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 49 times in 148 games, a rate that puts their win percentage close to what we see from No. 6 seeds, so that hope of a long shot moving on is justified. However, this year it could be the No. 10 seeds that bust brackets the best.
A quick look at the 2017 Pomeroy college basketball ratings shows us that the average rating of the No. 10 seed is on par with the No. 6 and No. 7 seeds, making an upset (or two) in this part of the bracket likely.
Wichita State Shockers
The strongest of the group is Wichita State, whose fifth-ranked defense helps push the Shockers to a plus-26.4 adjusted efficiency, higher than 1-seed Kansas (plus-26.0), 2-seeds Duke (plus-25.1) and Arizona (plus-22.7).
As a team, Wichita State is shooting 40.7 percent from three-point range, third in the country, with Kansas transfer Conner Frankamp shooting a robust 44.6 percent from beyond the arc. Markis McDuffie, Landry Shamet and Darral Willis Jr. all chip in with double-digit scoring per night.
Chance of beating No. 7 Dayton: 75 percent per Kenpom.com
Marquette Golden Eagles
The Golden Eagles led the nation in three-point shooting percentage (43 percent) and were the seventh-highest scoring team in nation during the regular season after adjusting for strength of schedule (121 points per 100 possessions).
Their ball-hawking defense (10.3 percent steal rate) could also net them some extra possessions, which could be major trouble for South Carolina during the first round. Marquette ranks in the top two percent of the country for points scored per possession in transition (1.24), cuts to the basket (1.35) and off spot-up opportunities (1.16) plus is in the top two percent for points by the ballhandler during the pick and roll (0.92). In other words, this isn’t just a long-range shooting team — their versatility on offense cold propel them far in the tournament.
Chance of beating No. 7 South Carolina: 51 percent
Oklahoma State Cowboys
Michigan lives and dies by the three-point shot and their 45.1 percent of field goals from behind the arc is the fourth-highest rate among tournament teams, so the Cowboys have two choices: They can either keep the Wolverines from getting clean looks or go toe-to-toe with them on offense. The latter is the easier path.
Oklahoma State produced the highest points per 100 possessions after adjusting for strength of schedule (124.8) and shot 40.3 percent from three, eight-highest in the nation. A solid core of Jeffrey Carroll, Jawun Evans and Phil Forte III can put points on the board through spot-up shooting, in transition or by running the pick-and-roll. And Evans is just as good of a passer as he is a scorer.
The sophomore guard was named first-team All-Big 12 by the coaches and a third-team all-American by Sporting News after averaging 19 points and 6.2 assists per game. His court vision was so good it boosted his points per possession from 0.93 to 1.29 points per possession this season, once you account for his ability to pass the ball.
If Oklahoma State can get ahead of Michigan early, and tempt the Wolverines into chucking the ball at the rim in hopes of getting back into contention, the Cowboys could steal one early in the tournament.
Chance of beating No. 7 Michigan: 49 percent
VCU has seven players who average over 20 minutes a night with 37.8 percent of the team’s total minutes coming from bench players, making this a deep team primed for an early upset. The return of point guard De’Riante Jenkins, who was sidelined for two months with a broken bone in his foot, could make them even deeper.
St. Mary’s won’t be able to run VCU ragged in transition thanks to those fresh legs. Defensively, the Rams held opponents to 0.88 points per possession (top 5 percent of the nation) with a field goal percentage against of 42.6 percent, both significantly lower than the Gaels’ production during the regular season (1.32 and 62.8 percent, respectively). Still, St. Mary’s is the safest of the No. 7 seeds to advance.
Chance of beating No. 7 St. Mary’s: 29 percent