Early-round upsets might be the most exciting part of March Madness. Each year, a few mid-majors that are only in the NCAA Tournament because they won their conference championships are able to knock off one of the best teams in their region, and 2015 is likely to be no different.
Mercer pulled off the biggest upset of last year, defeating No.3 Duke in the first round, and three No.12 seeds were able to advance to the Round of 32. No.15 Florida Gulf Coast was able to reach the Sweet Sixteen two years ago, and No.14 Harvard also won a tournament game.
When this year’s NCAA Tournament starts on Thursday, a few double-digit seeds will have a legitimate chance to pull off a first-round upset.
No.15 New Mexico State vs. No.2 Kansas
No.2 seeds aren’t perfect in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, but it’s extremely rare for them to be upset in the Round of 64. No.15 seeds have been victorious in seven of 120 attempts, though the upsets have been more frequent in recent years. The year before Florida Gulf Coast beat Georgetown in 2013, Lehigh topped Duke and Norfolk State defeated Missouri.
Kansas might be one of the most vulnerable No.2 seeds in recent memory. They are only 10.5-point favorites over New Mexico State, while the other No.2 seeds are all giving their opponents at least 16.5 points. The Jayhawks have lost eight times this season, including two defeats against teams that weren’t good enough to make the NCAA Tournament. Nobody has beaten Kentucky this season, but Kansas’ 32-point loss against the Wildcats is not an encouraging sign.
New Mexico State isn’t one of the best mid-majors playing in March Madness, having lost 10 games, but they can’t be discounted as a potential Cinderella. They were competitive in a trip to Baylor, keeping the contest within single-digits with less than five minutes to play. The Aggies also have a balanced scoring attack, led by four players who score more than 10 points per game.
No.13 Eastern Washington vs. No.4 Georgetown
No.4 seeds usually advance to the Round of 32, but it’s not unheard of for them lose their first NCAA Tournament game. No.13 seeds have won their first-round game 20.8 percent of the time, and Eastern Washington has a legitimate chance to play the role of Cinderella in 2015.
Georgetown has been on the wrong side of multiple upsets in recent years. Two years ago, they helped FGCU become the first No.15 seed to advance to the Sweet Sixteen when they lost their opening round game as a No. 2 seed. In 2011, the Hoyas got blown out by No.11 VCU as a No.6 seed. That came a year after Georgetown entered March Madness as a No.3 seed and was upset by No.14 Ohio.
Eastern Washington has what it takes to play with a team of Georgetown’s caliber. A hot shooting night will keep them in the contest, and considering they rank third in the nation with 80.8 points per game and make over 40 percent of their three-point attempts, the Eagles could have a chance to steal this game. The betting public seems to agree, since the point spread has moved from 8.5 points to seven points in one day at some sportsbooks.
No.12 Buffalo vs. No.5 West Virginia
A victory for a No.12 seed that has never been in the tournament would certainly be considered an upset, but it might be one that many people saw coming. Buffalo is only a 4.5-point underdog against West Virginia, and No.12 seeds have been dominant in the last two years, winning six of eight contests against No.12 seeds. At least one No.12 seed has advanced to the second round in 24 of 26 years.
West Virginia might be ripe for an upset, considering the way they’ve played in 2015. The Mountaineers had a strong start to the season, but they’ve only won nine of their last 17 games. They’ve taken care of the teams they were supposed to beat, but Buffalo is certainly no pushover.
Buffalo can put up points, ranking 28th in the nation in scoring. They’re led by Justin Moss and Shannon Evans, who combine to average 33.1 points per game. West Virginia only shoots 41.2 percent from the field, and the Bison can hang around if the Mountaineers aren’t hitting their shots.