Middle Tennessee is looking for its second straight upset in the Round of 64 as a double-digit seed
The 2017 NCAA Tournament bracket is out and instantly everyone wants to pick upsets. For the common college basketball fan, this is the first time you've heard of East Tennessee State or Winthrop so I'm here to educate you on which of the higher seeds I think will be able to move on in their matchups.
The worst seeds in the Tournament are 0-for-128 against the top seeds, so don't look here for the prediction that history will be made this year. I will say this though... South Dakota State’s Mike Daum is one of the best players you've never heard of. The Jackrabbits won’t beat No. 1 Gonzaga, but if he goes off, it'll at least be interesting for a little.
No. 15 seeds has won just eight games in the history of the Tournament. I don't see any of them adding to that total this year. The 14th seed has been a little popular the last few seasons with four upsets in the last three years. West Virginia, Baylor, Iowa State and Duke have all fallen as a No. 3 seed in the first round.
14 Florida Gulf Coast over 3 FSU (West Region)
The Eagles are deep with six guys who average at least seven points per game. They like to get up and down the court and will be extra motivated for an in-state rival. The Seminoles are deep and athletic too, but we've seen them struggle some times when adversity hits. Leonard Hamilton-coached teams have made the NCAA Tournament seven times and have a total of six wins. I don't trust Hamilton and think FSU is ripe for an upset here.
14 Iona over 3 Oregon (Midwest Region)
This one is a little less likely than FGCU over FSU, but when an injury hits so close to the end of the season, who knows how a team will react. Chris Boucher (torn ACL) was a shot blocker who also could step out and hit the three-pointer. Now the Ducks have plenty of other firepower, but Iona has the offense to keep up. Jordan Washington leads a potent Gaels offense with 17.9 points per game. Their problem is their defense has been absolutely hideous all year long.
No. 13-seeded teams have 26 victories in the NCAA Tournament, but just once since 2013 when Hawaii knocked off Cal last year. This year though, you can make a case for every single No. 13.
13 East Tennessee State vs. 4 Florida (East Region)
The Gators play some incredible defense, but their depth took a hit when John Egbunu went down with an injury. They also lost three of their last four against Tournament teams Kentucky and Vanderbilt. East Tennessee State has a very good backcourt in TJ Cromer and AJ Merriweather as well as Hanner Mosquera-Perea, transfer from Indiana. The Buccaneers beat South Dakota State earlier in the season and lost close games to CAA Tournament champion UNC Wilmington and Atlantic 10 representative Dayton. ETSU won’t be afraid of the Gators.
13 Bucknell vs. 4 West Virginia (West Region)
The Mountaineers have been very mediocre down the stretch, including losses to Baylor and Iowa State. They've also had some close victories and rely on turning opponents over with their press and frenetic style. Bucknell averages only 13 turnovers per game and is very careful with the basketball. The Bison have some size in Nana Foulland, their second-leading scorer. Foulland shoots over 60 percent from the field. Bucknell has a win at Vanderbilt and previously played Wake Forest and Butler so these Bison are ready for anyone.
13 Winthrop vs. 4 Butler (South Region)
Butler enters the Tournament having lost two straight and is 5-5 in its last 10 games. I like the Bulldogs’ depth, but they are prone to some struggles on the offense. Winthrop won the Big South Tournament and enter with a 26-6 record overall. The Eagles have the dynamic duo of Keon Johnson and Xavier Cooks, who combined for nearly 40 points per game. Winthrop won in overtime at Illinois and has played Dayton and Florida State. As you can tell, I like teams that have played tougher competition and feature battle-tested veteran players.
13 Vermont over 4 Purdue (Midwest Region)
TJ Sorrentine isn't walking through those doors, but the Catamounts are back. This year's version played against Providence and South Carolina so they've already faced a few Tournament-level teams. They are more defensive-oriented, but have a group of veterans with postseason experience. My concern in this one is how they will handle Purdue’s big man combo of Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan. Still, this is one of those matchups you look at the underdog and think they've got a chance.
My last two upsets that I want to alert you to are on the 5/12 and 6/11 lines on the right side of the bracket.
11 Rhode Island over 6 Creighton (Midwest Region)
Rhode Island took the decision out of the selection committee's hands by winning the Atlantic 10 Tournament. The Rams feature the potent trio of Hassan Martin, EC Matthews and Jared Terrell. There was a lot expected from this team and it took them a little longer to get there. Now healthy, Rhode Island has the makeup to go to the Sweet 16 if it can maintain its recent level of play. Creighton is a good, solid team, but hasn’t been the same without injured Mo Watson Jr. (torn ACL) at point guard. Marcus Foster is averaging 18.3 points per game for the Blue Jays while Justin Patton is shooting nearly 70 percent from the field.
12 Middle Tennessee over 5 Minnesota (South Region)
Minnesota's seeding perplexes me, but it lines up nicely for MTSU to pick up another Tournament victory. JaCorey Williams, Giddy Potts and Reggie Upshaw lead a Blue Raiders team with 30 wins and a taste for more upsets after beating Michigan State last year. The Golden Gophers are your prototypical Big Ten team with some size and girth and decent guard play. This team was left for dead in mid-January following a five-game losing streak, but then ran off eight straight wins. Minnesota is without its only true senior in Akeem Springs, so youth and inexperience could be an issue.
Overall, you should see a trend above for the higher seeds. They are veteran teams that have played good competition and have players capable of taking over some games. Their opponents are major-level opponents with a big flaw, injury issues or a head coach that is hard to trust. The upsets are out there, you just have to find them.
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.
(Top photo courtesy of www.goblueraiders.com)