March Madness preview: Four upsets that could bust your bracket


Graphic by Anthony Marsicano

Anthony Marsicano, Opinion Editor


Despite all scheduling challenges and some late COVID-19 scares, the NCAA Tournament will continue as scheduled. Beginning March 18, it has been over 700 days since the last champions were crowned in 2019. The ‘madness’ will officially return to March once games tip-off this Thursday. One of the most exciting things about March Madness is the upsets, there are around 12 of them on average in each tournament. Deciding which upsets to choose in your bracket can be difficult for the casual fan, so we’ll preview some of the best games to consider. Matchups with seed differentials of one, like #9 Missouri vs #8 Oklahoma, will not be featured.


#12 UCSB over #5 Creighton

For reasons still unknown, the 12/5 upset has become commonplace in the NCAA Tournament. Since the tournament’s inception, statistically, it is twice as likely for two five seeds to lose in the first round than for all of them to advance.

Maybe the most creatively named team in the entire tournament, The UC Santa Barbara Gauchos are slated to face the five-seeded Creighton Bluejays. With only 4 losses on the year, the Gauchos are coming in hot with a five-game winning streak and have won 18 out of their last 19 games. The last game they lost was all the way back in December, the Big West champions have dominated their conference all year. Their roster is stacked with high-major transfer students, most notably JaQuori McLaughlin from Oregon State. McLaughlin is the Big West Player of the Year, averaging 16 points, 3 rebounds,5 assists with 1.6 steals per game. It seems like UC Santa Barbara has all the tools needed to pull off an upset in round one. The Gauchos have all the momentum coming off a conference championship win, unlike Creighton. 

The Bluejays, ranked as the 19th best team in the nation by the AP Poll, are fresh off a loss to unranked Georgetown in the Big East Tournament championship. This wasn’t their first bad loss either, six of Creighton’s eight losses on the year have come against unranked teams. On top of that, controversy still looms from Creighton coach Greg McDermott using a plantation as an analogy for team unity. McDermott was suspended one game and will coach the team for their first matchup. While Creighton players still backed their coach after making a mistake, the team has not looked the same since, and the last thing you need entering this tournament is a distraction.


#13 Ohio over #4 Virginia

The 13 seeded Ohio Bobcats are another team coming in hot, they just won the MAC Tournament as the fifth seed. Along the way, they defeated the one, two and four seeds, two of those wins being by 15 or more points. Ohio is 7-2 in non-conference play, however one of those losses might just be their most impressive game. The Bobcats were in Champaign to play Illinois, currently, the number two ranked team in the nation. 

Ohio guard Jason Preston and Forward Ben Vander Plas commandeered the game, hitting clutch shot after clutch shot. Ohio scored 75 points on Illinois and only lost by 2 points. Preston finished the game with 31 points, 6 rebounds, and 8 assists. The future NBA draft pick averages roughly 17 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists this year on 50 FG% / 40 3pt% shooting splits. Ohio is top 25 in both points and assists per game, thanks in part to Preston’s scoring and playmaking abilities. It seems like the guard is built for March, I wouldn’t be surprised if he became a breakout tournament star-like Ja Morant or Steph Curry were in years past.


Virginia recently suffered a COVID-19 outbreak that forced them to withdraw from the ACC Tournament. While ultimately this did not disqualify them from the Big Dance, as they come off a quarantine with limited practice time, it wouldn’t be that surprising if they performed poorly. It wouldn’t be the first time the Cavaliers were on the losing end of a monumental upset.


#12 Winthrop over #5 Villanova

Winthrop University is a small school in Massachusetts that has only been to the NCAA Tournament 10 times, once in the last decade. But this year, the Eagles have a real shot at knocking off basketball powerhouse Villanova. Winthrop won the Big South with a near-perfect 23-1 record this year, with their only loss coming by a measly two points. The success of this year’s Eagles team is largely thanks to point guard Chandler Vaudrin, the facilitator of their offense standing at 6’7. Vaudrin leads the team in points, rebounds, assists, and steals averages. 

Winthrop has had a great year, especially by their standards, but the main reason they are a popular upset pick this year is an injury on Villanova’s side. Nova suffered a crushing blow earlier this month when they lost star point guard Collin Gillespie for the season due to a knee injury. Gillespie is not only the Wildcat’s second-leading scorer, he averages the most assists and steals on the team as well. The guard is such an integral part of their team and is already proving to be a devastating loss, Nova is 1-3 in games without him, most recently getting pummeled by Georgetown in the Big East Tournament. Despite the seeding and Vegas odds, this game would feel like an upset if Winthrop didn’t lose. If you only pick one 12 seed to escape the first round this year, The Winthrop Eagles are the safest bet.


#11 Michigan State over #6 BYU

It’s like the saying goes: January, February, Izzo. Even though MSU has had a down year by their standards, it’s hard to count out one of the best coaches in college basketball history. The Spartans enter the tournament with a 15-12 record. Double-digit losses overshadow their 6-1 record in non-conference play. This team almost went .500 against the strongest conference in college basketball, and still managed to post a winning record despite being eighth in Big Ten standings. In the final week before conference tournaments, MSU tallied wins against Michigan, Ohio State, and Illinois, then the third, fourth, and fifth-ranked teams in the nation, respectively. The Spartans still need to defeat the UCLA Bruins in a playoff game to earn a meeting with BYU, but they should be able to get that done.

BYU is second in the West Coast Conference, where outside of Gonzaga, competition is lacking. The Cougars accumulated 20 wins on the season, but half of them were from beating up on their weak conference. They do have a couple of wins against fellow tournament teams like San Diego State and Utah State, but they were swept by Gonzaga and have some pretty bad losses to teams like Boise State and Pepperdine. While both BYU and MSU have some pretty bad losses, what sets State apart is their fantastic recent wins.