March Madness Betting: 5 Upsets to Bet on For Round One

by Doug Murphy
on March 13, 2018

Can you guys smell the green beer? As St Patty’s Day Saturday approaches, I want us to look at some of the first round matchups I believe could be upsets in this year’s NCAA Tournament.

Is seeding really that important? If so, what does it tell us about how far a team can go?

I feel like the seeds tell us plenty about a team’s chances. #9 seeds have the least amount of luck besides a #15 or a #16. This is mainly because they have to play a #1 seed.

When picking first round upsets, most people are hip to the common #12 vs #5 seed. While you can expect these to go the way of the #5 seed about 60% of the time, it’s been the #11 seeds who have done the most damage to brackets winning 3 out of 4 games against the #6 seed in each of the last two tournaments.

We know there will be upsets in the first round. There always is. But where? Who? How?

Of my upset picks, I have two 11/6 matchups, two 12/5’s, and a 10/7 which is almost a pick’em.

Whether you are filling out a bracket for fun and need some good ideas and info for your upset picks or you’re specifically targeting some plus money first round moneyline bets, you’ll be a step ahead of your friends after reading this blog.

(11) San Diego State vs (6) Houston

The Houston Cougars enter this year’s dance looking for their first tournament win since their Final Four appearance in 1984. Houston is coming out of the American Athletic Conference who only has 3 tourney wins in the last 3 years.

The teams matched up well when I looked at offensive and defensive shooting percentages. One stat that stood out to me was that Houston was shooting 5 percentage points better from 3 point land than San Diego State.

The Aztecs will be playing without their longtime head coach Steve Fischer as his former assistant coach Brian Dutcher is now at the helm. San Diego State comes into the tournament riding a 9-game win streak including a Mountain West tournament championship.

The Aztecs bring a balanced attack with all 5 starters averaging in the double figures.

They are long, athletic, and play exceptional defense. Fischer recruited these players, and he doesn’t go after guys who don’t play D. They aren’t slacking up on that end of the floor under their new head coach as they are holding their opponents under 44% shooting for the year.

They also take care of the ball exceptionally well only turning it over only 10 times per contest. If you are a little unsure about this one as Houston could have been seeded higher, take the San Diego at +4.

I really like them to win, though, and the moneyline bet from of +163 is a good value. Houston may jump out to a lead early with hot shooting, but the defense, leadership, and experience of the Aztecs should carry them through a strong second half leading to a W.

(11) Loyola-Chicago vs (6) Miami

Even though the Hurricanes are a well-balanced team who have been battle-tested in the ACC all year, this one has upset written all over it. Loyola-Chicago is coming out of the Missouri Valley Conference, a conference whose teams are 8-0 in the 1st round of the tourney in the past 5 years.

The Ramblers of Chi-town are only turning the ball over 12 times per game while outscoring their opponents 72-62 over the course of the season.

Miami opened at -2.5 points, so this one is expected to be close. You won’t be the only one in your bracket pool with this upset pick. If you want Loyola on the moneyline, you can take them at +105.

Examining team’s stats from this past season, I rarely find teams ranking high in both FG% and opponent’s FG%. Loyola was the exception to this rule as they held opponents to a dismal 41% from the field while shooting above 50% including elite 3PT shooting at 40%.

With the exception of their last-second win over North Carolina this year, the Hurricanes have faltered late in ball games showing an inability to close out.

I really like Loyola-Chicago to win outright here. Don’t feel like you’re getting too far ahead with the pick as it seems to be a popular choice already.

(12) South Dakota State vs (5) Ohio State

Now on to our first #12 vs #5 prediction. I’m not going to lie. I have to double check my SDSU team info as I have both of them pulling off first-round upsets. South Dakota State comes into the tournament shooting 47% from the field and scoring 85 points per game which is good for 6th in the country.

This will mark the third straight NCAA Tournament appearance for the Jackrabbits in hopes of finding that charm. Opponents of the Jackrabbits are only shooting at a 42% clip and SDSU only turns the ball over about 12 times per game.

Both teams outscore their opponents by a comfortable 10 point margin. Don’t expect that from either team, though, when they collide. Ohio State is -8 here.

I like the upset from the Jackrabbits, but I love taking them with the points.

The moneyline bet pays very well as it opened at +330. If you’re feeling froggy or should I say Jackrabbit(ish), you can buy a lottery ticket and take SDSU to win it all at +100,000. They have an elite ballplayer to take them there in Mike Daum. He’s averaging 24 points per game with 10 rebounds while shooting 42% from three. The last guy to do that was the Slim Reaper himself, Kevin Durant.

(12) New Mexico State vs (5) Clemson

The Aggies of New Mexico State are coming into this matchup hot, winners of 6 in a row. Clemson is giving 5 points, and I don’t see it. Maybe the ACC will rebound from last year and prove me wrong. Maybe not.

The Tigers will need to stay hot from the floor as New Mexico State rebounds the ball at a very high rate. They finished the regular season ranked 4th nationally in total rebounds, and in the top ten in offensive rebounding.

They are led in the rebounding department by Jemerrio Jones who pulls in 13.2 per contest, a stat good enough for 2nd in the country. Zach Lofton scores 20/game while the Aggies as a team hold their opponents below 40% shooting.

With a dominant defense, rebounding at both ends of the floor, and hot play, I love New Mexico State to pull off the upset here.

They are +190 to win outright. You could take the points, but the moneyline looks good to me. The Aggies are also +50,000 to win it all if you’re thinking big.

(10) Oklahoma vs (7) Rhode Island

I had a very hard time deciding on my 5th upset pick. The first 4 weren’t too hard to decide upon. Davidson over Kentucky seems to be a fashionable choice right now, but the Wildcats are streaking and also too well coached to lose this early.

It was even harder picking the Sooners here. They have struggled in the second half of the season and barely limped into the dance.

Rhode Island is not a strong team in my opinion, though. I’m not a big fan of the Atlantic 10 this year either as I feel their teams are a bit overrated.

The toughest matchup for a group of guys like the Rams of Rhode Island would be a team with a strong frontcourt as that’s where they are weak. Although, you won’t see that with the Sooners.

They have more or less been a one-man show this year. Freshman Trae Young led the entire country in scoring and assists. That is quite the accomplishment for anyone, much less a freshman.

While Oklahoma is 4th in the country in scoring, there aren’t many stats that jump off the page in their favor for this game. Oklahoma is +20,000 to win it all this year. Those are similar odds of Loyola and San Diego State of +20K and +25K respectively. They are long shots, of course, but it only takes a few bucks on a wager to make thousands.

Rhode Island opened at -1.5, and Oklahoma is +105 on the moneyline to win. The Sooners will undoubtedly have the best player on the floor, and boy is he due for a good game. Paging Trae Young: you can break out of your slump anytime now.

These 5 matchups all look to be exciting, close ball games. I’m predicting each of these 5 upsets will come to fruition. In all likelihood, it will probably be 2 or 3 teams that “surprise”. I have that word in quotations mainly because most of my picks are fairly popular among experts.

I especially like the #11 vs #6 matchups with Loyola and San Diego State making it to the weekend. The best value bet would probably be the New Mexico State over Clemson moneyline bet of +190. I love the ACC, but the conference has looked more top heavy as the season has progressed with teams like UNC, Duke, and UVA separating themselves from the rest of the pack.

Whether you pick these early upsets right or wrong, your bracket shouldn’t take too much damage. Next weekend, though, may be another story.

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