The one section of the bracket where most people look for an upset is in the round of 64 when a No. 5 seed faces off against a No. 12 seed. Since 1985, No. 5 seeds have been upset 44 times in 124 games, a rate that puts their win percentage lower than what we see from No. 6 seeds, so that treasure hunting by bracket pool pickers is justified. However, this year it could be the No. 11 seeds that bust brackets the best.
A quick look at the 2016 Pomeroy college basketball ratings shows us that the average rating of the No. 11 seed is on par with the No. 7, making an upset (or two) in this part of the bracket likely.
The strongest of the group is No. 11 Wichita State, whose No. 1 ranked defense fueled the victory over Vanderbilt in Tuesday’s First Four play-in game. The Shockers allow the fewest points per 100 possessions in the nation (88.6) and hold opponents to an effective field goal percentage of 44.1 percent, the fifth-lowest among the college ranks. Over the regular-season, they earned the ninth-best Pomeroy rating (0.915), higher than No. 1 Oregon (0.912).
Based on that rating, Pomeroy gives Wichita State a 56-percent chance at shocking No. 6 Arizona in the first round, making it one of the few lower-seeded teams that is favored outright against the opponent.
No. 11 Gonzaga is also in prime position to knock off No. 6 Seton Hall (47 percent per Pomeroy). The Bulldogs have outscored opponents by 13.5 points per game, which is historically more in line with what we have seen from the average No. 2 seed (plus-12.4 net points per game) than a No. 11 (plus-7.6 net points per game), and have a front line that gives them the highest effective height, a size metric weighted by minutes played, of any team in the tournament.
Senior Kyle Wiltjer, a 6-foot-10 Kentucky transfer and preseason all-American, averages 20.7 points and 6.3 rebounds per game while shooting 42 percent from three-point range. Sophomore center Damontas Sabonis, at 6-foot-11, is a strong presence inside, averaging 17.4 points and 11.6 boards per game while shooting 61 percent. And Ryan Edwards, a 7-foot-1 sophomore, provides additional strength off the bench.
No. 11 Northern Iowa, which won nine of its last 10 regular-season games before becoming champion of the Missouri Valley Tournament, is ranked 11th nationally in scoring defense (62.9) and plays a disciplined brand of basketball, sending opponents to the line for just 23.6 percent of time, the second best mark in the nation. Only Utah was better.
Keep an eye on senior guard Wes Washpun, who can hand out the assists — his assist rate (34.3 percent) was the 31st in the country — and hit the clutch shots.
Pomeroy ratings give Northern Iowa a 33 percent chance at beating No. 6 Texas, but if it can limit the amount of scoring the Longhorns produce in the paint, it could drive that probability even higher.
Michigan and Tulsa will battle in Wednesday night’s First Four game for the right to play No. 6 Notre Dame, and both have a good chance of knocking the Fighting Irish out of the tournament.
Notre Dame doesn’t get to the line often (just a 33.2 percent free-throw rate, 267th in the nation) and it doesn’t generate many turnovers on defense (14.8 turnover percentage compared to a league average of 18.2 percent). Plus, the Irish are awful at defending the three-point shot, allowing opponents to hit 37.6 percent from long range.
Michigan would especially be able to take advantage of this deficiency. The Wolverines hit their threes at a 38.4 percent clip and have a sniper in Duncan Robinson.