Last year, I picked Davidson all the way until their loss in the Elite Eight. I won $5 from a coworker who couldn’t fathom the mighty Hoyas of Georgetown falling at the hands of Stephen Curry’s Wildcats. The rest of my bracket was nothing special, but I found the big upset and rode it deep into the tourney, which is more than a lot of people can say. That’s why I’m here to reveal this year’s big upset, a couple smaller upsets, and some upsets you need to resist picking.
Advantage higher seed
#8 Ohio State vs. #9 Siena, Midwest Region. A lot of pseudo-experts are picking Siena in this matchup of middle seeds. They’re the smaller school that has Cinderella potential, especially against a so-so Buckeyes squad. But while Ohio State is no threat to go deep into the tournament this year, they should be able to stop the Saints, who have zero wins over Top 25 opponents this season (they’ve lost to all the big-name teams they’ve played, unless you count Northern Iowa as a big-name team). Plus, they’ll have the home crowd to help them out. This game is being played in Dayton, Ohio, so expect a large, loud contingent of Buckeye fans to be in attendance. It’s no contest, Ohio State pulls this one out.
#7 California vs. #10 Maryland, West Region. This game will take place on a truly neutral court, with each team traveling long distance to reach Kansas City for this first-round matchup. However, if any team is to benefit from the audience, it will likely be Cal, since this game will be coming on the heels of what is likely to be a Cal-State Northridge first-round loss to Memphis. That said, California’s combination of big and little guards should be able to outgun Maryland’s big three scorers. The Golden Bears’ size inside, with the powerful Jamal Boykin and towering Jordan Wilkes, should help them shut down the Terps on the defensive end. Cal with the W.
#5 Florida State vs. #12 Wisconsin. Ahh, the 5-12. Everyone’s favorite upset to pick. Just don’t make the mistake of picking this upset. Wisconsin is down this year, and Florida State has all the makings of a strong tournament team. They’ve played strong competition in the ACC, and managed to knock off North Carolina over the weekend. They have a big-time scorer in Toney Douglas (21.3 PPG) and a supporting cast of individuals who know their role on this team. Wisconsin, in turn, was barely worthy of an at-large bid. They’re 19-12 record is nothing special and they’ve lost three out of their last five. Seminoles win.
#5 Utah vs. #12 Arizona, Midwest Region. This game is in Miami, so each team will be traveling roughly the same distance for the matchup. Arizona is as streaky as they come, having run off seven straight wins at one point in the year, though having recently lost five of their last six. They’ll rely on an uptempo game and their Big Three of Jordan Hill, Nic Wise, and Chase Budinger to neutralize the Runnin’ Utes. Utah, for their part, will be overmatched by the bigger conference opponent. Sure, they may have won the Mountain West Tournament, but they’ve beaten no team of substance out of conference and won’t be able to keep up with Arizona’s high-flying offense. Jordan Hill will shut down Utah big man Luke Nevill. Here’s your 12-5, ‘Cats over Utes.
#5 Illinois vs. #12 Western Kentucky, South Region. Another 12-5? You bet. Western Kentucky was a surprise victor in last year’s Big Dance, and this year will be no different. First off, the Big Ten isn’t as good as they’ve been made out to be. Sure, they’re good, but the media hype makes them seem unbeatable. Western Kentucky is a darn good team, and they’ll come prepared to Portland for this first-round game. Plus, on the heels of a Gonzaga-Akron matchup, they should have the crowd behind them as the pro-underdog audience looks for an upset on Day 1 of the tourney. Western Kentucky does it again, down goes another 5 seed.
The Big Upset
#6 Marquette vs. #11 Utah State, West Region. Here it is, the moment you’ve all been waiting for. Utah State is my Cinderella of the year. Not only do I have them taking down Marquette, but I think they can upset Missouri in round 2, as well. Don’t worry, I have reasoning to back me up.
First off, these games will be played in Boise, Idaho, which is a stone’s throw from Logan, Utah, home of the Utah State campus. Aggies fans will be out in droves to support their ballclub, and Marquette and Mizzou will basically be forced to endure road contests against the darling Utah State ballclub.
Second, Utah State is led by a 26-year-old former high school dropout in Gary Wilkinson. He may not pass the look test, but he’s a talented big man who knows how to handle adversity. The big-ticket atmosphere won’t phase him, and he’ll lead a supporting cast that features three double-digit scorers and six solid contributors.
Third, Marquette has dropped five of their last six games since losing point guard Dominic James for the year with a broken foot. With James out, the Golden Eagles will struggle to find floor leadership and be overwhelmed by Utah State’s defensive-minded approach (62.1 PPG against). Similarly, that defense-first attitude will help the Aggies shut down a Missouri Tigers squad that relies on high doses of offense (81.1 PPG) to win ballgames.
Fourth, this Utah State team has a pedigree. They haven’t just come out of nowhere to earn their place in this tournament. This team is 30-4 on the year and was at one point nationally ranked. They’ve only played one other tourney-bound team (Utah), but managed to take them down by two points, 66-64.
Utah State advances to the Sweet 16 before falling to Memphis, but they’ll take down favorites Marquette and Missouri in the process.