In a season filled with parity, including the preseason number one team not making the NCAA Tournament, this year’s bracket should be chalk full of upsets.
HOUSTON — The NCAA Tournament Field of 68 is officially set after the selection committee’s choices were revealed on Sunday evening.
The Alabama Crimson Tide earned the number one overall seed after running through the SEC Tournament, followed by Houston, Kansas, and Purdue to round out the top seeds.
In a season filled to the brim with parity, including the preseason number one team not even making the NCAA Tournament, this year’s bracket should be chalk full of upsets.
Below is a look at five teams seeded eight or below who could bust brackets this year by making a surprise run. Make sure to check this out and listen to the Locked on College Basketball podcast before filling out your bracket to be fully informed on the likeliest upsets for this year’s NCAA Tournament:
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1. Memphis Tigers (8 seed, East Region)
It’s not often teams seeded eight or nine end up as tournament darlings, simply because a second round matchup against a number one seed is a difficult road to the Sweet 16 (and beyond).
Then again, most 8/9 seeds don’t blow out a number one seed in their conference tournament just a few hours before Selection Sunday, but that’s exactly what Penny Hardaway’s Memphis team did when they boat raced Houston, 75-65, to win the AAC Tournament.
Houston was without star guard Marcus Sasser, but the Tigers won nine of their last 11 games and head into the big dance with experience, athleticism, and elite guard play from Kendric Davis. A second round matchup against a Purdue team that has struggled down the stretch, plays a lot of freshman guards, and doesn’t do well against defensive pressure is a potential upset waiting to happen and could land the Tigers in the Sweet 16 against Duke or Tennessee.
2. Auburn Tigers (9 seed, Midwest Region)
The Tigers only won three of their final 10 games, limping to the finish line under Bruce Pearl after losing to ten seed Arkansas in the SEC Tournament.
However, this is another potential 8/9 upset over a one seed, with the Tigers playing their first two games in Birmingham, Alabama, giving them a comfortable home environment to take on Iowa and – if they win – a Houston team that may or may not have senior guard Marcus Sasser on the court.
Can Wendell Green and Johni Broome score enough against Houston’s vaunted defense to pull an upset? That remains to be seen, but Auburn’s odds of advancing past Iowa and giving the Coogs a run for their money in front of a pro Tigers crowd seem very likely.
3. Penn State Nittany Lions (10 seed, Midwest Region)
You’ll have a hard time finding a hotter team entering the NCAA Tournament than the Nittany Lions, who rattled off five straight impressive wins before falling by just two points to Purdue in the Big Ten championship.
Micah Shrewsberry is one of the game’s most desirable head coaches right now, and although a date with seven seed Texas A&M (who finished second in the SEC) is not great, the Lions are a matchup nightmare thanks to Jalen Pickett – who is averaging 17.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 6.7 assists per game while shooting 38.3% from deep.
If Penn State can advance they’ll likely line up against a Texas team that kept up the momentum after firing coach Chris Beard, but who struggles to shoot from beyond the arc and lacks a defensive anchor on the block. It’s not hard to imagine this Penn State team making a deep run as a double-digit seed, even if their coach ends up elsewhere before the run is up – much like Shaheen Holloway and Saint Peter’s last season.
4. Charleston Cougars (12 seed, South Region)
Charleston was one of the most dominant teams in all of college basketball this season, posting a 31-3 record including a win over Virginia Tech, Davidson, Colorado State, and NCAA Tournament team Kent State (more on them later).
The Cougars play at a fast pace and are balanced on the offensive and defensive end of the floor. 12-5 upsets are as bankable as it gets in terms of NCAA Tournament upsets, and considering the Mountain West’s struggles in previous tournaments, and Charleston’s high pedigree, this seems like a solid bet when filling out brackets.
Whether the Cougars can advance past Virginia in the second round remains to be seen, but this is not a team anyone wants to face for the rest of the month.
5. Kent State Golden Flashes (13 seed, Midwest Region)
Kent State proved what they were made of early in the season, losing narrowly to both Houston and Gonzaga while dismantling nearly everyone else they played. That turned into a very solid run through the MAC, and they were able to put away Toledo to win the conference tournament and earn a 13 seed – where they will face a talented but inconsistent Indiana squad.
Sincere Carry is one of the best mid-major guards in the entire country, and the Golden Flashes boast a top-40 defense in the country per KenPom. Trayce Jackson-Davis is nearly unstoppable for Indiana, but if Jalen Hood-Schifino doesn’t play well there is a definite path for a potential 13-4 upset here – and a date with a banged up Miami team in the second round.