Day 1 March Madness upset picks: Back Vermont and these dangerous ‘dogs
Cinderella-sized upsets are part of the fabric of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
Teams seeded in the double digits wield the power to bust your bracket — or give you bragging rights among your buddies.
We’re willing to stare down that double-edged sword and offer you our three favourite March Madness upset picks for Day 1.
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If you can find a school that leads all 358 NCAA teams in something, pay attention. The South Dakota State Jackrabbits sit atop two categories (effective field goal rate, 59.7% and 3-point shooting, 44.2%), which serve as the basis for this underdog pick.
Did the Summit League offer much competition for the Jackrabbits this year? Certainly not. But the height of the net and the diameter of the rim are the same everywhere. Great shooters can be great on any court.
South Dakota State deploys four 3-point shooters who’ve garnered a 38% clip or better on 90-plus attempts this season. If one or two guys go cold, the Jackrabbits have some fallback options.
As you’d expect, Providence has a much stronger resume, with wins over six March Madness teams (including three-seeds Texas Tech and Wisconsin). South Dakota State hasn’t beaten a tournament-calibre team… yet.
The Friars have shakily accrued a 5-3 record over the past month, with three overtime wins in that span. We think the Jackrabbits can take them down.
Key stat: South Dakota State is 10th in the NCAA in minutes continuity, with 80% of this year’s minutes coming from players on last year’s roster. That cohesion has led to a 21-0 record since Dec. 20.
The Vermont Catamounts wield many of the same enticing traits as South Dakota State: great shooting, lots of continuity and they’re on a tear in the win column.
Since Dec. 10, Vermont is 22-1. The Catamounts took their lone loss on the road, in overtime, against Hartford. Even with an admittedly weak schedule, they’ve beaten a pair of March Madness teams (No. 14 Yale and No. 14 Colgate). They also stormed through their conference tournament with ease, winning three games by a combined 110 points.
And oh, did we mention their great shooting? Vermont ranks third in the NCAA in effective field goal rate (57.3%), as well as third in 2-point shooting (58.9%). It is a top-40 team from beyond the arc, too.
Arkansas has some exceptional wins on its ledger, including No. 2 Kentucky and No. 2 Auburn. Of late, however, it has lost two of three, including an 18-point defeat last time out against Texas A&M (a non-tourney team).
One particularly concerning note about the Razorbacks is that they’re just 8-7 at neutral/road sites this season (versus 17-1 at home). And Buffalo is a heck of a lot closer to Vermont than it is to Arkansas.
Key stat: At 2.80 years per player, Vermont is the fourth-most experienced team in the NCAA. All five Catamount starters are seniors.
We realize a 10-seed beating a No. 7 seed is hardly an upset, but with slightly longer odds, this pick still qualifies.
The case for the San Francisco Dons is built on valuing their strength of schedule over the Murray State Racers’ crowded win column. Sure, Murray State went 30-2, but its SOS ranked 190th in the nation. San Francisco’s SOS was a much scarier 16th.