NCAA Tournament Predictions: Potential Early Upsets
by Darin Zank - 3/15/2011
When it comes to handicapping the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, whether it's to wager on individual games or fill out a bracket, the logic boils down to this; the top seeds are going to win most of the games, but there will be a handful of upsets. The trick is to pick those upsets in advance. Because what good is an upset if you can't take advantage of it?
So without further ado, here's my NCAA Tournament predictions for first-round tournament games I think are candidates to produce upsets.
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Yeah, we watched Kemba Walker mush the Huskies to the Big East tournament title. But man, UConn got just about every break, ended up with nearly every loose ball, made every play down the stretch and shot lights-out from the free-throw line for five days in a row. And that's just hard to continue. And Connecticut was only 9-9 in the Big East during the regular season. Bucknell, meanwhile, enters this game at least as hot as UConn, having won 23 of its last 25, and taking both titles in the Patriot League. The Bison shoot the ball well, have some nice balance and play good defense. This is just the type of outfit that could give the Huskies a problem.
Prediction: We'll take the points on this one, and won't be surprised if Bucknell pushes UConn to the final minutes.
Richmond vs. Vanderbilt (4:10 p.m. EST) in Denver.
The Line: Vandy -1.5 at most sportsbooks, -1 at BetUS.
The Commodores got the five seed in the Southwest by going 11-8 in a weak Southeastern Conference this season. And Vandy lost four of its last seven games. Richmond went 13-3 in the A-10, won the conference tournament and carries a seven-game winning streak into the NCAA. The Spiders are run by an experienced point guard, they've got an inside presence and if they get hot from beyond the arc they'll be trouble.
Prediction: We'll go with the outright upset on this one, and take Richmond to win straight-up.
Belmont vs. Wisconsin (7:25 p.m. EST) in Tuscon.
The Line: Wisconsin -4.5 almost everywhere, including BetOnline Sportsbook.
Who can't see this one coming? Wisconsin is developing a habit of laying eggs, like last week vs. Penn State, when the Badgers scored 33 points in a Big Ten Tournament game. Or last year in the NCAA Tournament, when Wisconsin got its clock cleaned by Cornell. Or three years ago, in an NCAA loss to Davidson. And Belmont looks just like a team that would give the Bo's Badgers a headache, a deep team that likes to push the tempo and they shoot the three well. The Bruins are 30-4, with three of those losses coming against Tennessee and Vanderbilt, none of them blowouts.
Prediction: This one's a no-brainer; take the points with Belmont, and maybe even play them on the moneyline.
Utah State vs. Kansas State (9:55 p.m. EST) in Tuscon.
The Line: Kansas State -1.5 at most outlets, -2 at Sportsbook.com and JustBet.
K State teetered on the bubble for a while this season, after losing five of its first seven Big 12 games. The Wildcats then rallied to win their last six conference games in a row, but then got knocked out of the Big 12 tournament right away. So K State, even with a great player like Jacob Pullen, is a bit of a mystery entering the NCAA. And they don’t shoot free-throws very well. Utah State won 30 games this season, and claimed both the WAC regular-season and conference tournament titles. The Aggies also start four seniors, as they make their third-straight NCAA appearance.
Prediction: We'll go with the more consistent team here, the team with the seniors with something to prove, and take Utah State.
Memphis vs. Arizona (2:45 p.m. EST) in Tulsa.
The Line: Arizona -5.5 almost everywhere, including JustBet.
The Wildcats have experienced a resurgence this season, winning 27 games and the Pac-10 regular-season title. But they might rely a bit too much on one player, conference Player of the Year Derrick Williams, for offensive production. And the 'Cats didn't beat one ranked team all year. Memphis, meanwhile, won 25 games and the C-USA conference tournament mainly starting four freshmen, which might not bode well for its NCAA tournament prospects. But sometimes underclassmen are able to avoid NCAA Tournament jitters, because they don't know any better, and produce. And while the Tigers' biggest deficiency is probably their lack of size, Arizona doesn't exactly beat people up on the inside.
Prediction: We'll take Memphis, plus the points.
Marquette vs. Xavier, (7:25 p.m. EST), in Cleveland.
The line: Xavier -1.5 almost everywhere, -1 at BetOnline Sportsbook.
Marquette went 11-10 in Big East play, and the Big East sent 11 teams to the tournament. Xavier went 15-1 to win the A-10 regular-season title, but got beat in its conference tournament opener. And while the Musketeers defeated one Big East team this season, Seton Hall, they lost to another, Cincinnati, by 20 points.
Prediction: This game is basically a toss-up, but we'll go with the Big East here and take the Warriors err, I mean, the Golden Eagles.
Other first-round upsets to watch for: Either UAB or Clemson over West Virginia; USC or VCU over Georgetown; Wofford over BYU.
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