It’s tournament time and what makes the NCAA Tournament great are the upsets. This has already been a crazy year for college basketball and March Madness always brings about the unimaginable. What teams have a chance to pull off an upset in their first round matchups?
New Mexico State Aggies
The Aggies went 28-5 on the season and were able to win the WAC regular season and tournament titles. Earlier in the season New Mexico State was able to beat Miami and Davidson, who are both teams that made the field. They were awarded with a number 12 seed in the Midwest Regional and will play the number 5 seeded Clemson in the first round.
Rebounding and defense are the two calling cards of this team. They rank fourth in the country with 41.5 rebounds per game and allow just 63.8 points per game, which ranks tenth in the country. While their offense ranks outside the top 100 in efficiency, their defense ranks 14th in points allowed per 100 possessions.
The Aggies are led by Zach Lofton, who averages 19.8 points per game. He is 6’4″, which creates mismatches for smaller guards. Jemerrio Jones is undersized at 6’5″, but pulls down 13.2 rebounds per game. He also adds 11 points per game. If these two get going, the Aggies have a chance to win.
Clemson started off the year hot, but has only been able to beat three teams in the field since losing Donte Grantham for the year in mid January. While they still have the capability to beat good teams without Grantham, like North Carolina, but they are very inconsistent and New Mexico State might be able to steal a game against them.
College of Charleston Cougars
The number 13 seed in the same region is the College of Charleston Cougars. They are the champions of the CAA and posted a 26-7 record this season. While they haven’t beaten a team in the field, they got a matchup with a team that is limping into March Madness: The Auburn Tigers.
Charleston is a solid squad that doesn’t overly excel at either offense or defense, but does both at a decent level. The team does have three dynamic scorers who all average over 17 points per game. Grant Riller, Joe Chealey and Jarrell Brantley are the great scorers for the Cougars. This means if one player has a down game, the rest can pick up the slack. It also makes it hard for teams to pick which player to focus most of their defensive attention on.
Auburn has lost four of their last six games, as they are starting to feel the loss of players. Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy have been held out this season due to the FBI investigation. They have been successful without them, winning a share of the SEC title, but they also lost some other players to injury. Forward Anfernee McLemore hurt his ankle in a game against South Carolina and is out four to six months.
Losing three scholarship players from any team’s rotation would be tough to deal with. Auburn now has even more limited size after the McLemore injury. If they get in foul trouble, an already thin Auburn team could be in trouble against the College of Charleston.
South Dakota State Jackrabbits
South Dakota State has made three straight NCAA Tournaments. While they didn’t win a game in any of those tournament appearances, the last time they were a 12 seed, they played Maryland close. This year they have gone 28-6 and were able to beat Buffalo, who is in the field of 68.
The offense and rebounding are reasons to pick South Dakota State in the first round. They average the sixth most points per game at 84.9 and are also a top 25 rebounding team with 39 rebounds a game. Mike Daum is a star who leads the team in both categories at 23.1 points per game and 10.4 rebounds per game. He has a nice inside-out offensive game that is tough to match up with.
For the Buckeyes, Chris Holtmann has turned the team completely around in year one. He has done a great job, but they are very thin and could be susceptible to an upset. Ohio State has lost three of their last five including two losses to Penn State, who could not make the field. Dealing with Daum and the Jackrabbits won’t be easy.
Loyola probably has the best chance at a first round upset on this list as an 11 seed. They finished the season at 28-5 and proved they could beat good competition. They won a home game against Wright State and an away game at Florida, both of whom are in the field of 68. They matchup with Miami in the first round.
The Ramblers are a good defensive team that ranks 24th in points allowed per 100 possessions and fifth in points per game allowed at 62.2. On offense they have five players averaging double figures, so this should be another situation where Loyola will be hard to prepare for. Four of the five shoot over 37% from deep, which should help equalize the game with an athletic Miami team.
Miami is a team that hasn’t truly reached their potential all season long. They have some NBA-level talent, but have some losses that don’t make sense, namely their losses to Boston College, New Mexico State and Georgia Tech. If they play up to their potential, they could even make a run to the Elite 8, but outside of a big win at North Carolina, they haven’t given fans too much hope.