March Madness 2016: Five most likely first-round upsets

After a year that featured three favorites (and an upstart Michigan State team) reaching the Final Four, this year’s NCAA Tournament Pool is decidedly weaker. Kansas, the number one overall seed has as many losses (4) as the lowest ranked one-seed last year (Duke). With some exciting mid-majors in the field, this year is likely as any to produce some major upsets. Here are five first-rounders to look out for come Thursday and Friday (No, 10’s over 7’s and 9’s over 8’s don’t count).

5. No. 11 Northern Iowa over No. 6 Texas

Since a four-game midseason losing streak in the MVC that put UNI at 2-6 in the conference, they’ve won 12 of 13 including 6 games against the top three in the conference standings (Wichita State, Evansville, Illinois State). To say they aren’t the best team in the MVC right now would be misguided. Texas was embarrassed in two of its last three by the dregs of the Big 12, and comes in averaging below 60 PPG in those games. These two defensively-minded teams will matchup well. Watch for the Wes Washpun-Isaiah Taylor battle, as it’ll likely be what decides the game.

4. No. 12 Yale over No. 5 Baylor

I realize that ESPN Staff Writer C.L. Brown pointed out the 70-lb. advantage Baylor F Rico Gathers has on his likely matchup in Yale F Justin Sears. Still, Yale is riding absolute fire into this tournament, going 13-1 in Conference, while Baylor has lost four of its last six. Yale’s defense has held opponents to about 63 PPG this season, one of the best marks in the NCAA, including holding 8-seed USC to 68 and would-be 4-or-5 seed SMU to 71. Will Yale get Harvard’s magic?

3. No. 12 Chattanooga over No. 5 Indiana

Sure, many might want to see Indiana and Kentucky square off in round 2, but get to know the Mocs. They’re the mid-major that casually went 29-5 this season, including 15-3 in conference and beat Dayton…at Dayton. They’re the team that put up 125 in regulation against Citadel this season. The biggest problem for the Mocs will be Indiana’s ridiculous scoring talent in the well-regarded Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell, but Chattanooga has limited opponents to under 70 in 11 of its last 12.

2. No. 13 Hawaii over No. 4 California

You might know the Rainbow Warriors for the couple of times they’ve played your school in football, but this team is good. Their only out-of-conference losses were by eight at Texas Tech and by a slim three point margin at home against Oklahoma. They play well on both sides of the ball, scoring nearly 78 a game and limiting opponents to just 66. Meanwhile, Cal’s offense has been known for going stagnant in losses. Team leaders Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb are both freshmen, and while Cal does have experience, the team hasn’t been in the tournament since 2013 and hasn’t made it to the Sweet 16 since 1997. Look for Hawaii G Roderick Bobbitt to put Cal’s perimeter defense on lockdown, and don’t sleep on Hawaii in this game.

1. No. 11 Wichita State/No. 11 Vanderbilt over No. 6 Arizona

Gregg Marshall and Wichita State have been here before, but they will have to get by Vanderbilt first. With a balanced team that has struggled toward the end of the season, the Commodores are still no easy challenge. Either way, the winner of that play-in game (both ranked in KenPom’s top 30) will give Arizona a helluva game. Vanderbilt has balanced scoring inside and out, and Wichita State only boasts the number one defense in the nation, allowing just 59.3 PPG. Sean Miller’s team is not Final Four caliber like the last two seasons, and will be on upset alert. Forward Ryan Anderson and guard Gabe York are a lot to handle, but Wichita State will very likely limit a top-20 offense – they’ve held opponents under 70 in all but four games this season, the last coming in an overtime loss to Seton Hall on December 19th.


Image: Honolulu Star Advertiser

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