March Madness: Most Likely Sweet 16 Upsets

Warith Alatishe #10 of the Oregon State Beavers and Maurice Calloo #1 of the Oregon State Beavers celebrate their 70-56 win over Tennessee Volunteers in the first round game of the 2021 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 19, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

In the 1986 NCAA Tournament, 14-seed Cleveland State shocked 3-seed Indiana in the First Round and 6-seed St. Joseph’s in the Second Round to reach the Sweet 16 in their first-ever tournament appearance. The Vikings were one of three double-digit seeds in a Sweet 16 field with an average seed of 5.56.

Over the next 33 tournaments, 19 more 14-seeds advanced to the Second Round, but entering the 2021 NCAA Tournament, only one–Chattanooga in 1997– made the Sweet 16. Even with the Mocs, and two 10-seeds (Providence and Texas), the average seed in the 1997 Sweet 16 (4.81) didn’t sniff the 1986 record. For 35 years, the 1986 Sweet 16 field held the record for the highest average seed. It wasn’t until this year when 15-seed Oral Roberts led four double-digit seeds into the Sweet 16 and broke the record with an average seed of 5.88.

In 1986, the Sweet 16 was more chalky than the first two rounds, but there were still two upsets: 11-LSU over 2-Georgia Tech and 8-Auburn over 4-UNLV. If 1986 repeats itself, what are the two most likely upsets in this year’s Sweet 16? And if those upsets come to fruition, what would a winning parlay pay?

(12) Oregon State vs. (8) Loyola Chicago

It’s tempting to go elsewhere in the Midwest and pick against a Houston team that was outplayed by Rutgers and twice struggled with Memphis in the final weeks of the season. However, the Cougars’ perimeter defense won’t allow Syracuse to shoot 45-50 percent from deep. And if Syracuse can’t shoot 45-50 percent from deep, they won’t win.

Similarly, three weeks ago, picking Oregon State over one of the nation’s top defenses would’ve been foolish. Now, after several strong performances against good defenses, the Beavers can be trusted against Loyola Chicago.

Oregon State has played 11 games against top-30 KenPom defenses. In the first seven of those games, all played before Feb. 20, the Beavers averaged 59 points. Over their last four games against top-30 defenses, they’re averaging 73 points, including 80 against Oklahoma State in the Second Round. And they’re doing so at their pace with long possessions and patience.

“They are more opportunistic. They’re not like us,” Oklahoma State head coach Mike Boynton said before the 80-70 loss. “I want the ball down the court in like five seconds every trip, no matter how the defensive possession has gone. They’ll run if you turn it over and they clearly have numbers. Otherwise, they’re comfortable playing in the halfcourt and working the shot clock.” 

Loyola, a 6.5-point favorite in college basketball odds, will force Oregon State into turnovers, as Tennessee (15) and Oklahoma State did (20), and Cameron Krutwig will test the Beavers’ frontcourt depth. But if the Ramon Silva and Beavers can limit offensive rebounds and control the game flow with the nation’s 36th-slowest offense, they can reach the Elite Eight for the first time since 1982.

(4) Florida State vs. (1) Michigan

Three years after losing to Michigan in the 2018 Elite Eight, Florida State gets another shot at the Wolverines. 

The Seminoles have held 14 of 24 opponents under 70 points this season, including Colorado in the Second Round. The Buffs entered the game as a top-15 KenPom offense that scored 96 points against Georgetown and averaged 76 points in two regular-season games against the Pac-12’s best defensive team (USC). They were forced into 22 turnovers, double their season average, in the 56-point effort against Florida State, and shot 13 percentage points below their season average from beyond the arc.

“We’ve had games where we’ve executed very well offensively and we’ve been a little up and down and inconsistent, but tonight I thought our players were locked in with the defensive game plan,” Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton said after the win. “We had to be locked on, contest shots, and that took a tremendous effort and a high level of concentration by our team.”

Similarly, Juwan Howard lauded Michigan’s defensive effort in the second half of their Second Round win over LSU, as he should’ve after they closed the game with a dominant 10 minutes against one of the nation’s best offenses. But had the Wolverines been playing a better defensive team, the game might’ve been out of reach before the defensive jets were turned on.

Michigan didn’t play bad defense for the first 30 minutes against LSU; they contested most shots (in search of their typical 80-percent contest shots goal each game) and didn’t allow many open perimeter shots. But it wasn’t good enough against a high-powered offense that hits contested shots. On Sunday vs. Florida State, Michigan won’t be defending another LSU-level offense, but they also won’t face another LSU-level defense. Without a 40-minute end-to-end effort, Michigan will lose.

Parlay

As of Wednesday, Oregon State remains a 6.5-point underdog (-110) and +220 moneyline, while Florida State is a 2.5-point underdog (-110) and +120 moneyline.

If you don’t love the moneyline return for either underdog–$160 on a $50 bet for Oregon State and $110 on a $50 bet for Florida State–you can parlay the moneylines into a vig of +604. A $50 parlay bet with the Beavers and Seminoles would return $352, a profit of more than 600 percent.

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Andrew Doughty is a writer for BetMGM and host of High Motor by BetMGM, an NFL and college football podcast available on Apple Podcasts and everywhere else. He has written for Sports Illustrated, HERO Sports, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter: @DoughtyBetMGM

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