Upsets are one of the things that make March Madness the country-wide event that its become. College basketball fans and casual watchers in March alike love seeing the lower-seeded team come up and make a magical run, even if only for one First Round game, and come away with the win in the NCAA Tournament.
Whenever you’re filling out your 2021 March Madness bracket, though, you don’t want to get too crazy with upsets. Yes, we know that No. 12 seeds win over No. 5 seeds roughly 35 percent of the time. But that doesn’t mean you need to get overly confident in the lower seed in those matchups. Plus, we often see top seeds run through the entire tournament to cut down the nets.
So with that in mind, we’re going to go through each region in the 2021 NCAA Tournament and predict the upsets in the First Round. These surely won’t be all of the upsets that happen but they’re the ones I’m confident enough to predict will happen.
We start with the top-right of the bracket and the West Region.
March Madness First Round upset predictions: West Region
9 Missouri over 8 Oklahoma
Missouri and Oklahoma are somewhat cut from the same cloth if you look at their résumes entering the tournament. At their best, they’ve been able to knock off some of the best teams in the country. But they’ve also both struggled down the stretch.
On the whole, though, the Sooners have struggled against teams with great guards and the Tigers have a pair with Dru Smith and Xavier Pinson. Though it might not be sexy with an 8-9 matchup and calling it an upset, the at-large bid out of the SEC will emerge victorious for the right to lose to Gonzaga.
12 UC Santa Barbara over 5 Creighton
Creighton is one of the best shooting teams in the country and the Bluejays have a bonafide star in Marcus Zegarowski surrounded by experienced players. Having said that, they’re coming off a blowout loss to an inferior Georgetown team in the Big East Tournament and we’ve seen sharpshooting teams fall flat in March Madness.
That’s great news for a Gauchos team that is white-hot right now with an 18-1 record in the calendar year. JaQuori McLaughlin has the makings of an NCAA Tournament breakout star and they are also experienced and composed in any situation. That will push UC Santa Barbara into the Round of 32.
March Madness First Round upset predictions: East Region
9 St. Bonaventure over 8 LSU
Another 8-9 matchup, which always feels like a cop-out when talking upsets, but I have the utmost confidence in this one. LSU made it to the SEC Championship Game but the Tigers have struggled defensively throughout the year, even if they can score with almost any team in the country.
The Bonnies, on the other hand, is one of the best defensive teams in the tournament and has a balanced attack on the other end of the floor with five players averaging in double figures. When you come down to it, St. Bonaventure just looks better built for March, even if they are somewhat less talented than the Tigers in this First Round matchup.
11 Michigan State over 6 BYU
BYU is undoubtedly better than their 20-6 record would suggest entering March Madness as the Cougars had three losses to Gonzaga on the year. Losing to the Bulldogs, especially when they pushed them in the WCC title game, is nothing to scoff at. But when they’ve faced power competition, they’ve struggled, including a loss to USC by 26 points.
Michigan State is my pick to get past UCLA as the Spartans made a late push to simply get into the NCAA Tournament. You can never question the quality and talent of a Tom Izzo-led team and Sparty seemed to start putting the pieces together. They’ll be too much for BYU to handle as a Michigan State team without expectations is always dangerous this time of year.
March Madness First Round upset predictions: South Region
12 Winthrop over 5 Villanova
Without Collin Gillespie who went down with a season-ending knee injury, Villanova went 0-2. Yes, the Wildcats were close in both games but that doesn’t bode well for a team in the NCAA Tournament. They’re without their best player and two-way leader. And Winthrop is capable of taking advantage.
The Eagles are a trendy upset pick due to the matchup with ‘Nova being short-handed but also because the 23-1 club has been good this season. They are 11 players deep in their rotation while also having the ability to shoot the 3-pointer well as a team. With size to bang in the frontcourt as well, Winthrop is primed to handily put Jay Wright out.
14 Colgate over 3 Arkansas
Go ahead and mark this one down as the most exciting game of the First Round as Arkansas and Colgate are two of the most fast-paced, high-scoring and frenetic teams in the NCAA Tournament. And while the Razorbacks are extremely talented and have sleeper potential, there is always one team of that ilk that falls victim to an upset. That’s the Hogs this year.
Led by guard Jordan Burns, Colgate can score from all levels of the floor on offense. But their most attractive aspect is their ability to limit opposing 3-point shooting, especially in transition. Subsequently, the Raiders will come through and shock Arkansas in an absolutely thrilling contest.
10 Virginia Tech over 7 Florida
You’re looking at a matchup between two teams that have been inconsistent, though for different reasons. Florida losing Keyontae Johnson early in the year threw them for a loop and, even when they went on runs of success, they never sustained them. Virginia Tech, on the other hand, couldn’t get on the floor due to COVID-19 late in the season, which led to a quick ACC Tournament exit.
At the end of the day, though, the Hokies should get some practice to round into form after their long hiatus. Moreover, their ability to control the pace should factor in very well against the Gators and their inconsistent play without their leader on the floor.
March Madness First Round upset predictions: Midwest Region
10 Rutgers over 7 Clemson
In stark contrast to the Arkansas-Colgate matchup, expect Rutgers and Clemson to put forth a defensive-minded affair in Indianapolis. These two teams both thrive with their defense. Moreover, we’ve seen both teams, unfortunately, go cold on the offensive end of the floor.
While Clemson is the deeper team in the matchup, the Scarlet Knights have a more established identity to me, particularly on offense with Jacob Young looking reliable on that end. In what is sure to be a low-scoring affair, Young will come up with some clutch buckets and the Rutgers defense will make key stops down the stretch to secure the upset.
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