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Top 10 most likely early upsets

3/17/2013

Although we have expanded our definition of Giant Killers to include teams from power conferences, we have to admit, our hearts have always been with high-quality little guys. And for the past 10 days, we agonized as one potential Giant Killer after another went down in the post-regular-season twilight, while measurably weaker teams locked up auto-bid after auto-bid.

But on Sunday, the NCAA Selection Committee heeded our long-standing call to grant mid-majors tickets to the big dance and seeded its field with the likes of Middle Tennessee, Boise State and Saint Mary's. So we've still more of them to evaluate -- including a bunch who are live underdogs.

As backers of advanced metrics, however, we need to point out the committee continues to defy logic in the area of measuring teams' fundamental strength. Look, to the committee, and to those of you who write to tell us that margin of victory doesn't matter: Team A is better than Team B to the extent Team A can outscore Team B. That's pretty basic. And it means that as their number of possessions grows, Team A will reveal its superior quality by outscoring Team B by more points. That's just math. And it means that margin of victory is one of the two most important pieces of information you can have about a team, along with the strength of its opponents. Yet RPI ignores margin of victory. The committee may as well be working with stone knives and bearskins.

So as you check out our list of top potential upsets, keep in mind that they can result from teams playing like successful Killers or vulnerable Giants, or simply from simple over- or under-seeding. You can find a staggering seven of the top 19 BPI teams in the Midwest Region, where Louisville, the No. 1 overall seed, somehow ended up with the No. 3 team (Duke) as its 2-seed, and where Duke in turn could have to play the No. 13 team (Creighton) in the Round of 32. Michigan State (No. 10) might meet Memphis (No. 18) in the Round of 32, too.

Those kinds of imbalances can keep safe Giants (such as Pittsburgh) even safer, or pit dangerous Killers (such as Valparaiso) against tough draws, or keep Davids (such as Iowa State, a No. 10 seed) from ever facing Goliaths at least five seeds higher.

But the wackiness also creates lots of juicy opportunities for upsets. We'll break down every region in depth over the next two days -- the Midwest and West Monday and the East and South on Tuesday. For now, here are the 10 most likely upsets on the board, according to our spreadsheets.


(1) No. 11 Minnesota Golden Gophers versus No. 6 UCLA Bruins

Upset chance: 74.0 percent

What you need to know: Minnesota is a great rebounding team -- a hallmark of Giant Killers. UCLA, as Jay Bilas put it Sunday night, doesn't rebound so much as play dodgeball.


(2) No. 11 Saint Mary's Gaels or No. 11 Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders versus No. 6 Memphis Tigers

Upset chance: 53.2 percent (Middle Tennessee) or 67.5 percent (Saint Mary's)

What you need to know: Whichever team wins this one has a nice chance not only to beat turnover-prone Memphis, but of making the Sweet 16.


(3) No. 11 Belmont Bruins versus No. 6 Arizona Wildcats

Upset chance: 46.8 percent

What you need to know: For the third straight season, stats say Belmont has all the tools a Killer needs; all the Bruins have to do now is win.


(4) No. 13 Boise State Broncos or La Salle Explorers versus No. 4 Kansas State Wildcats

Upset chance: 32.5 percent (La Salle) or 34.8 percent (Boise State)

What you need to know: Either play-in team can shoot well enough to show why Kansas State has been one of the most overrated teams in the country all season.


(5) No. 12 Oregon Ducks versus No. 5 Oklahoma State Cowboys

Upset chance: 31.0 percent

What you need to know: Oregon is seeded about three slots too low, according to our model.


(6) No. 11 Bucknell Bison versus No. 6 Butler Bulldogs

Upset chance: 29.4 percent

What you need to know: The ultra-conservative Bison are a resistible force; the over-seeded Bulldogs are a movable object.


(7) No. 12 Akron Zips versus No. 5 Virginia Commonwealth Rams

Upset chance: 28.9 percent

What you need to know: VCU is now a trendy pick, but the Rams need to be careful: their high-pressure, outside-shooting game profiles better for Killers than Giants, and Akron's offensive rebounding can keep them in games.


(8) No. 14 Davidson Wildcats versus No. 3 Marquette Golden Eagles

Upset chance: 25.3 percent

What you need to know: The Wildcats can shoot from anywhere and hardly ever turn the ball over.


(9) No. 12 Ole Miss Rebels versus No. 5 Wisconsin Badgers

Upset chance: 22.9 percent

What you need to know: These teams are separated by just nine spots in the BPI rankings, but Wisconsin's low turnovers and 3-point defense help ward off would-be GKs.


(10) No. 12 California Golden Bears versus No. 5 UNLV Rebels

Upset chance: 22.3 percent

What you need to know: Despite shooting poorly from downtown and forcing few turnovers, the Golden Bears have a shot against UNLV, which our model pegs as over-seeded.