JOE COX: March Madness Has Arrived! Who Are Top Underdogs In Big Dance? Will Wildcats Win Or Lose
There are two kinds of people—those who know that the opening Thursday of the NCAA Tournament is the best day of the sports year and liars.
Your best day will be even better if you correct forecast most or all of the upsets that make the day special. In the modern sports environment, so many times, Goliath not only beats David, but he embarrasses him in the process. The Big Dance is about the opposite phenomenon—when small schools from podunk conferences sneak up on their power conference rivals. It’s what hoops junkies live for, and so, this column is dedicated to spotting the newest Davids, the underdogs whose buzzer beaters will become a part of NCAA history. So let’s get out the predicting hat, and give you eight upsets for the first round of games.
1) #10 seed VCU takes down #7 seed Oregon State. OK, so this one is only an upset in terms of seeding. Pac 12 basketball is the Diet Coke of power conference hoops—only two calories of real basketball. Meanwhile, VCU meets the “been there, done that” test. They’ll do it again.
2) #11 seed Gonzaga beats #6 seed Seton Hall. I know, I know. Seton Hall was great in beating Xavier and Villanova last week. I suspect they left their skills in New York. I was a middle schooler the last time Seton Hall made noise in March. And sure, they can defend, but Kyle Wiltjer will shoot them down on Thursday. Gonzaga looks like a good Sweet 16 pick, if you want another level of prediction…
3) #10 seed Syracuse over #7 seed Dayton. Syracuse is a tough out in March, and Dayton looks wobbly. Boeheim wins ugly, and he’ll do it in this game.
4) #12 seed Yale over #5 seed Baylor. Baylor is always physical, athletic, and prone to playing dumb basketball. Yale is pretty much their polar opposite. Harvard showed the Ivy League mojo last March, and I’m going Yale for the upset in this game.
5) #13 seed Hawaii over #4 seed Cal. Cal is talented. They’re also young and with a new coach. Cuonzo Martin won some games in March with Tennessee, but Cal won’t play the kind of physical, fearless game needed in the NCAA Tournament.
6) #13 seed Iona over #4 seed Iowa State. Iowa State is one of those teams that I have wanted to like all year long. It hasn’t happened. Iona’s AJ English is about to become a household name, and you heard it here first.
7) #14 Stephen F. Austin over #3 seed West Virginia. Sorry, Huggy, I think your Mountaineers are going home early. Stephen F. Austin will run and gun and force turnovers in bunches, and West Virginia will commit a ton of them. Thomas Walkup is about to become a star.
8) #14 seed Fresno State over #3 seed Utah. See remarks on Iowa State above. I know Utah has 7-0 All-American center Jakob Poetl, but the Utes have feasted on bad teams. Fresno isn’t one.
So what about the Wildcats? Stony Brook is a legitimate opponent, led by Jameel Warney, who will be a load in the low post. But the Seawolves are in their first trip to the NCAAs, and won’t be ready for the atmosphere or for the athleticism of Kentucky. UK by 22.
And that brings up Indiana. Or does it? Chattanooga is a legitimate threat, but assuming the Hoosiers make it, they present a legitimate challenge. IU shoots 41.5% from three-point range on the season, but without a true inside threat, Kentucky will play aggressively and force a multitude of IU turnovers. UK by 8.
Joe Cox is contributing editor for KySportsStyle.com Magazine. He grew up in Letcher County and Bell County, and has written four books involving UK sports, and the newest one "The Kentucky Wildcat Fans’ Bucket List" (with Ryan Clark) is on sale now. Joe is an attorney and lives in Logan County with his wife and children. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.