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  • Writer's pictureNate (@WeKnowFantasy)

March Madness Upsets (2024)

March Madness is unmatched when it comes to college and even professional sports playoffs.

The volatility and, dare I say it, madness, that ensues across the next few weeks is what makes this event the 1.01 when it comes to annual sporting events.

What makes March Madness so wonderful is the potential for upsets, both large and small.

Each year a random school the general public has no knowledge of emerges out of the round of 64 and may even go on to make a deeper run.

These schools that most couldn’t even tell you what state they reside in capture the hearts of millions as we all love to see a true upset.

Along with the upsets comes the bragging rights of those who called them correctly in their March Madness bracket pools.

Just being able to take to social media and put it out there that you are a basketball genius in calling the upset, even if the rest of your bracket had already been busted.

Each year I develop a statistics based model to help me not only fill out my bracket but to find what teams are most likely in line for an upset.

Last year this very same model had projected Florida Atlantic to reach the final four as a ninth seed and Uconn to win it all as a four seed.

In this article I will highlight the handful of first round matchups that I believe are in line to see such an upset.

I too will highlight a team at the end which I believe could be this year’s Cinderella story and can make a deep run into the tournament.

Without further ado, let's get into these March Madness potential upsets!

Potential First Round Upsets

(10) Drake vs. (7) Washington State

Could you name the state that Drake is in? If you guessed Iowa, you are correct. The Bulldogs are primed to take down the Washington State Cougars in the first round. What Drake does extremely well is prevent turnovers and convert on their free throws. Of the teams in this year’s field, Drake ranks eighth in free throw percentage and ninth in turnovers-per-game. The Bulldogs are also a team that is quality from deep, ranking 13th in three points percentage. Not only do they convert from deep, they do so in an efficient manner. They rank 17th within this field in terms of offensive efficiency. Additionally they rank 21st in margin of victory, 35th in defensive efficiency and 47th in rebounding. Now if there were to be a knock to their game it's their second and third units. Drake ranks just 58th of 68 teams in terms of bench points per game. Being able to hang when their second or third units are on the floor is a big key to success in the tournament. Overall, Drake ranks 20th in my model of 68 teams.

Washington State themselves as the higher seed ranks 39th in my model. Their best attribute is their rebounding as they rank 15th. Overall, they’re a poor free throw shooting team as they rank 60th and also rank 51st in three point percentage. The Cougars also rank 43rd in offensive efficiency. These are not keys to success and therefore I have the Drake Bulldogs knocking off the higher seed Washington Cougars in the first round.

(12) James Madison vs. (5) Wisconsin

These 12-5 matchups are always one we gravitate towards when it comes to potential upsets. These 12 seeds are often successful mid-major programs that look great on paper but play a super weak strength of schedule. That is the case with the Dukes of James Madison who come in as the defending Sun Belt Tournament Champions. 

The Dukes rank eighth in this field in terms of margin of victory and ninth in defensive efficiency. What this means is that they are an elite defensive team that wins by a large margin. They also do this in an efficient way, ranking 16th in terms of offensive efficiency. On top of that, they rank 19th in three point percentage. That in itself is a recipe for success. James Madison is also a deep team as they rank 13th in this field in bench points. They are also a quality rebounding team as they rank 18th. They also rank 28th in turnovers per game. The knock to their game is their free throw shooting. Of the 68 teams they rank 59th in free throw percentage. 

What Wisconsin does well is limit turnovers and convert on their free throws as they rank ninth and tenth there respectively. They’re also a rather poor defensive team as they rank 59th in defensive efficiency and against a James Madison squad that is a very efficient scoring team, it could be an early exit for the Badgers. Wisconsin also ranks 52nd in margin of victory, meaning they won a lot of close games this season. 

(10) Colorado vs. (7) Florida

This one depends on what happens in the play-in game between Colorado and Boise State. Whoever wins the tenth seed in the South I believe will best the Florida Gators however. Since the inclusion of the play-in games, we’ve seen at least one of those teams make a deep run. I believe that to be the Colorado Buffaloes.

