A wild first weekend of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament saw several brackets burst and a handful of championship hopefuls like Ohio State and Illinois have their Final Four dreams dashed by lower ranked teams.
16 teams now remain with the Sweet 16 set to tip off at Bankers Life Fieldhouse and Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on Saturday and Sunday. The eight games are rife with potential for more chaos so here is our ranking for the likelihood of an upset in each matchup.
The five-seeded Creighton Bluejays have done well in working through the Greg McDermott scandal from a few weeks back, winning five of their last six including a pair of NCAA Tournament victories over UC Santa-Barbara and Ohio, respectively.
Ranked No. 19 in KenPom, the Bluejays, however, are running into a proverbial buzzsaw in top-ranked Gonzaga, who barely broke a sweat in their tourney wins against Norfolk State and Oklahoma. The undefeated Bulldogs’ sole single-digit victory came in an 87-82 victory over West Virginia way back on Dec. 2, meaning they’ve been dominant across the board. Don’t anticipate that to change against a strong Creighton ball club.
7. No. 15 Oral Roberts (+390) vs. No. 3 Arkansas (-590)
Led by the top regular season scorer in the nation Max Abmas, the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles became the Cinderella darlings of the first weekend with a 75-72 overtime victory over Ohio State to become only the ninth 15-seed in tournament history to knock off a two-seed. They then kept the magic going with a come-from-behind 81-78 victory over Florida in round two.
However, that magic is most likely to run out this weekend considering the gigantic gulf in KenPom between Oral Roberts (128) and Arkansas (15). The Razorbacks are 10th in adjusted efficiency on defense and after absorbing an early onslaught against first-round opponent Colgate. The Golden Eagles may come out the gate firing within the first 15 minutes but Arkansas will most likely extinguish the threat of an upset within the first half.
Baylor, the No. 2 team in the country for most of the season, is fresh off a 76-63 second-round punking of Wisconsin in which they forced 14 Badger turnovers. Jared Butler and the Bears are 10-2 against KenPom top-15 teams this season and while Villanova will make them grind it out for a bit, they should emerge victorious over the beat up Wildcats.
5. No. 12 Oregon State (+235) vs. No. 8 Loyola Chicago (-295)
A top-10 team in KenPom and NET rankings, Loyola Chicago was criminally underseeded as an eight in this tournament and Illinois bore the brunt of that.
The Ramblers enter as a favorite over Oregon State but the Beavers are playing their best basketball at the moment. OSU played their way into the Big Dance by winning the Pac-12 tournament and then proceeded to turn some heads with double-digit wins over both Tennessee and the Cade Cunningham-led Oklahoma State.
LC on paper should come out on top but keep your eyes on this one because the Beavers will be game to keep their momentum going.
Another team that’s taken advantage of barely making the tournament, Syracuse stands firm as just one of two ACC teams left dancing. The blueblood program embraced their status as underdogs by obliterating sixth-seeded San Diego State before surviving a close battle versus former Big East conference-mate West Virginia.
Ranked fourth in KenPom, Kelvin Sampson’s Houston Cougars will be the highest ranked team Cuse will have faced all season but the second-seeded Cougs had their hands full in putting away Rutgers in the second-round, a Scarlet Knight team that is slotted just below the Orange in KP fyi.
With Buddy Boeheim shooting lights out from three, Syracuse will make Houston work for an Elite Eight bid.
The seedings are vastly different but the KenPom rankings are in the same neighborhood with UCLA entering this game slotted at 24 and Alabama at 16.
UCLA has started to look like the team that was leading the Pac-12 in mid-January by following up an overtime victory over Michigan State in the First Four with a pair of double-digit tournament wins. The Crimson Tide enter this contest as the favorite but notably, recent victories against LSU and Tennessee teams ranked in the same neighborhood as UCLA came by a combined six points. Alabama has cruised but are on alert as possibly the next two-seed to fall.
There’s not a heck of a difference between a seven- and a six-seed but hey, it’s technically an upset. Coming off a stretch of winning 11 of their last 13 games, Oregon benefitted from first-round opponent VCU dropping out of the tournament due to COVID and only had to topple Iowa to get to the Sweet 16.
The surging Ducks will face a familiar USC squad led by Evan Mobley, who defeated them 72-58 on Feb. 22. However with more rest and the glow of a 95-point performance over Iowa still fresh in their minds, Oregon is primed to topple the Trojans here.
1. No. 4 Florida State (+125) vs. No. 1 Michigan (-148)
Florida State looked unfocused at times down the stretch of their ACC schedule but they managed to make light work of UNC-Greensboro in round one before completely dismantling Pac-12 Tournament runner-up Colorado 71-53 in the round of 32.
The Seminoles’ victory over the Buffaloes was their second victory over a KenPom top-20 team this season, adding credence to Leonard Hamilton’s squad getting up for elite competition. With top-seeded Michigan still adjusting to life without Isaiah Livers, you can bet that FSU will give them a run for their money in this one.
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