True to its name, March Madness is sure to have some upsets. The question is, which teams can pull them off?
The pre-game story: It’s pure coincidence that two of our picks have “Golden” in their nicknames, but we’re happy with what No. 12 Oral Roberts and No. 13 Kent State bring to the table. Additionally, the No. 11 Providence seems to be pairing well with its first-round opponent, Kentucky.
Here are our top upset picks for the first round of March Madness for games in the NCAA Tournament on March 16 and 17.
NCAA basketball odds at 9:10 a.m. ET on 03/15/2023.
March Madness Round 1 choices upset
Best bet : Oral Roberts (+205)
Two years after dancing to the Sweet 16 as the 15th seed, Oral Roberts is back as a dangerous NCAA Tournament underdog.
The Golden Eagles bulldozed through the Summit League in perfect fashion, compiling the first 30-win season in school history. They rank 27th in continuity in minutes compared to last year’s team, and they are 12th among teams in the tournament in terms of experience. In other words, the national spotlight will not be too bright.
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Oral Roberts’ biggest carry is undoubtedly Max Abmas, a senior guard whose 22.2 points per game lead all players in the tournament. Abmas, who shoots 38.1% from beyond the arc, has scored 25-plus points in ORU’s three March Madness games in 2021.
The formula for No. 12 Oral Roberts to beat No. 5 Duke is simple: get hot from 3 points.
The Golden Eagles attempt more than 45% of their shots from deep, so they will live or die by this scoring method. They usually live, but their 83-45 loss to Houston in November – in which ORU went 8 of 38 from the outside – shows what happens when disaster strikes.
We are looking for an opportunity, however, not a sure thing. As we’ve seen in recent memory, Oral Roberts has what it takes to create an upset.
Key stat: The Golden Eagles have the longest active winning streak in the nation (17 games).
Kent State (+138) : While we haven’t seen the Golden Flashes pull off any notable upsets this year, they have held off in three premier road games during the non-conference roster.
Kent State lost by two to 12-seeded Charleston, by five to seeded 1 Houston, and by seven to seeded 3 Gonzaga. They led or were tied in the final four minutes of all those matches.
Although Kent is undersized, he forces turnovers at a high level (22.6% turnover rate, 20th in NCAA). Count on the Flashes to give Indiana No. 4 a fight.
Providence (+135) : It wouldn’t be a major upset, but No. 11 Providence is a solid choice with more money than No. 6 Kentucky because the teams are a good fit.
Both teams rebound well off the attacking glass and rely more on the underscore to achieve above average offensive efficiency. The Friars do a great job of getting to the free throw line (22.2 attempts per game, 24th in the NCAA) and don’t usually return the favor, which could be the difference.
Plus, Kentucky has a pair of losses on its schedule (to South Carolina, to Georgia) that are worse than all of Providence’s losses. Another face of the Wildcats could be in order.
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