With the 2018-19 college basketball season winding down, the annual NCAA men’s basketball tournament, known to many as March Madness, is almost upon us. Once the 68-team field is announced on Selection Sunday, March 17, fans across the country will be filling out their customary bracket trying to correctly pick this year’s national champion.
One of the most difficult things about filling out a bracket is picking upsets. They are bound to happen as evidenced by everybody’s Cinderella last year, Loyola-Chicago. It seems almost every year, a No. 12 or 13 seed wins at least one game. With that in mind, here is a look at which teams might pull the biggest upsets of this year’s tournament.
The Bulls could get used to this. Buffalo is 23-3 and 11-2 in the MAC. A year ago, they entered the tournament as a No. 13 seed and blew out No. 4 Arizona. This season, the Bulls’ Big Three – C.J. Massinburg (18.2 ppg), Jeremy Harris (14.7 ppg), and Nick Perkins (14.4 ppg) – power the nation’s 12th-ranked offense. They have also helped Buffalo beat West Virginia and Syracuse … on the road!
The Bulls did get blown out by Marquette. Bowling Green (19-7) has beaten the Bulls once and the two teams will meet once more to close the regular season. It is possible they meet a third time in the MAC tourney. Still, the Bulls should be primed to pull at least a first-round upset come March Madness.
SOUTH DAKOTA STATE
The nation’s best mid-major player is the Jackrabbits Mike Daum. The 6-9 senior is fourth in the country in scoring and can put SDSU on his back and carry them. Daum is not the only weapon for SDSU. Sklyar Flatten, a 6-6 senior, averages 15.3 points and David Jenkins averages 18.9. As a team, the Jackrabbits shoot 42.3 percent from behind the 3-point line. That’s third-best in the country and a big reason why SDSU could pull a first-round upset.
The Racers’ Ja Morant is an NBA lottery pick this June. He’s that good. Morant leads the nation in assists (10.5 apg) and scores over 24 points per game. With a 44-inch vertical jump, Morant has as many rim-rattling dunks as Duke’s Zion Williamson. Morant just happens to play in relative obscurity at Murray State. The talent around Morant is suspect, but he is good enough to win on his own. The Racers are going to have to win the Ohio Valley Conference tournament, which won’t be easy with Belmont(22-4) standing in the way.
The Terriers might be the best team no one has heard of this year. Wofford is 15-0 in the Southern Conference and is 23-4 overall. The four losses are to North Carolina, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Mississippi State. Fletcher Magee, a 6-4 guard, averages over 20 points a game and is the team’s best player. He, and his teammates, can knock down 3-pointers with the best of them. Wofford is a team no one wants to play in Round 1 of the NCAA tournament.
Another mid-major power is Lipscomb, which recently won 11 in a row before suffering two close losses in three games. The Bisons are 12-2 in Atlantic Sun play and 21-6 overall. They score over 84 points a game led by guard Garrison Matthews (19.4 ppg). Lipscomb is no stranger to upsets. The Bisons beat TCU and SMU on the road earlier this season.
In the past 11 years, when the Sun Belt Conference regular season champion also wins the conference tournament, start looking for an upset. Five times over those 11 years, the Sun Belt entrant in the NCAA tournament has won at least one game. It could be Texas State this year.
The Bobcats are 21-6 overall and 10-4 in conference play. They are not very big – no player is over 6-8 – but Texas State plays solid defense (64.0 ppg, 23rd in the nation) and rebounds well. Nijal Pearson is a 6-5 junior who averages 18.1 points and 5.1 rebounds per game to lead the Bobcats.