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    Giant Killers: Upset picks in 2019 NCAA tournament bracket

    Giant Killers: Upset picks in 2019 NCAA tournament bracket


    Giant Killers is back for our 14th annual metrics-based forecast of big upsets in the NCAA tournament bracket. As usual, we're analyzing each Giant vs. Killer game in the first round. (Quick reminder: A Giant Killer is any team that defeats an opponent seeded at least five lines higher in any round.)

    Our statistical model yields an upset probability for each game, based on both the Basketball Power Index of each team and on the stylistic factors that have most often led to tournament upsets in the past. As always, we've sorted our picks into four categories based on the likelihood of an upset: Best Bets, Worth a Long Look, Not Completely Crazy and, last and very likely least, Stay Away. (Hopefully, the titles are self-explanatory.)

    Now, let's get to the good stuff. Here are the upsets in the making:


    Best Bets
    No. 11 Belmont Bruins vs. No. 6 Maryland Terrapins
    Upset chance: 32 percent

    One of the last and possibly most surprising teams in the field could stay for a while. No, 32 percent isn't the near-coin-flip chance that Giant Killers gave Loyola-Chicago in the Ramblers' round-of-64 game against Miami a year ago, but "best bet" is an apt description for this upset in the making. No other GK game in the East offers as much potential for a "shocking" outcome.

    It won't be easy. For starters, Maryland is a win away for Rick Byrd's team. The Bruins will first have to navigate the First Four in Dayton, where they'll find the high-volume scoring ways of Temple's Shizz Alston and Qunton Rose in their path. If BU can make it out of the Gem City, however, it's got a fighting chance against the Terrapins.

    Dylan Windler has been torching opponents all season long with his versatility as a 6-foot-8 stretch 4. (In any "normal" season he would have been a shoo-in for Ohio Valley Conference player of the year, but in 2018-19 that nod understandably went to Murray State's Ja Morant.) Make no mistake, Maryland can and will force missed shots, but the Terps' habit of committing more turnovers than the opponent could certainly be a problem against high-scoring Belmont.

    Worth a Long Look

    No. 11 Temple Owls vs. No. 6 Maryland Terrapins
    Upset chance
    : 24 percent

    If you're reading your East Region preview of upsets top to bottom (and you really should), you know all about Maryland and its ability to force missed shots but also its propensity to operate at a turnover deficit relative to opponents. That brings us to Temple: Fran Dunphy's team can throw Alston and Rose at the Terrapin defense and fare quite well, thank you.

    The Owls' offense doesn't look like anything exceptional on paper, but keep in mind these guys picked up their efficiency on the back half of the American conference season. Alston is one of the best free throw shooters in the nation, and Rose is a disruptive presence on defense who can force turnovers. Yes, rebounds will be a (big) concern for Temple at both ends of the floor, but if Dunphy's men rise to the occasion on the glass this can be a close game.

    No. 12 Liberty Flames vs. No. 5 Mississippi State Bulldogs
    Upset chance: 23 percent

    Throughout much of 2018-19, Giant Killers has been waxing enthusiastic about the March upset potential of the Atlantic Sun. With two teams the quality of Liberty and Lipscomb, we here at Giant Killers HQ figured this was one league that would make some noise come March.

    Mission accomplished. The No. 12 seed earned by the Flames represents the best bracket position the league has ever earned under its current name. Liberty works the clock and gets good and even excellent shots for Scottie James, Caleb Homesleyand their teammates. The matchup between the Flame defense and the MSU offense doesn't project to be nearly as favorable to the underdog, but if Ritchie McKay's men can just hold their own on that side of the ball this could become one of those 12-5 surprises.

    Not Completely Crazy

    No. 14 Yale Bulldogs vs. No. 3 LSU Tigers
    Upset chance: 15 percent

    An Ivy team beating the SEC regular-season champion? Well, it's not completely crazy. For starters, the Bulldogs have Miye Oni, a skilled 6-foot-6 junior who lit up the Miami Hurricanes earlier this season for 29 points on just 15 shots. Plus, that "SEC regular-season champion" thing, while earned on the floor, can be slightly deceiving as a description.

