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Best March Madness Upset Picks for First Round

Chris Amberley

by Chris Amberley in College Basketball

Mar 14, 2023 · 7:01 AM PDT

Furman's Mike Bothwell battles for a loose ball
Dec 14, 2021; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; Furman Paladins guard Mike Bothwell (3) with the ball as North Carolina Tar Heels forward Armando Bacot (5) defends in the second half at Dean E. Smith Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
  • The first round of the NCAA Tournament tips-off on Thursday
  • Plenty of underdogs offer value to be this year’s Cinderella, including Furman
  • Check out our favorite March Madness upset picks below

March equals Madness. Every year there are a handful of bracket-breaking upsets at the NCAA Tournament that no one saw coming. The first round officially tips off on Thursday, and we’ve identified a couple sleepers who profile as Cinderella candidates this year.

Each of these teams is catching points in their opening round matchup, but we’re not targeting them to beat the spread in the college basketball odds, we’re banking on them sending a much higher seed home early.

Upset Pick #1 – Furman over Virginia

It wasn’t too long ago that Virginia became the first number 1 seed to lose to a 16-seed at March Madness. Of course the Cavaliers bounced back the following year to win the NCAA Tournament, but this year’s program doesn’t have nearly the same type of talent.

Virginia’s success is predicated on getting stops. The South’s fourth seed in the March Madness bracket boasts a top-five scoring 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 extra possessions by racking up offensive rebounds.

To make matters worse, they make only 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.

The 14-seed Paladins average north of 80 points per contest, and are the 10th best shooting team in the country. No program makes a higher percentage of their looks from inside the arc, while Furman also buries the 18th most threes.

They’re fresh off a 27 win season that saw them earn 14 victories in their last 15 games en route to a Southern Conference title. Four players average in double-figures, while both senior guard Mike Bothwell and junior forward Jalen Slawson are true difference makers.

The Paladins won its 15 conference games by an average of 16 points, including five victories of more than 20 points. They’re a real threat to not only get past Virginia, but to also upset some of the other contenders with the shortest odds to win March Madness.

Pick: Furman Paladins (+195)

Upset Pick #2 – Drake over Miami

Every year one of the most popular upsets to target is in the 12 vs 5 matchup. This year is no exception. Miami is the Midwest’s fifth seed, and they’re going to have their hands full with Drake.

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

Drake vs Miami Head-to-Head

Drake Bulldogs
Miami Hurricanes
27-7 Record 25-7
73.8 Points per Game 79.4
64.4 Points Against per Game 72.1
53.1% Effective FG% 55.0%
47.3% Opponent Effective FG% 51.3%
Their leading rebounder, and third leading scorer Norchad Omier went down in the ACC Tournament with an ankle injury and there’s no guarantee he suits up for this matchup.

The Bulldogs meanwhile, are red-hot. They’ve won 13 of their last 14 games, including a 26-point blowout victory in the MVC title game over top-seed Bradley. Drake ranks 44th in defensive efficiency and second in defensive rebounding percentage.

They’re one of the most experienced teams, with an average age of 23, and have a future NBA’er in Tucker DeVries. He won the MVC’s freshman of the year award in 2022, and averages over 20 points per game while shooting 39% from three.

The Bulldogs are a gritty, well coached team that does the little things right. They protect the ball, they make their free throws, and they’re loaded with senior guards. All things I like to target in potential Cinderella candidates.

Pick: Drake Bulldogs (+120)


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