March Madness 2021: Teams on Upset Alert in Round 1 of the NCAA Tournament
The 2021 NCAA Tournament bracket is finally here, and after COVID-19 sucked the madness out of March last year, this one just feels that much better. We were deprived of all the wild upsets and Cinderella stories last March, so let’s make up for it this year, shall we?
Here are the top-seeded teams on upset alert in round one of the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
Creighton Blue Jays
For our first upset candidate, let’s head to the West Region and target the popular 12-5 matchup. Creighton earns the No. 5 seed after losing to Georgetown in the Big East championship game, and they’ll have their hands full in the first round with a sneaky-talented UC Santa Barbara team.
JaQuori McLaughlin, who was named the Big West Player of the Year this season, paces the Gauchos with 16.2 points, 5.2 assists, and 1.6 steals per game. He also leads the team in 3-point percentage at 40.4%. He’ll be able to go toe-to-toe with Creighton’s talented guards.
But the X-factor in this matchup is going to be free-throw shooting. UCSB is a top-50 team in the country in terms of free-throw percentage (75%), while Creighton ranks 321st (64.2%). If this one is tight late (and we fully expect it to be), the Gauchos should be able to close it out from the line.
Virginia might be the reigning NCAA Tournament champions dating back to 2019, but this group feels more like the 2018 team that lost to UMBC as a No. 1 seed. Throw in the fact that the Cavaliers are dealing with COVID-19 issues inside the program, and we have another easy upset candidate on our hands.
Almost every Virginia player will be in quarantine until this Thursday, just two days before their opening-round game against Ohio. The unnamed player who tested positive for the virus last week most likely won’t be available for the 13-4 matchup, clearing a path for the Bobcats to play spoiler.
Jason Preston is also going to be the best player on the floor in this game. He’s an NBA talent averaging 16.6 points, 7.2 assists, and 6.8 rebounds per game for Ohio this season. This one wouldn’t be a shocking upset in the slightest.
OK, OK calm down for a second. We’re not predicting Iowa will stumble in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to an inferior Grand Canyon team. But No. 2 seeds aren’t invincible in March Madness, and GCU is the most impressive No. 15 seed in the field this year.
Grand Canyon’s best player is 7-footer Asbjorn Midtgaard, who’s averaging 14.0 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game while shooting 70.6% from the floor. He can limit Luka Garza on the offensive end and make Iowa beat them from the outside. Oh, and Bryce Drew is the head coach of the Antelopes. Yes, the same Bryce Drew who hit one of the most memorable shots in NCAA Tournament history for Valparaiso in 1998 to upset Ole Miss. Maybe he has more March magic up his sleeve this season.
Don’t be surprised if this one comes down to the wire.
Villanova was going along just fine until two weeks ago when star point guard Collin Gillespie suffered a torn MCL in a game against Creighton. The Wildcats have lost both games since Gillespie was ruled out for the season, and now Justin Moore is dealing with a sprained ankle that limited him in the Big East tournament.
Villanova dropped to a No. 5 seed because of the injuries, and its reward is maybe the most dangerous No. 12 seed in the bracket this year — Winthrop.
Winthrop is a complete team that only lost one game all season and has four players averaging double digits. Led by nightly triple-double threat, Chandler Vaudrin, the Eagles are primed for a first-round upset against a depleted Villanova roster.
Beware of the hot team in March.
Oregon State wasn’t even in the conversation to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament this year, so they just stole one instead. The Beavers rattled off three straight wins last week against tournament teams UCLA, Oregon, and Colorado to win the Pac-12 Tournament and punch their ticket to the Big Dance. They’re peaking at the perfect time, which means Tennessee is in trouble out of the gate.
The Volunteers have one of the most efficient defenses in the country, but they constantly go dry on the offensive end. Ethan Thompson and Jarod Lucas can will Oregon State to a first-round upset and keep their Cinderella season alive.