    LSU went to overtime a whopping six times in league play, and emerged victorious on no fewer than five occasions. The Tigers weren't necessarily blowing away opponents every night. Yes, this one's a bit of a stretch, but if you're feeling the hoops gods talking to you on an upset with better than a 1-in-10 chance, by all means, give it a look.

    Stay Away

    No. 13 Saint Louis Billikens vs. No. 4 Virginia Tech Hokies
    Upset chance: 7 percent

    A crazy Atlantic 10 tournament ended with SLU pulling out a wild last-minute win against St. Bonaventure and earning the league's automatic bid. Give the Billikens credit, after winning a (relative) shootout against Richmond, Travis Ford's team shut down the offenses of Dayton, Davidson and the Bonnies in succession.

    Alas, the GK model is not optimistic that Saint Louis will be able to do the same against the highly accurate Virginia Tech offense, particularly now that Justin Robinson is reportedly set to return to action after recovering from his foot injury.

    No. 15 Bradley Braves vs. No. 2 Michigan State Spartans
    Upset chance: 2 percent

    The GK model might see a glimmer of a hope of an upset if Michigan State were playing a Missouri Valley opponent like Drake or, yes, Loyola Chicago. True, Brian Wardle's team can play some defense, but the Braves had a tough time making shots against MVC opponents. Doing so against the Spartans may also prove difficult.

    No. 16 North Dakota State Bison or No. 16 North Carolina Central Eagles vs. No. 1 Duke Blue Devils
    Upset chances: 2 percent or less

    The North Dakota State team that beat Oklahoma in in the 2014 round of 64 could, hypothetically, keep things close against 2019 Duke for a while. In the present tense, however, neither the Bison nor the Eagles project to have much that will slow down RJ Barrett, Tre Jones and that other guy.


    Best Bets

    No. 12 Murray State Racers vs. No. 5 Marquette Golden Eagles
    Upset chance: 34 percent

    This game would be appointment viewing even if it weren't our top upset pick on the board. We'll all be treated to two prolific scorers -- Ja Morant and Markus Howard -- battling it out in a first-round showdown in Hartford.

    With Morant leading the way, Murray State produces a ridiculously efficient offense when attempting 2-point shots from the field. It's not just flashy dunks from the future lottery pick: He's also an assists machine, setting up his teammates for those good looks. The problem for Murray State is that while he and Howard may be evenly matched as superstars, Howard has the better supporting cast. Sam Hauser may not quite be at Howard's and Morant's level but he's a big-time contributor to the Golden Eagles' efforts -- on both ends of the court.

    Still, BPI considers Marquette's offense to only be about a half-point per game better than Murray State's. If Marquette's 3-pointers fall on the wrong side of variance, it's easy to imagine this upset coming to fruition.

    Worth a Long Look

    No. 13 Vermont Catamounts vs. No. 4 Florida State Seminoles
    Upset chance: 28 percent

    We've tracked the Catamounts for two years straight now as a strong Giant Killer candidate and we're finally here. Vermont is in the tourney, drew a favorable opponent in Florida State and is playing in the Northeast. Sign us up.

    For starters, the model isn't going to be overly influenced by recent events, so the fact that Florida State just beat Virginia may scare some off of this upset pick -- fine by us. The model looks at the entire body of work and sees Florida State as vulnerable.

    Vermont's offensive strength is its free throw efficiency, and that matches up perfectly against a Florida State team that sends its opponents to the line frequently. That the Catamounts are playing in Hartford is icing on the cake -- and something that is not included in the Giant Killers model, so their upset chance may be even higher.

    No. 11 Arizona State Sun Devils vs. No. 6 Buffalo Bulls
    Upset chance: 26 percent

    With a gaudy 31-3 record, Buffalo appears primed to become a trendy sleeper pick in the West, but we're skeptical given our numbers.

    Once our models provide a significant opponent adjustment (Buffalo had the 121st-best strength of schedule), we project Buffalo to be outside the top 20 in both offense and defense. And overall? BPI has the Bulls as just the 31st-best team in D-I. In other words, Arizona State is facing the quality equivalent of an 8-seed, which is why the Sun Devils have a decent shot here.

