We know there will be a handful of upsets in the opening round of the NCAA tournament; the trick for bettors is to pick 'em out before they happen. Here's our semi-educated guess at potential upsets.
The easiest place to begin looking for “upsets” is the eight-vs.-nine games, where we find LSU, which takes on North Carolina State Thursday night, and St. John's, going against San Diego State Friday night.
We weren't even sure the 20-13 Wolfpack deserved to make the tournament, but six wins in their last eight games was apparently enough. After losing to Virginia back on Feb. 11 NC State sat at 14-11; it then beat Louisville and North Carolina, and three teams that didn't make the tournament, while losing a game at a bad Boston College team by 16 points. The Pack then opened the ACC tournament with a victory over a Pitt team that also missed the Dance, then lost by 24 to Duke. On the season State is 4-9 SU, 6-7 ATS against teams that made the NCAA tournament.
LSU, meanwhile, got upset by Auburn in the SEC tournament, but had won five of seven just before that. The Tigers own victories this season over West Virginia, UAB (see below), Georgia and Arkansas, two over Ole Miss, and gave undefeated Kentucky a hell of a scare in a two-point loss back in February. On the season LSU is 6-1 SU, 6-0-1 ATS against NCAA tournament qualifiers, so keep this in mind when looking over the NCAA Tournament odds.
As of early this week the Tigers were getting +121 for Thursday's game on the moneyline at Pinnacle.
We also give St. John's a chance to pull an upset as a nine-seed, against San Diego State with our NCAA Tournament picks. The Redmen ended the season with a bit of a thud, losing back-to-back games to Villanova and Providence, but just before that they had won seven of eight. St. John's can be a bit confounding, but no less so that the Aztecs, who play great defense but sometimes have great trouble putting the ball in the hole. San Diego State just scored 43 points in losing the MWC tournament championship game to Wyoming, and a few weeks ago scored 46 in a loss to Boise State. The Aztecs are also shooting just 63 percent from the FT line this season, and missing free-throws down the stretch is a great way to get upset.
St. John's was getting +140 on the moneyline at 5Dimes.
Those Dangerous Twelves
For whatever reason, the five-vs.-12 games have become most fertile ground for upsets over recent seasons. Over the last three NCAA Tournament No. 12 seeds have beaten No. 5 seeds outright in eight of 12 games. That trends has got to worth a couple of bets this week, right?
The two No. 12's we give the best chance of opening this tournament with victories are MAC champion Buffalo, which goes against Coach Huggins' unpredictable West Virginia outfit Friday afternoon, and Wyoming, which challenges Northern Iowa at around the same time Friday. Our play on the Bulls, who have won eight in a row, is almost more of a fade on the Mountaineers, who have lost three of their last four games, and occasionally also have a tough time scoring.
The Cowboys, meanwhile, looked great in winning the Mountain West tournament, knocking off a couple of pretty good teams in Boise State and San Diego State. The Panthers, meanwhile, won the MVC tournament, but got a little lucky, in that top-seeded Wichita State got upset before the championship game.
Earlier this week Buffalo could be found getting +172 on the moneyline at Pinnacle, and Wyoming was getting +230 at Heritage.
Most Vulnerable Big
Perhaps the most vulnerable high seed is third-seeded Iowa State, which goes against 14th-seeded Alabama-Birmingham Thursday afternoon in Louisville. The Cyclones just won the Big 12 tournament for the second year in a row, and can throw the ball in the hole with the best of them. But ISU has won several close games recently, and streaks like that sometimes end in crash-and-burn fashion.
UAB, meanwhile, has won six of its last eight games, including three in a row to win the Conference USA tournament. Also, the Blazers didn't shy away from taking on some tough competition earlier this season, losing games to Wisconsin, UCLA, LSU and North Carolina. UAB went 0-4 SU, 1-3 against those four foes, but at least it's got an idea of what it might be up against Thursday.
While the Blazers can't match Iowa State's ability to score, it can match ISU on defense. If UAB can just catch the Cyclones on a cold-shooting day, it might have a shot.
The Blazers can be found at +850 on the moneyline at BetOnline.