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March Madness Begins! Potential NCAA Tournament First-Round Upsets

The best postseason in all of sports is finally here – let the madness begin! Following an unpredictable college basketball season, we could witness a record-setting NCAA Tournament. Few teams have established consistency while the field features several impressive mid-major squads.

March Madness is beloved for its upsets. Results we cannot fathom occur every year, like Saint Peter’s making a Cinderella run to the Elite 8 in 2022. Which teams can shock the world in the 2023 field? Here are several potential first-round upsets to keep in mind for your March Madness picks.

Matt Bradley #20 of the San Diego State Aztecs brings the ball up court against the Utah State - David becker/getty Images/AFP
Matt Bradley #20 of the San Diego State Aztecs brings the ball up court against the Utah State - David becker/getty Images/AFP

Charleston vs San Diego St.

The No. 5 vs. No. 12 seed is one of the most popular upsets among March Madness predictions. It’s with good reason, as at least one No. 12 seed has won a game in three consecutive tournaments. Plus, two won last season and three in the 2019 NCAA Tournament.

No. 5 San Diego St. against No. 12 Charleston could be the most likely upset in the Round of 64. The Aztecs pulled a higher seed than expected, and the Cougars are a 31-win team. San Diego St. ranks 10th in Kenpom’s defensive efficiency, but Charleston has the tools to score. It ranks 13th at 80.3 points per game and leads the nation in attempted 3-pointers per game, while the Aztecs are in the bottom 40% of surrendered 3-point attempts per game. The sportsbook has San Diego St. as a 4½-point favorite.

VCU vs Saint Mary’s

Sticking with the No. 5 against No. 12 theme, Saint Mary’s and VCU is another game to keep an eye on. These teams play a similar brand of basketball, leaning on elite defenses. The Gaels are ninth in defensive efficiency while the Rams are 17th.

However, these are different styles of defense. Saint Mary’s plays at one of college basketball’s slowest paces, while VCU wants to create havoc by forcing turnovers. The Rams rank eighth at 16.7 forced turnovers per game, and the Gaels are in the 93rd percentile at 10.5 surrendered turnovers per game. If VCU can force turnovers and get out in the fast break, Saint Mary’s could be headed home early. The Gaels are favored by 3½ points.

Furman vs Virginia

This is where things get crazy. Believe it or not, 13 seeds fare pretty well in March. In fact, five No. 13 seeds won a first-round game over the last four tournaments. However, the 2022 NCAA Tournament did not have a 13-seed win a game, which was the first time since 2017. Are we due for a four-seeded squad to go down in the first round?

Furman is already one of the most popular March Madness expert picks. Virginia comes off a putrid offensive showing, shooting only 33% against Duke in the ACC Tournament Championship. Many questions surround the Cavaliers’ offense, as it ranks 74th in efficiency. Plus, their defense is not as good as you would think at 25 in efficiency. Furman features a top-35 offense and averages more than 80 points per game while leading the country in 2-point percentage. The Paladins are a tough first-round matchup as five-point underdogs.

Kent State vs Indiana

Indiana vs. Kent State features the lowest point spread among No. 4 and No. 13 matchups. According to College basketball lines, the Hoosiers are favored by only four points. Their streaky guard play remains a concern while the Golden Flashes feature one of the best mid-major guards in the tournament. Sincere Carry averages 17.6 points and comes off a 26-point outing.

In addition, Kent State is 38th in defensive efficiency while Indiana ranks 43rd. In the last six tournaments, the team with the better defensive efficiency won in more than 70% of first-round matchups.

UC Santa Barbara vs Baylor

A No. 14 seed taking down a No. 3 seed is not as common. Since 2017, we have only seen it once when Abilene Christian pulled off a shocker against Texas in 2021. However, 14 seeds have had some long-sustained success in past tournaments. From 2013-16, at least one No. 14 seed won a game in four consecutive tournaments.

Baylor could be the team in trouble. The Bears have entered a slump with back-to-back losses while going 0-2 against the spread (ATS). Freshman guard Keyonte George (15.8 points) has struggled since returning from an injury, shooting 30% from the floor in the last two.

UC Santa Barbara’s perimeter defense could pose a problem. Baylor ranks in the 94th percentile of attempted 3-pointers per game. The Gauchos are in the 92nd percentile of allowed made 3-pointers per game. If the Bears are limited from deep, they will be in trouble. Per March Madness odds, Baylor is a 10½-point favorite.

We could go on and on about potential first-round upsets. However, the five mentioned matchups stand out among the rest. Maybe we will look like geniuses in a few days … or not. March Madness never seizes to surprise. Good luck in your bracket journey. We can all use it.

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