First round surprises to choose from for your men’s NCAA tournament


There’s no better way to gain an edge in your NCAA tournament bracket pool than to correctly identify first-round surprises. And how do we find these rough diamonds? We look for teams that have an advantage in one or more of the four factors of basketball, as described by statistical analyst Dean Oliver: shooting (especially three-point shooting), rebounds, turnover, and free-throw shooting. Better shooters earn more points. Effective rebounders and opportunistic defenders create additional possessions that lead to more points. And teams that can get to the line have access to an efficient way to score. Also, advancing to the next round could be a good choice if a team with lower starting positions is favored in the points distribution, even if it’s not technically an “anger” in Las Vegas.

With that in mind, here are a few potential first-round surprises that can help set your brackets apart from everyone else’s.

(Also see our best bets to win it all, our handy cheat sheet, and our “perfect bracket.”)

#12 Oral Roberts via #5 Duke

Led by guard Max Abmas, the tournament’s top scorer who guided Oral Roberts into the Sweet 16 as a No. 15 two years ago, the Eagles have not lost since Jan. 9 and have averaged their three Summit League tournament game wins 18.3 points. Oral Roberts turnovers just 13.2 percent of his possessions, which leads the nation, and Duke isn’t particularly adept at forcing turnovers on defense, ranking 273rd in turnover percentage. Also, the Eagles have an effective field goal percentage – which accounts for the fact that three-handers are worth more than two-handers – of 56.1, which ranks seventh nationally. Oral Roberts may be struggling for rebounds against the nation’s biggest team, but when his shots fall like they usually do, watch out.

No. 12 Drake over No. 5 Miami

The Bulldogs and Hurricanes are separated by only 26 places in Ken Pomeroy’s ranking, the smallest difference of the 5-12 matchups in this year’s tournament and one smaller difference than any of the 7-10 games (Missouri and Utah State are 33 places apart, with No 7 seeded Missouri actually the bottom team) and possibly three of the 6-11 matchups (Creighton and North Carolina State are 42 points apart, Iowa State and Pittsburgh would be 54 points apart if the Panthers won their play-in game would, and TCU and Arizona State would be 41 points apart if the Sun Devils won their play-in game). Drake’s opponents are catching rebounds on just 22.4 percent of their misses, a percentage surpassed by only two teams this season. Miami could be without starting forward Norchad Omier, who injured his ankle in the Hurricanes’ ACC semifinal loss to Duke. Omie is averaging 13.6 points and a team-high 9.7 rebounds, and his absence would be devastating for a Miami team that doesn’t otherwise have a particularly strong inside presence.

NCAA Tournament Cheat Sheets: Bracket Tips, Angry Picks, and More Coverage

No. 10 Boise State via No. 7 Northwestern

This would only come as a surprise in seeding terms, as the point spread is pretty slim in this case (the Wildcats were favored by 1.5 points Monday afternoon after lingering as pick ’em immediately after selection Sunday). Also, the Broncos rank higher than the Wildcats in Pomeroy’s rankings. Northwestern is a poor shooting team, making just 32.1 percent of their three-point attempts this season, and Boise State ranks 32nd nationally in opponents’ three-point percentage (31 percent). And when opponents miss their shots, the Broncos are usually spot on to contain the rebound, ranking 16th in opponent’s offensive rebound percentage.

No. 13 Furman over No. 4 Virginia

Furman’s relative lack of athleticism won’t be tested too much against Virginia, who operates at the slowest pace of any NCAA tournament team (61.6 possessions per 40 minutes). Also, the key to defeating the Cavaliers’ packline defense is shooting over the top, and the Paladins won’t shy away from that: They’re averaging 27.5 three-point attempts per game (12th national) and making 9.5 (19th). Virginia is only mediocre at defending three-point shots and on the other side of the ball they’re not a particularly good offensive rebounding team, and Furman has the size to erase the Cavaliers’ misses. First round surprises to choose from for your men’s NCAA tournament

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