By Garrett Jones
They happen every year.
Loyola-Chicago and UMBC in 2018. Middle Tennessee in 2017. Stephen F. Austin in 2016. Georgia State in 2015.
Those double-digit seed upsets that seem random in nature and make any mild-mannered college basketball fan want to print out a bracket to get the satisfaction of physically ripping it.
The funny part? Statistically, they’re not random. According to an article posted Monday on the NCAA Tournament’s official website, since it expanded in 1985, a whopping 208 double-digit seed have won first-round games.
Web Editor Garrett Jones offers up a four such teams- one from each region, that could pull an upset when the first-round games tip Thursday and Friday.
East No. 10 Minnesota over No. 7 Louisville.
According to the data presented in that article, 7-10 upsets are the most common. Often, these games are “toss-ups;” some of the toughest to pick. This year’s matchup of and Louisville is one of those games.
If this game were played at the beginning of last season, it would pit Minnesota head coach Richard Pitino against his father and former Louisville head coach Rick Pitino. But alas, a recruiting scandal led to his firing and current head coach Chris Mack’s hiring last offseason.
Richard has a well-oiled machine and an underrated Big Ten team in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Minnesota quietly won 21 games for the second year in a row, and recently upset conference regular season co-champion Purdue in the Big Ten tournament.
The Gophers aren’t led by a single star player, but play well as a group. Louisville is a strange team- it beat North Carolina by 21 in February, and nearly knocked off Duke at home if not for a historic collapse. You’re better off simply guessing in this game- and Minnesota is certainly an educated pick.
South: No. 13 California-Irvine over No. 4 Kansas State.
You can pick this upset with a lot of confidence.
The Anteaters are a popular pick as a Cinderella, and a legitimate contender for the Sweet 16. They dominated the Big West Conference with a 30-5 record, and a non-conference win over Saint Mary’s.
Kansas State streaked to the Elite 8 last year and returns all of its core, but Bruce Weber’s bunch is missing star forward Dean Wade. Reports emerged Monday that Wade could miss the entirety of the tournament.
Count on Irvine to capitalize on the lack of cohesion among the Wildcats on a ride to what many perceive to be a deep tournament run.
Midwest: No. 12 New Mexico State over No. 5 Auburn.
Auburn is one of the hottest teams in the nation, riding an eight-game winning streak. They won the Southeastern Conference tournament in one of the conference’s deepest years, talent-wise. Certainly impressive, but it is worth noting: The Tigers had to get hot to win.
They needed to shoot a whopping 53 three-pointers to do so. And where they can get hot, they can get cold. One bad shooting night could lead to a massive upset.
To New Mexico State’s credit, it has talent. The Aggies don’t boast a star, but they cruised to a Western Athletic Conference title thanks to a starting five that features five players averaging double-digit scoring per game.
West: No. 14 Northern Kentucky over No. 3 Texas Tech
This one is a long shot. And the obvious pick for the this group is the No. 12 Murray State Fighting-Ja Morant’s over No.5 Marquette. But to keep things interesting, here’s a case for the Norse. And not just because that phrase is fun to write.
Texas Tech is a popular pick to go deep in the tournament because of a staunch defense, and it deserves a lot of credit for that. However, there offense has been prone to hit a brick wall at times in Big 12 play this season- and that’s exactly what happened recently.
They’re coming stinker in a first-round exit to 10-seed West Virginia in last week’s Big 12 tournament. In January, Big 12 regular-season champion Kansas State handcuffed the Red Raiders and held them to a paltry 45 points in a loss.
Northern Kentucky cruised to a Horizon League title, and is riding on a five-game winning streak. Senior Drew MacDonald is averaging nearly 20 and 10, and could be a matchup nightmare for Texas Tech head coach Chris Beard.