It’s the Tuesday before the 2017 NCAA Tournament begins, which means millions of people frantically are filling out brackets today before the First Four games begin in Dayton, Ohio.
Everyone wants to win the office pool, but the second-best satisfaction from March Madness is celebrating when an upset pick wins on Thursday or Friday of the first round. That’s when everyone is paying attention, and chatter around the office about the tournament consumes the workday.
There are plenty of enticing choices this season. While the top eight to 10 teams are strong and look a cut above the rest, there is not a lot of difference between teams in the 11 to 40 range. That could mean a lot of upsets.
Which ones look like the best bets, and which ones should be avoided? We have you covered.
2017 NCAA Tournament: Best Thursday upset picks
No. 12 Princeton vs. No. 5 Notre Dame, West Region
This is the first game of the tournament. The Ivy League champion has won a game two years in a row. This Ivy League champ went 14-0 in the regular season and won the first conference tournament. One concern: Notre Dame’s offense is No. 15 in KenPom’s efficiency rankings. The best Princeton has seen to date is VCU (in a loss), and the Rams are No. 72.
No. 13 Winthrop vs. No. 4 Butler, South Region
This is all about Butler’s volatility. The Bulldogs are No. 15 in the RPI but only No. 26 in KenPom. They lost three times to teams outside the top 100 in the RPI, including to Indiana State. Larry Bird did not play in that game.
No. 12 Middle Tennessee vs. No. 5 Minnesota, South Region
This one seems a little too obvious, and 40 percent of fans at ESPN.com are picking Middle Tennessee (none of the other No. 12 seeds are getting more than 22 percent). The Blue Raiders are good, though, and the Gophers are short a key player with Akeem Springs injured. Without Springs, Richard Pitino essentially played six guys against Michigan, and three starters played 39 or 40 minutes.
2017 NCAA Tournament: Best Friday upset picks
No. 14 New Mexico State vs. No. 3 Baylor, East Region
This is a bit of a flyer, but among the No. 14 seeds, the Aggies are the best team in KenPom’s rankings (No. 88, 20 spots higher than Dunk City). Also, Baylor got to 20-1 this season and then lost six of 11 games after the calendar flipped to February.
No. 9 Seton Hall vs. No. 8 Arkansas, South Region
One of the columns in KenPom’s rankings is just called “luck rating.” Among the top 40 teams, only three are among the 80 luckiest in the nation. Kansas is at No. 24, Arizona is at No. 37 and Arkansas is … No. 7.
No. 11 Rhode Island vs. No. 6 Creighton, Midwest Region
These two teams were No. 22 and No. 23 in the preseason AP poll. Two of Rhode Island’s top five players missed at least five games but are healthy now. Creighton’s point guard, Maurice Watson, was leading the nation in assists at 8.5 per game but is out for the season with an injury. He is suspended after being charged in a sexual-assault case.
No. 10 Wichita State vs. No. 7 Dayton, South Region
This one is so obvious to the point that it almost feels like the Flyers will win because they now have spent a few days being disrespected (after the Shockers were disrespected on Selection Sunday). Dayton is a good team, but Wichita State is No. 8 in KenPom’s rankings and even the RPI says the Shockers (No. 32) are underseeded.
No. 10 Marquette vs. No. 7 South Carolina, East Region
The Gamecocks are probably a seed line or two too high, and they get to play at home, basically, in Greenville, S.C. The Golden Eagles have the No. 7 offense in KenPom’s rankings, and the Gamecocks have the No. 3 defense. If Marquette wins, coach Steve Wojciechowski likely will face alma mater Duke in the second round.
No. 9 Michigan State vs. No. 8 Miami, Midwest Region
This Spartans team has been inconsistent, but give Tom Izzo and his staff a few days to prepare and Michigan State could produce one strong performance, at least. Both of these teams have more talent than typical No. 8/9 seeds.
No. 11 Wake Forest vs. No. 6 Cincinnati, South Region
This is going to look like a slight against Cincinnati, but the Bearcats are actually the second-best No. 6 seed in KenPom’s rankings and had a nice season. Wake Forest and Kansas State, which play in the First Four, are both top-30 KenPom teams, and the Demon Deacons are No. 38 in the RPI. Wake Forest should not be in Dayton. John Collins is a potential lottery pick. The Demon Deacons and Wildcats are capable of defeating the Bearcats.
2017 NCAA Tournament: Avoid these trendy upset picks
No. 11 Xavier vs. No. 6 Maryland, West Region
Xavier defeated St. John’s on Jan. 30 but lost point guard Edmond Sumner to a season-ending ACL injury in his left knee. Since then, the Musketeers are 6-7, but three of those wins were against DePaul, which is No. 236 in the RPI. Xavier is getting picked by 43 percent of the people at ESPN.com.
No. 9 Vanderbilt vs. No. 8 Northwestern, West Region
Vanderbilt is in the field because it played the toughest schedule in the country and because it beat Florida (No. 10 in the RPI) three times. The Commodores lost 15 times in 34 games, including five times to SEC teams that did not make the field. Teams don’t get to advance in the NCAA Tournament based on who played the tougher schedule.
No. 12 UNC Wilmington vs. No. 5 Virginia, East Region
Virginia has lost 10 times and plays at the slowest adjusted pace in the nation, which can allow teams to stay close if they hit shots against the Cavaliers’ fantastic defense. The Seahawks are a great offensive team and have the shooters, but they haven’t seen a team the caliber of Virginia on defense.