    Let's be clear though: Arizona State is clearly the worse team here (and didn't exactly play in a stellar conference itself). The Sun Devils might have a slight edge on the boards, but there's no facet of the game that they would have a significant advantage. Plus, they don't have anyone as productive as Buffalo senior G CJ Massinburg.

    Not Completely Crazy

    No. 11 St. John's Red Storm vs. No. 6 Buffalo Bulls
    Upset chance: 18 percent

    St. John's has already pulled its first upset of March: getting into the tournament. For a team that ranked 53rd in strength of record, 70th in BPI and 73rd in NET to get in as an at large was ... interesting.

    But the Johnnies are in, and they can be literally interesting should they get past Arizona State in the First Four. Why? It's all about Shamorie Ponds, the Red Storm's star guard out of Brooklyn who is averaging nearly 19.5 points and 5.2 assists per game this season.

    Even with Ponds, this is still a fairly long shot. Even after adjusting for opponent Buffalo has just been substantially more efficient on both ends of the court and should hold a significant edge if this game takes place.

    No. 14 Northern Kentucky Norse vs. No. 3 Texas Tech Red Raiders
    Upset chance: 11 percent

    There are elements of the Norse that make them an appealing Giant Killer. Big man Drew McDonald can generate offense posting up near the rim and can knock down shots from beyond the arc -- like the game-winning shot he sunk in the final seconds of the Horizon League semifinal against Oakland to keep Northern Kentucky's tourney hopes alive.

    Unfortunately for the Norse, they appear to have run into the wrong team. Texas Tech is a borderline No. 2/No. 3 seed in terms of overall BPI team quality. That's buoyed by having the second-best defense in the nation, led by star Jarrett Culver. Nothing is impossible but Northern Kentucky will have to overcome long odds to pull off this upset.

    Stay Away

    No. 15 Montana Grizzlies vs. No. 2 Michigan Wolverines
    Upset chance: 4 percent

    It's a 2018 rematch! Michigan and Montana will square off in the first round again, a year after the Wolverines pulled away in the second half en route to a 61-47 win at the beginning of their run to the title game. Twelve months ago we gave Montana a 6 percent shot at the upset. This year it's even lower. Michigan's defense is capable of stifling even the best offenses ... and Montana is not that.

    No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson Knights vs. No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs
    Upset chance: 1 percent

    Some people didn't believe Gonzaga deserved a No. 1 seed. From a resume standpoint, that's accurate. But in terms of how good are the Bulldogs? They would earn a No. 1 seed among top teams this decade. They rank third in BPI among all teams in the past 10 years in BPI. So no, this will not be an upset.

    No. 16 Prairie View A&M Panthers vs. No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs
    Upset chance: <1 percent

    Same as above, but even more so. Prairie View A&M is even less likely to pull off the 16-1 upset than Fairleigh Dickinson.


    Worth a Long Look

    No. 11 Saint Mary's Gaels vs. No. 6 Villanova Wildcats
    Upset chance: 26 percent

    We like Villanova as one of the best possible second-round Giant Killers because of their style: chuck 3s and play slow as heck (not Virginia slow, but still). Those two things combined increase the variance, which aids the underdog.

    Which is good for Villanova. Except when it isn't the underdog. Then it helps its opponent.

    And to make matters worse for the favorite? Saint Mary's also plays slow (and also hits 3s at a nice rate, but it doesn't shoot them as often). Mix in the fact that Villanova's barrage of 3-point attempts plays into the hands of one of Saint Mary's strengths -- stopping the 3 -- and we're looking at an awfully tempting upset selection.

    No. 13 UC Irvine Anteaters vs. No. 4 Kansas State Wildcats
    Upset chance: 22 percent

    In terms of how good a team is, Kansas State has to be one of the most mis-seeded out there. They may have a No. 4 in front of their name, but if we went strictly by BPI rating the Wildcats would be a No. 7 seed. Kansas State isn't complaining, but neither is UC Irvine, who gets a much easier first-round opponent than it could have reasonable expected (a few weeks ago we wrote UC Irvine ought to have about a 14 percent chance to win its first-round matchup).

