March Madness 2013: Five high-reward NCAA tournament upset picks
Upsets are the essence of the NCAA tournament. But too many of them, or upsets not chosen judiciously, can leave your bracket crumpled before Happy Hour ends on the opening Friday of the NCAA tournament.
Here are five logical, yet high-reward upset picks that won't burn you deep in your bracket:
No. 11 Minnesota over. No. 6 UCLA
There appears to be too much turmoil in the Bruins program right now to advance in March. On the court, UCLA must figure out a way to compensate for the loss of freshman guard Jordan Adams, who broke his foot in the Pac-12 tournament. Adams was the Bruins second leading scorer, averaging 15.2 points per game. He'd just broken out for 24 points against Arizona before breaking his foot on the game's final play.
Off the floor, the LA Times reported that UCLA coach Ben Howland could soon be fired. "There is a feeling that only a Sweet 16 appearance could save his job, and even that might not be enough," Times columnist Bill Plaschke reported. He added that the money for Howland's $2.3 million buyout is "already in place."
That type of pressure, combined with the loss of a key player, doesn't bode well for UCLA. The Bruins received a low seed, in part thanks to the injury, and a tricky draw. Talented Minnesota, which has underachieved this year, has been battle tested by the Big Ten and won't be intimidated by UCLA's talent. The Gophers have sputtered into the tournament, losing seven of 10. The Gophers will edge out UCLA in this battle of attrition.
No. 12 Oregon over No. 5 Oklahoma State
The Ducks were woefully under-seeded after their Pac-12 tournament run. Injured guard Dominic Artis returned for Oregon but didn't play particularly well in Vegas. Still, the Ducks showed they know how to win in the postseason, something coach Dana Altman became accustomed to doing in his last job at Creighton.
New lead guard Johnathan Loyd settled into his role in Vegas and has Oregon riding strong momentum heading into the NCAAs.
Neither of these teams stands much of a chance to get by No. 4 St. Louis in the second round, so the Oregon play here is low-risk and high reward. Altman will have a few days to conjure up a game-plan to stop Cowboy guard Marcus Smart, the best freshman and player in the Big 12.
No. 14 Davidson over No. 3 Marquette
The feeling coming out of the Big East tournament is that after Louisville, there's a long drop in the caliber of the top teams in the league. Marquette coach Buzz Williams squeezed what he could out of this team, but after looking lifeless against Notre Dame in New York it's reasonable to surmise the Golden Eagles won't make a long run. Away from the Bradley Center, Marquette has been mediocre. Davidson has NCAA tournament experience, an elite coach in Bob McKillop and two stars in Jake Cohen and De'Mon Brooks who are capable of a Steph Curry-type game. With Marquette not a long-term threat, this is a worthy upset play for your pool.
No. 10 Iowa State vs. No. 7 Notre Dame
Iowa State is the type of athletic, high-flying team that can give the Irish problems. Iowa State led the country in three-pointers attempted this season and rank No. 5 in the country with 79.8 points per game.
Four of Iowa State's top six scorers -- Will Clyburn (Utah), Tyrus McGee (JUCO), Korie Lucious (Michigan State) and Chris Babb (Penn State) -- are transfers. That makes it understandable why the Cyclones are coming together late. Another new face, freshman Georges Niang (12.0 ppg), looks like he'll blossom into a Big 12 superstar.
Notre Dame hasn't been to the Round of 16 since 2003 and has lost in its first game two of the past three years. KenPom's data projects the Irish will win by one point. The game is a toss up, meaning that it's worth the risk picking the Cyclones.
No. 9 Temple over No. 8 NC State
This is an intriguing match-up by reputation. Temple's Fran Dunphy is considered one of the game's best Xs and Os coaches, but he has just a 2-13 NCAA tournament coaching record. (Thanks, partly, to nine NCAA appearances at Penn, where a low seed is normal.)
NC State coach Mark Gottfried, who has a poor bench coaching reputation, is coming off a surprise Round of 16 appearance last year after upsets of San Diego State and Georgetown. The Wolfpack began the year as an ACC favorite and has underachieved, considering the caliber of talent on the roster.
While it won't be a titanic upset, Temple is a smart play here because the Owls won seven straight heading into the A-10 tournament. Coaching matters in No. 8 vs No. 9 games. (Consider that Texas' Rick Barnes is 0-5 in his career in these match-ups). Look for Dunphy to find an edge and A-10 Player of the Year Khalif Wyatt to lead Temple to a win.