Winning your NCAA Tournament bracket pool can be contingent on making smart picks. But the smartest picks aren't just making a No. 1 seed your national champion — you know, since everyone is probably picking Gonzaga or Baylor or Illinois (sorry, Michigan).
The first round is where all the decisive picks can separate your bracket from the pack, and the best way to win the first round is by selecting the right upsets and being a little gutsy. Every year, there's a handful of them that nobody saw coming (ahem, No. 16 seed UMBC over No. 1 Virginia last year). But then there are the ones where you can essentially see the writing on the wall.
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Here's a look at the four best bets for bracket-busting by double-digit seeds:
No. 12 Winthrop over No. 5 Villanova
The No. 12 seed-over-No. 5 seed is the most predictable upset – there have been 50 upsets by No. 12 seeds since 1985 with 36% odds – and it's even more the case in this particular matchup in the South Region. That's because the Wildcats (16-6) are extremely susceptible after losing top player Collin Gillespie, the Big East co-player of the year, this March. Coach Jay Wright's team has a scattered identity at the worst possible time, and it showed in a Big East Tournament upset to Georgetown. But this is also the perfect storm because Winthrop has Cinderella written all over it as a No. 12. The Eagles (23-1) only lost once this year while dominating the Big South Conference. Led by 6-7 senior guard Chandler Vaudrin (12.2 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 6.9 apg, 1.3 spg) this team has the key ingredients for a mid-major bracket-buster.
No. 11 Michigan State over UCLA, then No. 6 Brigham Young
Consider the fact that the Spartans (15-12, 9-11 Big Ten) beat No. 1 seeds Illinois and Michigan in the last three weeks, and that's evidence of how good coach Tom Izzo's squad can be when it plays up to its potential. While there's a reason Michigan State was on the bubble and facing UCLA in a play-in game, these matchups favor the Spartans. Michigan State is playing better than a UCLA team that's lost its last four and trending backwards in March. Against BYU, the second-place finisher to Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference, MSU can rely on its athleticism to throw the Cougars (20-6) out of their offensive rhythm. The Big Ten Conference was the best in the country, based on NET rankings, and the West Coast was the eighth best. That will show.
SportsPulse: It's time to fill out your bracket and our college basketball guru Scott Gleeson is here to provide you four potential Cinderellas that will either bust your bracket or help you rise above the rest.
No. 12 UC-Santa Barbara over No. 5 Creighton
The Big West champion Gauchos (22-4) are the real deal as a giant killer candidate. Coach Joe Pasternack has this team playing great defense, ranking 19th nationally in points allowed to opponents. They also shoot at a high rate, ranking 20th nationally at 49% field goal percentage. Senior guard JaQuori McLaughlin (16.2 ppg, 41% three-point shooting) paces a balanced offense. UCSB faces a Creighton team that was a preseason top 10 team but isn't exactly thriving as a No. 5 seed. The Bluejays (20-8) lost by 25 points in the Big East Tournament final to Georgetown and recently dealt with in-house adversity, as coach Greg McDermott was suspended one game for a racially insensitive speech that prompted team members to speak out against him.
Colgate Raiders guard Nelly Cummings (0) reacts to a play against the Loyola (Md) Greyhounds during the second half of the Patriot League Conference Championship game at Cotterell Court. (Photo: Rich Barnes, USA TODAY Sports)
No. 14 Colgate over No. 3 Arkansas
Unlike the other three matchups, this upset pick has less to do with the better-seeded team struggling. That's because Arkansas (22-6) is thriving, having won nine in a row before it fell to LSU in the SEC Tournament final. The upset pick has much more to do with an underrated Colgate team that's poised to be a darling in this March Madness. The Raiders (14-1) had a top-10 NET score due to a bizarre regular-season schedule that saw them play three teams four different times. Coach Matt Langel has a team that ranks second nationally in offense with 86.d points per game (trailing only Gonzaga). Colgate also shoots 50% from the floor and is second in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio. That's all fueled by crafty point guard Jordan Burns (17.1 ppg, 4.4 apg).
Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.
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