March Madness Upsets: Most Likely Cinderella Candidates

min read
The Charleston Cougars have March Madness upset written all over them.
(AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Chase Kiddy @chaseakiddy Mar 14, 2023, 9:26 PM
  • Everyone loves to hunt for upsets in their March Madness bracket.
  • Oral Roberts is back in the field after upsetting Ohio State as a No. 15 seed in 2021.
  • Mid-major teams like Drake and Kent State come from historically successful conferences.

When it comes to March Madness brackets, everyone knows the deal. 

A correct upset pick is worth its weight in gold. (If you’re betting into the college basketball odds market, it can quite literally be worth some gold.)

I’m hammering out a lot of good NCAA Tournament content right now, including these First Four best bets and lots of ongoing analysis of the college basketball championship odds.

If you’re looking for some outright upsets to bet on, or maybe even just looking for a few good sleepers in your bracket pool, you should strongly consider a few of these picks.

March Madness Odds: Duke vs. Oral Roberts (+6.5)

Oral Roberts is well known to annual March Madness gurus. The Golden Eagles made three consecutive tournament appearances from 2006-08, though they came away from those bids without any wins to show for it. 

The 2021 tournament was a completely different story. Oral Roberts was seeded as a No. 15 and matched against Ohio State, who it promptly eliminated en route to the Sweet 16. 

After a 19-win season in 2022 that fell short of a tournament appearance, the Golden Eagles are back. This time, they’re in the infamous No. 12 seed spot and playing with extreme confidence. 

Why so confident? 

Well, Oral Roberts went 18-0 in Summit League play before winning its three conference tournament games by a combined 55 points. Its 17-game winning stretch is the longest active streak in Division I men’s basketball.

Duke is playing well at the end of the season, with a nice win streak of its own, but this is no longer a program coached by Coach K. Jon Scheyer will be coaching his first NCAA Tournament game as a Division I head coach. Against an opponent this good, it could be a bumpy start.

March Madness Odds: San Diego State vs. College of Charleston (+5.5)

This is a fascinating contrast of styles, as Brian Dutcher’s gritty, methodical San Diego State team faces off against Charleston’s up-tempo, run-and-gun style.

To state the obvious, whoever controls the pace of the game is most likely to win. To my eye, that’s more likely to be Charleston, which should find plenty of success in shooting over the top of San Diego State’s defense.

The Mountain West is 0-8 in NCAA Tournament games since 2019, which isn’t a great sign for the Aztecs. There are different reasons why this seems to keep happening, but for SDSU’s part, its problem appears to be a tournament-susceptible style of play.

Over the course of a full regular season, tough defense and a methodical offense can be a winning long-term strategy. But in a tournament setting, where opponents are filtered out to be good teams with capable offenses, a slow-paced team with a limited offensive ceiling could be a more vulnerable approach to team building. It’s a similar problem to what high-major teams like Virginia and Illinois have experienced.

March Madness Odds: Kentucky vs. Providence (+4.5)

John Calipari and Kentucky have a rich history of winning games in March, but the cupboard has been pretty bare of late. 

After an Elite Eight appearance in 2019, Kentucky failed to make the tournament in 2021, posting a disappointing 9-16 record. Last year, Kentucky became the first victim of No. 15 Saint Peter’s Cinderella run. It was the first time UK had lost in the round of 64 since 2008.

This year, Kentucky was a good-not-great SEC team with a predictable offense. It relied a little too much on athleticism and rebounding from Oscar Tshiebwe.

Enter No. 11 seed Providence, which will pit one-time Kentucky player Bryce Hopkins against his former team.

As of Tuesday afternoon, basketball fans still don’t know half the point spreads for the 6/11 games because the First Four has yet to be played. Even without full context, though, this line is noticeably short, which could indicate that Kentucky’s second-round status is yet again in doubt.

March Madness Odds: Indiana vs. Kent State (+4.5)

I want all the Kent State stock I can buy. The MAC has been one of the most successful NCAA Tournament mid-majors of the last few years, with Buffalo and Ohio scoring upsets. Last year, Akron came within just a few points of upsetting UCLA.

This year, the MAC is represented by Kent State, which has already played tight games against Houston and Gonzaga this season. The Golden Flashes are legit.

Meanwhile, Indiana is an overvalued team with a .500 record over the last month. There’s a big reason this number is already going and moving lower. 

And with Kent State, the potential for multiple wins is  there. Its tournament pod in Albany – a friendly drive for Ohioans, by the way – is ripe for upset. ACC regular-season champion Miami is far from unbeatable. 

At the BetMGM online sportsbook, Kent State is +700 to make the Sweet 16. I think it’s great odds for a great team with a very manageable path.

March Madness Odds: Miami vs. Drake (+2.5)

Did I mention that Miami is not unbeatable? Drake hails from the almighty giant-slaying conference that is the Missouri Valley, and the Bulldogs are looking to add to the conference’s 12 NCAA Tournament wins since 2015.

Miami coach Jim Laranega knows a thing or two about upsets in March – he did, after all, help author George Mason’s run to the Final Four in 2006 – but Miami has either missed the tournament or lost in the first round in six of the past seven seasons. 

This is not an inspiring favorite.

It seems every year we see one region where a No. 12 seed is playing a No. 13 seed. I think that’ll be the Midwest this year when Kent State plays Drake. I’m placing bets and filling out my bracket accordingly.

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About the Author

Chase Kiddy

Read More @chaseakiddy

Chase Kiddy is a writer for BetMGM and co-host of The Lion's Edge, an NFL and college football podcast available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and everywhere else. He has also written for a number of print and online outlets, including the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Washington Post, Daily News-Record, and HERO Sports. His first novel, Cave Paintings, is in development.

Chase Kiddy is a writer for BetMGM and co-host of The Lion's Edge, an NFL and college football podcast available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and everywhere else. He has also written for a number of print and online outlets, including the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Washington Post, Daily News-Record, and HERO Sports. His first novel, Cave Paintings, is in development.