later.

Syracuse looked sharp offensively at the ACC Tournament, especially Buddy Boeheim, who scored 58 points in two games, including a career-high 31 points against the vaunted Virginia defense.

The Orange can score at all five positions and will keep the Aztecs off-balance with Boeheim’s patented 2-3 zone, leading to another win for Syracuse as a double-digit seed.

2. no. 10 Virginia Tech Over no. 7 Florida

For the record, Florida has done an amazing job since losing Keyontae Johnson to a serious health ailment. The Gators should be commended for how they were able to reinvent themselves and become a tournament team after so many were quick to count them out. But they just don’t have enough talent without Johnson to win a game in the Big Dance.

They were barely able to take care of lowly Vanderbilt last week in the SEC Tournament. Virginia Tech, on the other hand, is deep, talented, and versatile. This game figures to be close, but the Hokies will ultimately wear down the Gators and pull away late in the second half to win.

1. no. 12 Winthrop Over no. 5 Villanova

This is the upset that everyone sees coming, right? With all due respect to Jay Wright and Villanova, how are the Wildcats supposed to survive without Big East co-Player of the Year and senior point guard Collin Gillespie?

Sophomore Chris Arcidiacono had played 17 minutes all season and then 25 minutes in a loss to Providence and 34 minutes in a loss to Georgetown. That’s how much Villanova’s rotation has changed in such a short period of time. If the Cats had an easier game, they might be able to survive the First Round. But Winthrop is a serious upset candidate after going 23-1.

The Eagles are deep, balanced, and play with a lot of intensity on the defensive end. It’ll be an uphill battle for Villanova to play a team like that without Gillespie.

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