Five NCAA Tournament upset specials that begin with Tubby Smith and Minnesota toppling UCLA.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – I know the danger in doing this. Raja the Labrador retriever could wipe his paws across a bracket and nail as many upsets as I'm about to deliver. If you've ever participated in an NCAA Tournament office bracket pool, you know the surest bet in the tournament is that Aunt Toots will beat you for the jackpot.
But I persist.
I suspect you do, too. I made my picks on Sunday night along with the rest of the WDRB Sports team. (You can find them below.) There's no turning back, although there are two or three or 10 games I'll be debating all the way until tipoff.
What I can advise you is this: Don't go crazy with your upset calls. Lean on chalk, especially deep in the bracket.
It might not be fun. But it's smart. History shows us that the Final Four is usually filled with one and two seeds, with the occasional three or four. Not since 1997 (Arizona) has a team seeded lower than third in its regional won the championship.
Pick your upsets. But limit them to the first weekend.
Now, on to the upsets. I'll suggest five – and consider the projection a rousing success if I get three of them.
This is how I picked them. Nothing fancy. I looked for value. I checked the Las Vegas lines, Ken Pomeroy's computer projections and Jeff Sagarin's ratings. I also weighed seeding. When the numbers looked strange for a higher seed, I pounced.
These are the five games that stood out.
1. Minnesota over UCLA – Any time you find an 11-seed that is the pick in Vegas, Pomeroy and Sagarin, jump on it.
I know Tubby Smith's team lost its final three games. I know there is talk Smith is a goner at the end of the season. I've heard the talk about a disconnect between Tubby and his players. UCLA is a bad rebounding team going against Trevor Mbakwe. And the Bruins are one man down since Jordan Adams, their second-leading scorer, broke his foot.
No. 11 beats six. There's value here.
2. Davidson over Marquette -- This isn't much of a vote of confidence for the Big East. The Golden Eagles won a share of the league regular season title and earned a three seed. But you only have to give 3-1/2 points if you take them, easily the smallest number in any 3 vs. 14 game. Every other three-seed is at least a double-digit favorite.
A closer look shows that Buzz Williams' team turns the ball over a ton – and ranks 318th in three-point shooting. A three-seed out in the first round is a difference maker.
Oh, yeah. Davidson has won 17 straight and is coached by Bob McKillop, a guy who knows how to shuffle the pieces.
3. Oregon over Oklahoma State – The Cowboys are the pick by Sagarin, Pomeroy and Vegas, but nobody likes Travis Ford's team by more than four points. Another value play, considering you're getting Oklahoma State out of your bracket as a five-seed. The Ducks are a Top 20 defensive team that just won the Pac-12 Tournament.
4. Bucknell over Butler – Everything about the numbers suggests one thing: Butler is one of the most over-seeded teams in the tournament. If you went by Pomeroy, they'd be a 12-seed, not a six. Sagarin says an 11. Evidently, the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee loves Brad Stevens as much as the national media. The numbers do not. Nobody likes the Bulldogs by more than 3-1/2 -- and Bucknell ranks in the top five in steals and blocks.
5. Belmont over Arizona -- Rick Pitino always insists that match-ups are what matter. This reads like a bad match-up for the Wildcats, a six seed who are only favored by 4-1/2 Belmont ranks 33rd in the nation in three-point shooting percentage, making better than 37 percent. Arizona ranks 274th in defending the three, with opponents making 36 percent. You have been warned.