Sports

Diehl ’18: Cinderellas in the Big Dance — this year’s upset predictions

By
Sports Columnist
Friday, March 20, 2015

Nationwide, it is estimated that 40 million Americans will spend $9 billion betting on March Madness brackets this year. With so much money in the pool, I attempted to make the upset picks that will win brackets.

As I write this, none of the games have started. My picks are based on a combination of worshipping KenPom.com, obsessively reading bracketology articles on ESPN and watching every March Madness game possible for many years. Yet people who pick their brackets based on mascot preferences still seem to beat me every year. That is why it’s called March Madness.

Category one: Upsets that will happen

No. 11 Texas Longhorns over No. 6 Butler Bulldogs

Texas is actually ranked four spots higher than Butler on KenPom’s index. Furthermore, the Longhorns are 3-6 in games decided by six points or fewer. They also lead the nation at defending in the paint — they limit opponents to 37.8 percent shooting on two-point attempts. The Longhorns’ roster is capable of much more than their underachieving team has shown so far, leading to a potential under-seed and dangerous underdog. Sound familiar? Kentucky was in a similar position as a seven-seed last year. We all know how that worked out.

No. 11 Ole Miss Rebels over No. 6 Xavier Musketeers

The Rebels showed their potential on Tuesday, dominating BYU during the second half. Though the Cougars had a 17-point lead at halftime due to phenomenal three-point shooting, the Rebels came back with ferocious fast breaks and inside play.

Xavier is a well-rounded team but doesn’t do anything particularly well, which could hurt it in this game. Ole Miss also has a better power rating than many higher-seeded teams. On the subjective side, the Rebels made me a believer as I watched them come back with such tenacity.

No. 11 Dayton Flyers over No. 6 Providence Friars

First of all, congratulations to Brown for beating a number-six tournament team this year. That being said, Providence’s loss that day exposed some of its weaknesses as a team. It struggled on defense and couldn’t get its offense going.

Dayton has a stellar defense, and if its offense performs well both on the glass and on the perimeter, which have been relative strengths, Providence could be going home early. Furthermore, Dayton’s dramatic one-point win over Boise State in its play-in game gives the Flyers momentum going into this matchup.

No. 13 Harvard Crimson over No. 4 North Carolina Tar Heels

Just kidding. In your dreams, Harvard. Go ’heels!

Category two: Upsets that are plausible

No. 13 UC Irvine Anteaters over No. 4 Louisville Cardinals

The Anteaters, making their tournament debut, boast 7-foot-6 center Mamadou Ndiaye, who limited opponents to a 42.3 field goal percentage in the paint during the regular season. Louisville ranks 95th in offensive efficiency, the worst major-conference mark in the entire field. Since losing Chris Jones, the Cardinals have lost five of their last 10 games and have not played well. However, Rick Pitino is a tough coach to bet against and that’s what keeps this matchup from the “will happen” category.

No. 13 Valparaiso Crusaders over No. 4 Maryland Terrapins

According to the Wall Street Journal, this is the most likely upset at 53.6 percent. Despite the Journal’s impeccable news coverage, sports aren’t its domain. ESPN has this upset in a more likely neighborhood of 12.6 percent. Maryland struggles to steal possessions on defense and extend possessions with offensive rebounds, which might allow Valparaiso to hang with them and increase their upset capability. Maryland is also 11-1 in close games this year, which shows luck has been going its way during the regular season. Yet this luck tends to go away at some point in the tournament.

No. 12 Buffalo Bulls over No. 5 West Virginia Mountaineers

History tells us there will be at least one No. 12 vs. No. 5 upset this year. Though Stephen F. Austin is the popular upset pick, I will side with the president and say Buffalo has the best chance of any 12-seed. West Virginia forces a lot of turnovers, but Buffalo takes care of the ball and rebounds well, setting up a battle of strengths. The one concern for the team is the fact that it doesn’t convert chances well, ranking 177th in two-point shooting and 179th from downtown.

Final word: An upset that will definitely not happen

No. 12 Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks over No. 5 Utah Utes

Call me crazy, but I do not see this upset happening. Though Utah has lost four of its last seven games, it still ended the season as KenPom’s number eight-ranked team. The Lumberjacks run a very efficient offense and score effectively.  They have also won 28 of their last 29 games, which puts them in very good form. But Utah’s defense and offense have both been fantastic this season. It’s one of seven teams that make KenPom’s top 20 lists for both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency ratings. And though the Lumberjacks also do a good job of forcing turnovers, Utah — led by top-tier point guard Delon Wright — takes care of the ball. It will advance to the Sweet Sixteen and face Duke. Fun fact: Utah beats Duke in 51 percent of ESPN’s computer simulations of the matchup.

There you have it. I will foolishly publish these picks on Friday morning, leaving myself at the mercy of every pick I get wrong. Let the Madness begin!


Joe Diehl ’18 hails from Salt Lake City, Utah. Reprimand his homerism at 
joseph_diehl@brown.edu.

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