For many college basketball fans, the best part of March Madness is the upsets. The NCAA Tournament always features little know teams beating high seeds in the early rounds of the tournament, and correctly predicting these upsets can be the key to winning an office pool.
Georgia State and UAB pulled off the biggest upsets of last year, advancing to the second round as No.14 seeds. UCLA had the most success of any Cinderella, though they’ve had plenty of success in the past, reaching the Sweet 16 as a No.11 seed.
When the opening round concludes and the round of 64 starts on Thursday, a few double-digit seeds will have a legitimate chance to pull off a first-round upset.
No.13 Hawaii vs No.4 California
It’s been 14 years since Hawaii last made the NCAA Tournament, and the Rainbow Warriors have never won a game in the Big Dance. But that could very well change Friday when they face the California Golden Bears, a roster boasting future NBA first-round picks.
Last season marked the first time that a No.13 seed failed to advance in two consecutive tournaments, though a No.4 seed had been knocked off in each of the previous six seasons. Hawaii is a much lower seed than Cal, but oddsmakers are certainly giving them a chance with the betting line opening at just 6.5 points. The Golden Bears have lost two of their last four games, and their 23-10 record is largely due to their dominance at home. The team is a perfect 18-0 at home, but they are a combined 5-10 on the road and at neutral sites.
Hawaii reached the tournament because they play in a weak conference, but the Rainbow Warriors had some impressive performances outside of the Big West. Their eight-point loss to No.8 seed Texas Tech was decided in the final minutes, and Hawaii lost to No.2 seed Oklahoma by just three points after the Sooners defeated their first nine opponents by over 23 points per contest. If Stefan Jankovic plays as well as he’s capable, Cal might not make it beyond the first round.
No.13 Iona vs. No.4 Iowa State
With no No.3 seeds winning since 2013, a few might be due to advance in 2016. Iona has a chance to show why many experts felt the MAAC should have been awarded two tournament bids.
It’s been three years since the Gaels were in the NCAA Tournament, but the team does have experience playing in postseason games. Iona is coming off two straight appearances in the NIT, and a few of the team's key players were around for their trip to the Big Dance in 2013. A.J. English played for the 2013 team, and he’s evolved into one of the nation’s best scorers at 22.4 points per game. He gives Iona a player that can single-handedly help them pull off an upset on his best night.
The Gaels have no wins against teams in the field of 68, but they won twice against Monmouth, who is considered to be the biggest snub of March Madness. Iowa State’s first-round loss last season was just one of a few disappointing finishes in their recent NCAA tournament history, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Cyclones slip up again.
No. 14 Stephen F. Austin vs. No.3 West Virginia
Long gone are the days when No.14 seeds had almost no chance to win a tournament game. A No.3 seed has been defeated in the first round in each of the last three years, and two failed to reach the Round of 32 in 2015.
Trying to play the role of Cinderella is nothing new for Stephen F. Austin. The Lumberjacks played Utah tough last season after upsetting VCU in the Round of 64 in 2014. Thomas Walkup was Stephen F. Austin’s top scorer a year ago, and he’s back as the team’s go-to guy with 17.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. He led the Lumberjacks to an undefeated conference record, and they are unbeaten since the start of 2016.
West Virginia does have a chance to go deep into the tournament, and they are seven-point favorites on Friday night. The Mountaineers have seven wins over tournament teams, including overall No.1 seed Kansas and No.2 seed Oklahoma. But the experienced No.14 seed could take advantage if West Virginia doesn’t play their best.