The best March Madness upset picks for the first round

Furman's Mike Bothwell struggles for a loose ball

12/14/2021; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, United States; Furman Paladins guard Mike Bothwell (3) with the ball while North Carolina Tar Heels’ Armando Bacot (5) defends in the second half at the Dean E. Smith Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

  • The first round of the NCAA tournament ends on Thursday
  • Many underdogs are bidding for Value to be this year’s Cinderella, including Furman
  • Check out our favorite March Madness picks below

March is madness. Every year at the NCAA tournament there are a handful of game-changing surprises that no one saw coming. The first round officially ends Thursday, and we’ve identified a few sleepers who are making their mark as Cinderella contestants this year.

Each of these teams will pick up points in their opening round matchup, but we’re not aiming for them to beat the spread in college basketball odds, we’re banking on them sending home a much higher starting XI early.

Angry pick #1 – Furman over Virginia

It wasn’t that long ago that Virginia became the first No. 1 to lose to a 16 seed at March Madness. Of course, the Cavaliers bounced back the following year and won the NCAA tournament, but this year’s program doesn’t have nearly the same kind of talent.

Virginia’s success is based on getting stops. The South’s fourth seed in the March Madness category boasts a top-5 defense in the nation but an offense that ranks outside the top-250 in points per game. The Cavaliers don’t shoot the ball well and they don’t gain additional possession by collecting offensive rebounds.

To make matters worse, they only take 70% of their free throws. They’re a prime candidate to be upset by a strong offensive team, and their first-round opponent Furman fits that bill perfectly.

The 14-strong Paladins average over 80 points per match and are the 10th best shooting team in the country. No program makes a higher percentage of her appearance from inside the arc, while Furman also buries the 18th most threes.

They’re coming off a 27-win season that included 14 wins in their last 15 games en route to a Southern Conference title. Four players are averaging in double figures while both senior guard Mike Bothwell and junior forward Jalen Slawson are making real differences.

The Paladins have won their 15 conference games by averaging 16 points, including five wins by 20+ points. They’re a real threat not only to get past Virginia, but also to upset some of the other contenders with the slimmest chances of March Madness winning.

Choice: Furman Paladins (+195)

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Angry pick #2 – Drake over Miami

One of the most popular surprises every year is the 12v5 matchup. This year is no exception. Miami is the Midwest’s fifth seed and they’ll have their hands full with Drake.

The Hurricanes are an exceptional offensive team, but it’s easy to build arguments against them. For starters, they rank outside the top-130 in terms of defensive efficiency. Miami allows opponents to shoot 45% from the field and they are below the national average in rebounds and takeaways.

Drake vs. Miami head to head

27-7 Record 25-7
73.8 points per game 79.4
64.4 counterpoints per game 72.1
53.1% Effective FG% 55.0%
47.3% Effective FG% of the opponent 51.3%

Their leading rebounder and third-top scorer Norchad Omier went down with an ankle injury in the ACC tournament and there’s no guarantee he’ll be fit for this matchup.

The Bulldogs, on the other hand, are red hot. They have won 13 of their last 14 games, including a 26-point blowout win in the MVC title game over top seed Bradley. Drake ranks 44th in defensive efficiency and second in defensive rebound percentage.

They are one of the most experienced teams with an average age of 23 and have a future NBA player in Tucker DeVries. He won the 2022 MVC award for Freshman of the Year and is averaging over 20 points per game while shooting 39% from three.

The Bulldogs are a brave, well-trained team that gets the little things right. They protect the ball, take their free throws and are manned by experienced guards. All things I like to aim for in potential Cinderella contestants.

Choice: Drake Bulldogs (+120)

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Chris Amberley

sports journalist

sports journalist

tennis The best March Madness upset picks for the first round

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