It is one of the most glorious occasions of the year for the true sports fan. The annual NCAA men’s college basketball tournament, known also as March Madness, is upon us and fans are busy filling out their customary bracket attempting to correctly pick this year’s national champion.
With March just a few weeks away, the NCAA tournament is right around the corner. One thing that is almost synonymous with what has become known as March Madness is the upset. It seems almost every year there is at least one big upset in the NCAA tournament. In nine of the last 10 tournaments, at least one No. 12 seed has won at least one game. Last year, it was Middle Tennessee State recording an 81-72 win over No. 5 Minnesota. Three of the four No. 11 seeds – Rhode Island, USC, and Xavier – won their opening round games last season. Xavier, in fact, advanced to last year’s Sweet Sixteen.
It is going to happen in 2017; it’s just a matter of who and when. There will be upsets. Which teams are more likely to pull those upsets? Let’s take a look at who might be the 2018 NCAA tournament Cinderellas.
Unlike last year, the Rams (21-3, 13-0) aren’t going to sneak up on anyone. Rhode Island is projected to be a No. 6 seed, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be a Cinderella. Playing a very unique style of small ball, the Rams have a 27 percent chance of reaching the Sweet Sixteen. Rhode Island starts one player over 6-foot-5 and they are very experienced. Jared Terrell (17.5 ppg) and E.C. Matthews (12.9 ppg) are experienced, underrated, and make for a very formidable backcourt.
The Wolfpack are 22-5 and 13-2 in the Mountain West Conference thus far this season. They feature the Martin twins, Caleb and Cody, who transferred from N.C. State. Nevada plays an almost interchangeable lineup as all can handle ball, rebound, play defense, etc. Former NBA coach Eric Musselman is the Wolfpack head coach. Nevada has a pair of losses to No. 7 Texas Tech and then No. 20 TCU. Musselman and company have a 27 percent chance of advancing to the Sweet Sixteen.
Currently ranked No. 15, the Gaels have the country’s best big man in Jock Landale and own a victory over their West Coast Conference nemesis Gonzaga. Landale averages 22.0 points and 10.7 rebounds per game for the 24-3 Gaels. Saint Mary’s will likely get one more shot at the Bulldogs in the WCC tournament. The Gaels are a likely No. 5 or 6 seed and has a 30 percent chance of reaching the Sweet Sixteen. With a favorable bracket, there is a possibility that the Gaels could make their way even farther.
Nevada, Rhode Island, and Saint Mary’s are the big names to watch but true first-round upsets are likely to come from Middle Tennessee (again), New Mexico State, and Buffalo. The Blue Raiders (20-5, 12-1) are the best team in Conference USA and should be a No. 9 or 10 seed. While it may not be as big a surprise this year, Middle Tennessee is certainly capable of winning first-round game this season.
New Mexico State (22-3, 9-0) is the best team in the WAC by far. The Aggies are fourth in the nation in defense allowing opponents just 61.4 points per game. Jemerrio Jones is just 6-5 but he 10.6 points, 12.7 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game. Head coach Chris Jans’ team is a likely No. 11 or 12 seed and plays the kind of defense that is capable of pulling an upset.
Buffalo (19-7, 11-2) is the likely representative from the MAC. The Bulls have a trio of juniors who each average at least 15 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. Nick Perkins, Jeremy Harris, and C.J. Massinburg cut their teeth this season by facing the likes of Cincinnati, Texas A&M, St. Bonaventure, and Syracuse. They lost all four games, but not one was a blowout and they didn’t have transfer Wes Clark at the time either.