    To make matters even better for the Anteaters, the Wildcats play dreadfully slow (and UC Irvine is on the lethargic end, too), which helps increase the variance and move the needle toward UC Irvine.

    Kansas State senior forward Dean Wade, who made the All-Big 12 first team, may or may not be able to play due to a foot injury. Should he be unable to go, the Anteaters become an even more attractive underdog.

    Not Completely Crazy

    No. 12 Oregon Ducks vs. No. 5 Wisconsin Badgers
    Upset chance: 17 percent

    It's impressive that the Ducks even got this far without Bol Bol, their star freshman center who was productive in nine games before he was knocked out for the season with a foot injury. It's worth keeping in mind that our models don't adjust for in-season injuries, so it's possible we're slightly overrating Oregon here because we count the games with Bol as much as all the others.

    But this isn't Pac-12 play anymore. Washington had the best non-Oregon defense in the conference, but Wisconsin's defense is almost 3.5 points per game better than Washington's. So the Ducks will have to step it up, again.

    If the game ends up close, however, watch out. Wisconsin has major free throw shooting woes, led by the fact that star Ethan Happ is shooting less than 50 percent from the stripe on the season.

    Stay Away

    No. 14 Old Dominion Monarchs vs. No. 3 Purdue Boilermakers
    Upset chance: 8 percent

    Purdue might be the quietest really good team in the country, and a surprise exit in the Big Ten tournament at the hands of Minnesota did nothing to change that.

    But the reality is when we look at the numbers, Purdue has the fourth-best adjusted offensive efficiency in D-I. It led the Big Ten in second-chance points per game. And it has an experienced star in Carsen Edwards on its roster. Old Dominion has a solid defense, but it's hard to imagine the Monarchs slowing down the Purdue too much. If you're looking for an upset, look elsewhere.

    No. 15 Colgate Raiders vs. No. 2 Tennessee Volunteers
    Upset chance: 7 percent

    We just told you to stay away from Old Dominion at 8 percent, so the same advice probably holds for Colgate at 7. But.

    If you want to, just maybe, pick someone to topple a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the first round ... then Colgate is your team.

    The Volunteers play an old-school, post-up style that results in a ton of 2-point buckets. Which works most of the time and led to them having the third-best offense in D-I. But the one thing that's better than an efficient stretch of 2-point buckets is an efficient stretch of 3-point buckets. And Colgate shoots the 3 well. We're just saying, if the Raiders get hot from beyond the arc, it could get interesting.

    No. 16 Gardner-Webb Bulldogs vs. No. 1 Virginia Cavaliers
    Upset chance: 3 percent

    We were almost on to something last year, but then we chickened out: "History has to happen in these 1 vs. 16 games someday. (But you, fair reader, would do best to stay away.)"

    Not that you needed extra ammo to pick a No. 1 seed, but we'll have you know that this year's Virginia team is, per our numbers, better than the one that lost to UMBC a year ago.

    So despite what happened our advice remains the same: Stay away.


    Worth a Long Look

    No. 12 New Mexico State Aggies vs. No. 5 Auburn Tigers
    Upset chance: 22 percent

    If you subscribe to the momentum theory of filling out a bracket, you might want to take NMSU to cut down the nets in Minneapolis. The Aggies haven't lost a game since the first week in January. True, the WAC doesn't provide the most robust level of competition for Chris Jans' team, but one thing the GK model likes is efficiency. New Mexico State will work opponents deep into the shot clock before proving that this is one of the best 2-point shooting teams in the nation.

    Super sub Ivan Aurrecoechea comes off the bench and supplies paint scoring in abundance. It may seem like a stretch if you just watched Auburn slice and dice a team as strong as Tennessee in the SEC tournament final, but the Aggies do have the confidence born of many wins.

    No. 11 Ohio State Buckeyes vs. No. 6 Iowa State Cyclones
    Upset chance: 20 percent

    The case for the upset here is easily summarized: Ohio State is not your everyday No. 11 seed. The Buckeyes were being projected for a higher line in the bracket before Kaleb Wesson was suspended for three games late in the season. Now that that 6-foot-9 sophomore is back, OSU can get back to doing what it does, putting shooters around Wesson and forcing opposing defenses to pick a poison.

