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Sunday, January 20, 2019

Six potential NCAA Tournament upset picks

Ed Cooley

While it’s more important to ensure that your bracket survives the first weekend of NCAA Tournament action, there’s still something immensely satisfying about being the one to call that shocking first round upset. Sure, there are some upsets that you really can’t see coming. But sometimes, some teams are more likely to fall than others, while there are lower-seeded teams who, for one reason or another, look more poised to pull off a shocker.

Here are six first-round games to look out for as potential upsets involving double-digit seeds.

1) South Dakota State over Ohio State

This will be a popular pick. First, it’s a 5/12 game, which always tends to attract potential upsets. The Jackrabbits won 28 games, took the Summit League regular season and conference titles, and fit the bill of a mid-major who can slay the giants. They shot 40 percent from three as a team and have previous NCAA Tournament experience, even if they haven’t won before.

They also have a star in Mike Daum, a 6-foot-9 big man who can score and rebound. Add in the fact that Ohio State’s late-season run was less-than-convincing, and you have a potential upset. The Buckeyes were quickly bounced from the Big Ten Tournament by Penn State and lost three of their last five, only narrowly escaping Indiana at home in one of the two wins. They’re not coming in hot, while the Jackrabbits look like the real deal.

2) Providence over Texas A&M

7-10 upsets aren’t necessarily huge, but the Friars are still a double-digit seed worth watching out for. They pushed Villanova about as far as they could go in an overtime loss in the Big East tournament final, a sign of a talented team that has no fear of playing with the big boys. They beat Villanova earlier in the season, and have two wins over Xavier.

The Friars boast a balanced scoring attack led by Rodney Bullock and Alpha Diallo. They defend well and have the resume wins. The Aggies aren’t bad, but they don’t shoot exceptionally well and they’re certainly ripe for the taking. The Friars have the potential to make some major noise here.

3) Loyola-Chicago over Miami

The Hurricanes are a fairly generic big conference team that has lost to the likes of Florida State, Georgia Tech, and Boston College during the season. They’re unlikely to be a major threat to go particularly deep into the tournament and may not survive the first weekend.

A big part of why comes down to their opponent. The Ramblers haven’t lost since Jan. 31, and they have a win at Florida to their name as well. Coincidentally, the Gators made it in as a six seed, which is exactly the seed Loyola will be facing here. They have five scorers who average in double digits, and they shoot nearly 40 percent from three-point range as a team. Watch out for them.

4) San Diego State over Houston

Houston is no joke, but San Diego State is a tough, March-ready team. They’re strongest on defense, having stifled Nevada twice down the stretch in a pair of wins that propelled them into the tournament with a Mountain West tournament title.

The Aztecs are balanced on offense with five double-digit scorers, but they have worked hard on their defense under first-year coach Brian Dutcher. They’ll certainly have a tall task against a dynamic Houston team, but the Nevada offense is powerful too, and the Aztecs handled them. Overlook them at your own risk.

5) Murray State over West Virginia

“Press Virginia” is always an issue for teams that haven’t faced anything like them before, especially with only a few days to prepare. That may limit Murray State’s threat level in their opening game, but it would be foolish to dismiss them so easily. This is, after all, a talented team with a history of giving big teams trouble.

The Racers stayed within four points of Auburn this season and are led by Jonathan Stark, a gifted shooter who averaged nearly 22 points per game for the Ohio Valley champions this season. If he can get looks and the Racers can handle the press — big ifs — they can absolutely pull off the 5-12 upset.

6) Davidson over Kentucky

Kentucky will be a popular pick after their run through the SEC Tournament, but they’d do well to avoid overlooking their first-round opponent who are on a run of their own. The Davidson Wildcats rolled through the Atlantic 10 tournament to steal a bid from Notre Dame, and they’ll give Kentucky a very stern test.

Davidson is led by big man Peyton Aldridge (21.8 points per game), and backed up by Kellan Grady as a secondary scoring punch (18.1 PPG). They shoot nearly 40 percent from three, meaning they’ll probably have to get hot from deep if they want to pull the upset. They’re capable of doing it, though, as demonstrated by their run through the A-10 tournament. They took down St. Bonaventure while also beating Rhode Island twice in less than two weeks.

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