Colorado is elite when it comes to both three point percentage and free throw percentage. Both massively important stats in terms of tournament success. They rank fourth in both of those categories among this field. They are also a top ten rebounding team as they rank ninth there. With their three point and free throwing success comes an efficient offensive attack as they rank 25th in offensive efficiency. Now, the knock to their game is their turnovers and lack of depth. This is what could derail the Buffaloes. Colorado ranks 66th of 68 teams in terms of bench points. A victory or two in the tournament is possible but as the grind furthers, the lack of depth becomes a glaring issue. Additionally, they rank 61st of 68 in terms of turnovers. Giving away possessions is never good, especially in the tournament.

Florida is a poor defensive team as the Gators rank 60th in defensive efficiency. They also turn the ball over a lot, ranking 53rd. This helps negate some of the Buffaloes' issues. Florida is also a poor free throw shooting squad as they rank 51st. All of this suggests that the Gators could be gone after the first round.

(11) New Mexico vs. (6) Clemson

To be frank, I don’t understand how Clemson is a six seed but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that the defending Mountain West Conference Champions have a chance to knock them off.

The Lobos limit turnovers, play great defense and win by a lot of points along the way. They rank 14th in defensive efficiency and 18th in both margin of victory and turnovers in this 68-team field. They’re also a quality rebounding squad as they rank 28th in that category. The Lobos are semi-deep as they are just slightly above average in terms of bench points per game at a rank of 33rd in this field. Their knock is three point shooting as they rank just 58th in three point percentage. 

The Clemson Tigers are one of the shallowest teams in this field as they rank 61st in bench points per game. They also are rather poor defensively as they rank 57th in defensive efficiency. What Clemson does better than anyone else is knock down their free throws as they are the best team in the tournament in terms of free throw percentage. That could keep them in this one but I think what New Mexico is currently doing will be too much for the Tigers.

(13) Samford vs. (4) Kansas

Lets be honest. The Kansas Jayhawks are not good this year and have the chance to be the lowest seed knocked off in the first round if my projections are correct.

Samford is the second deepest unit in this field as they rank second in bench points per game. The luxury of keeping pace when the starters are resting is something that is crucial for success in this tournament. The Southern Conference Champions also are a top ten team when it comes to three point percentage as they rank eighth. They also are efficient in scoring the basketball as they rank 19th in offensive efficiency and are also currently 14th in margin of victory. They do have some disadvantages as they rank 61st in rebounding and 65th in turnovers per game. 

The good thing for Samford is that the Jayhawks rank 50th overall in my model. They’re a very shallow team as they rank 65th in bench points per game. They are also 58th and 59th in offensive efficiency and three point percentage respectively. Of eight important statistical categories I took into consideration this week, Kansas’ highest rank is 20th in defensive efficiency.

Favorite Cinderella Team

(10) Drake Bulldogs

My favorite ‘Cinderella’ team to make a deep run is the Drake Bulldogs.

I’ve talked about what they do well already in my breakdown of their first round matchup with the Washington State Cougars.

Teams that convert their free throws and limit turnovers are always ones to make deep runs and that’s what the Bulldogs do.

They made their way through the Missouri Valley Tournament as the second seed, topping the first seed Indiana State in the final. 

Strong guard play is also super important to tournament success and that’s what spearheads this Bulldogs regime.

Tucker DeVries, a junior, averaged 21.8 points-per-game on the season and is joined by Atin Wright (13.9) and Kevin Overton (11.4) as guards who average double-digit points-per-game for the Bulldogs.

Drake also has what I believe the easiest line of success for any of these higher seeded squads.

After getting past Washington State, the Bulldogs would likely get Iowa State in the second round if the Cyclones can get past 15th seed South Dakota State.

The Cyclones are a very good defensive unit that too holds an impressive margin of victory rating but are also not that great of an offensive squad. They’re 61st in free throw percentage, 39th in offensive efficiency and 38th in three-point shooting.

From there, Drake (as far as my model suggests) would see either the BYU Cougars or the Illinois Fighting Illini. Both teams finished rather high in my model.

This is a tough year to call as the model suggests that it is the year of the lower seeds.

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