The endgame of the NCAA Tournament is to crown a champion, but let’s face it: The first four days are all about the upsets.
The Valpos, Florida Gulf Coasts, Mercers, Lehighs and Bucknells are as much a part of the March Madness fabric as title-winning greatness.
If you’re picking a bracket or just trying to figure out the powers that will topple on Thursday and Friday, here’s our guide to the best potential upsets.
No. 12 Buffalo over No. 5 West Virginia
Buffalo has never made the NCAA Tournament, but could the Bulls go 1-0 in their first trip? Buffalo didn’t seem intimidated when it led Kentucky 38-33 at halftime early this season or when it played at Wisconsin in Madison. The Bulls have won eight in a row while West Virginia has dealt with injury issues to its best player, point guard Juwan Staten.
No. 10 Indiana over No. 7 Wichita State
Indiana was one of the last teams into the field, but that doesn’t mean the Hoosiers aren’t capable of the upset. Indiana lives by the 3, and Wichita State isn’t the same team that went to the Tournament with a 34-0 record last season.
No. 11 Texas over No. 6 Butler
Texas is a power conference team that underachieved this season but is hoping to hit the reset button in the NCAA Tournament. We wouldn't promise a run like Kentucky had last season, but the Longhorns have talent. Texas has plenty of bigs while the Bulldogs are perimeter-oriented. If Texas can summon something in the postseason, this would be a good opportunity to do it.
No. 13 UC Irvine over No. 4 Louisville
Louisville may have been overseeded at a No. 4 since the Cardinals haven’t been quite the same without point guard Chris Jones. In this matchup, they’ll try to drive at the basket against the tallest player in college basketball in 7-foot-6 center Mamadou Ndiaye. The Cardinals already can’t make 3s, so this game against the biggest big man may be problematic.
No. 15 Belmont over No. 2 Virginia
Picking a 15 over a 2 is a risky proposition, so proceed with caution. If Virginia isn’t vulnerable to Belmont, the Cavaliers are vulnerable to somebody. The Cavs are averaging 15 turnovers in the last four games, an average magnified by their tempo. Justin Anderson is 0-of-6 from the field in two games since his return from injury. Meanwhile, Belmont is a 3-point shooting machine, raking fourth nationally with 48 percent of its shots coming from 3.
No. 12 Stephen F. Austin over No. 5 Utah
Stephen F. Austin is dangerous again after upsetting VCU last year. SFA has lost one game since Nov. 25, and the Lumberjacks rank fifth in the nation in turnover rate on defense. On offense, they move the ball efficiently with assist on 65 percent of their field goals this season. Utah has faded since its hot start, going 3-4 in its last seven. The Utes haven’t defeated an NCAA team since Jan. 4 against UCLA.
No. 13 Eastern Washington over No. 4 Georgetown
Georgetown might not escape the upset bug again. The Hoyas have faced VCU's havoc, Dunk City and Steph Curry in their three upsets and now will face the nation’s leading scorer in Tyler Harvey. The Eagles can’t defend worth a lick, so they’ll try to push the tempo and hit 3s.
No. 10 Davidson over No. 7 Iowa
Can Iowa keep up with Davidson on offense? The Wildcats are a top-10 offensive team and can launch 3s prodigiously. Iowa is generally a pretty good offensive team under Fran McCaffery, but the Hawkeyes rank outside of the top 200 in 3-point and 2-point percentage this season.
No. 12 Wofford over No. 5 Arkansas
This will be a battle of tempo. Wofford’s best hope is to slow the pace — the Terriers rank No. 316 in that category. If Arkansas can push the tempo, all bets are off. That said, Hogs’ star Bobby Portis is 4-of-21 with six turnovers in his last two games.
No. 14 Georgia State over No. 3 Baylor
Georgia State lost five games in the Sun Belt, which isn’t a great sign for a team with plenty of major conference talent in R.J. Hunter, Kevin Ware and Ryan Harrow. Baylor can be unpredictable, but history says trust Baylor as No. 3 seed. The Bears have reached the Elite Eight in their last two trips to the NCAA Tournament as a No. 3 seed.
No. 11 BYU over No. 6 Xavier
BYU has to defeat Ole Miss in the First Four before it reaches the field to face Xavier, but the Cougars seem like the better pick to beat Xavier. BYU is a high-scoring team led by Tyler Haws, a top-10 scorer nationally. Xavier is a pretty nondescript Big East team that struggles in the half court. If BYU can limit turnovers, this is an even matchup.
No. 10 Ohio State over No. 7 VCU
If Briante Weber were healthy, this would be a nightmare matchup for Ohio State. Then again, if Weber were healthy, VCU wouldn’t be a No. 7 seed in the first place. Ohio State has one of the nation’s top freshmen in D’Angelo Russell but no KenPom top 30 wins.