Okay, well the brackets have been announced and the “don’t call it a play-in game” game is being held Tuesday, March 13th to start of 2007’s version of March Madness. Fans are scouring over the brackets hoping to gain bragging rights in among their friends and in their places of business by being able to say “yep, I predicted that upset”. So, what games are most likely to give you that opportunity to brag? Well, I do have one tip, if you pick every game as an upset in the tournament you are guaranteed to be able to say “I predicted every single upset in the tournament”. Oh, by the way you are also guaranteed to be at the bottom of any March Madness pools you enter. The key is to make reasonable upset picks on your bracket sheets.
My first suggestion when you look at “reasonable upsets” is to automatically forget about 16 seeds. They have never won a single game (except the “don’t call it a play-in game” to earn the #16 seed itself) since the tournament expanded to 64 teams. The number fifteen seeds very rarely win a game in the tournament as well, maybe every five years you might see one. That means that happens at the most 5% of the time and the odds are actually slightly lower in reality. Also keep in mind, if you choose a one or two seed to lose early in the tournament many other people in your pool will be gaining points on you as those favored seeds win in rounds after you chose for them to be defeated. Keep in mind, it’s not worth picking a first or second round upset if you are going to have the team you picked lose in the next round. Your potential gain is one or two points, but if you are wrong your potential loss could be over 20 points in the pool!
That being said it’s time to look at the next level, 3 and 4 seeds. Who is susceptible to a loss this year in the first round? The two most likely victims are Washington State and Maryland. They are playing Oral Roberts and Davidson respectively. Both of the underdogs in the tournament are entering on a roll and play well disciplined styles. Odds still do not favor either of these upsets. Now, the question here is do you think either Oral Roberts or Davidson could win two games? If you think that will happen then you might want to try making the pick, but in reality it is unlikely. If you are to pick either of these two upsets, my choice would be the Oral Roberts over Washington State game, but I’d only give that about a 25% chance of happening.
Now you get into the “meat of the upset potential”. 12 seeds are notorious for upsetting 5 seeds and 11 seeds have potential to upset a 6 seed. Keep in mind usually a 12 seed is a smaller conference team or a “mid-major” that is one a roll. Usually a 5 seed is a team from a major conference that has struggled down the stretch to finish the season. My most likely 12 vs 5 upset though doesn’t fit this mold. It’s two smaller conference teams with Old Dominion having the opportunity to upset Butler. Butler was red hot early in the season, but has struggled and cooled off as the tournament approaches. Look for Old Dominion to pull off this upset. Virginia Tech struggled at the end of the season and fits the classic 5 seed description, but Illinois is not a thriving small school team and won’t fit the upset stereotype. This will result in the Hokies surviving to play another game. Tennessee will have no problem with Long Beach State. USC is another classic 5 seed , but their opponent Arkansas again isn’t a classic 12 seed. The game will be close but USC will survive, therefore making Old Dominion the only 12 seed pulling off the upset.
The final chances for upsets are 11’s vs 6’s. I don’t consider first round games between 7’s and 10’s or 8’s and 9’s to be upsets, I consider those toss-up games. Louisville as a six seed will have their hands full with Stanford. Considering I will have whoever wins this game losing to Texas A&M in the next round it’s only a one point swing game and I’ll go with the upset on it. Duke and VCU is another very interesting 6 vs 11 game. The thing here is that whichever team advances will be playing a vulnerable Pittsburgh team in my mind. Because of this I just can’t bring myself to pick the upset, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens. Winthrop vs. Notre Dame is another very interesting 6 vs 11 game. Notre Dame gave Georgetown it’s biggest challenge in the Big East tournament, and in the end I think will have enough to hold off Winthrop who is on an eleven game winning streak. Vanderbilt vs George Washington is another of those very tempting games to call an upset on. As with the Duke/VCU game though I think whoever wins this game has a chance to knock off Washington State in the next round, so I can’t quite bring myself to call the upset on this one.
In the end all I can give you for upsets that I’m confident in are the Old Dominion over Butler pick and the Stanford over Louisville pick. Of course this is March Madness, so it’s likely I will be wrong and there will be some other significant upsets. Keep in mind I’m very close on going for a couple others of the 11 seeds over 6 seeds but just can’t pull the trigger on them. Good luck with your picks, and after the first round I’ll try to give you a few other suggestions for upsets in round 2. As you can see I’ve already indicated both Pitt and Washington State are vulnerable in round two.