    To be sure, this is the "worth a long look" section, not "best bets," and the Cyclones' offense looked like a juggernaut in two of three games while carrying ISU to the Big 12 tournament title. Steve Prohm's team wins this matchup four out of five times. ... And that fifth game? That's where Wesson absolutely destroys an Iowa State team that's exceptionally weak on the glass at both ends of the floor.

    Not Completely Crazy

    No. 13 Northeastern Huskies vs. No. 4 Kansas Jayhawks
    Upset chance: 19 percent

    All season long, Bill Self's defense has been susceptible to opponents that will commit to shooting a high number of 3-pointers within the span of 40 minutes. In fact, that strategy handed Kansas' D the single worst game it's had in the KenPom era, when Texas Tech drained 16 shots from beyond the arc in a 29-point win in Lubbock this season.

    So there's a chance, right? Northeastern is, after all, highly perimeter-oriented. Well, yes, but the GK model would feel better about the potential for an upset if Bill Coen's team didn't allow its opponents to make quite so many 2-pointers.

    No. 14 Georgia State Panthers vs. No. 3 Houston Cougars
    Upset chance: 12 percent

    What Ron Hunter's team does best is make 3s. That gives the Panthers a not-completely-crazy chance going into a game against an opponent that has lost just three times all season.

    Of course, even a 31-3 opponent does some things better than others, and one facet of the game UH does not choose to emphasize is forcing turnovers. Conversely, GSU is very good at taking care of the ball, and D'Marcus Simonds is a high-usage combo guard who will either get hot or find a teammate who is.

    Stay Away

    No. 15 Abilene Christian Wildcats vs. No. 2 Kentucky Wildcats
    Upset chance: 3 percent

    This has to be such a sweet moment for Joe Golding. The ACU coach was there at the rebirth, so to speak, when Abilene Christian rejoined Division I in 2013 after a 40-year absence. Now the 27-6 Wildcats are appearing in their first NCAA tournament.

    The GK model says stay away from picking a shocker in a game against Kentucky, but ACU's already pulled off a big upset just to get this far. Well done.

    No. 16 Iona Gaels vs. No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels
    Upset chance: 3 percent

    Tim Cluess has brought high-potential teams to the tournament before, and his roster led by AJ English was a trendy pick to give Iowa State a game in the 2016 round of 64. That said, this is not one of the stronger Iona teams GK has seen come down the pike.

    In particular, the thought of this Gael defense facing the bullet train that is Coby White and the 3-point jackhammer known as Cam Johnson does not encourage descriptions like "best bet" or "worth a long look." This is more of a "stay away" situation.
    This post was nominated 1 time . To view the nominated thread please click here. People who nominated: Matt17

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    4x POTM. 2x Video maker of the year
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    Dickie V has 1 seed vs 2 seed in all 4 regions.
    175 pts

    SBR TRIVIA WINNER 10/18/2021

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    Cuse0323's Avatar Become A Pro!
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    I think we have a lot of upsets this year. 1s and 2s are safe in the opening round, but after that there’s a lot of good matchups for underdogs. Could see a few 3s and 4s go down in the 1st. Gotta love MM.

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    RM Logic
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    The Vegas lines on alot of the best upset teams are very low- all around 5-6 range. Thats bad when the game is close at the end and the dog has to foul and the favorites get the cover.
    I like Vermont more than most having watched FSU play down to the level of their competition all year.

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    NardVa's Avatar Become A Pro!
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    Montana is gone send Michigan packing and Saint Mary is gone send Nova packing. You heard it hear first.

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    Money23's Avatar Become A Pro!
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    You ok NardVa? Michigan wins by 15+

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    Quote Originally Posted by NardVa View Post
    Montana is gone send Michigan packing and Saint Mary is gone send Nova packing. You heard it hear first.
    Wouldn't be surprised about st marys, im a nova fan BTW.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Money23 View Post
    You ok NardVa? Michigan wins by 15+
    When Montana played them in the opening round last year the game was within single digits late. The game will be even tighter this year. Montana packed the Cinderellas in their gym bag. Heard it hear first.

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    All I do is trytrytry
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    liberty a good upset pick to bust your normal brackets

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    Not happening!