March Madness upset picks: Bracket Breakers chooses its 10 most likely first-round stunners


Welcome back to Bracket Breakers! We know you’ve missed us, and we can’t wait to overwhelm you with our unique take on NCAA tournament upsets, powered by our proprietary statistical model, Slingshot. Hopefully, you’ve been following our work for years. But if you’re new to Bracket Breakers, here’s the most recent explanation of who we are, what we do and the state of Slingshot.

In the coming days, we will offer deep regional previews of every first-round matchup that qualifies as a Bracket Breaker game (meaning there must be a differential of at least five seeds). We’ll also provide upset probabilities for every potential second-round matchup on Wednesday. You won’t want to fill out a bracket or place a moneyline bet without checking out that piece!

But as you begin to digest the bracket, we wanted to provide a quick list of the 10 likeliest first-round upsets. We swear we don’t have anything against the Palmetto State — after all, Furman professors Liz Bouzarth, John Harris and Kevin Hutson provide the math behind Slingshot — but our model certainly isn’t bullish on the two power-conference teams from South Carolina.


March madness bracket prep: Capsule previews for all 68 teams, with strengths, weaknesses, outlooks and more

As always, Slingshot looks at teams separated by at least 5 seeds, estimates their basic strengths, adjusts those power ratings according to how closely each team fits the statistical profiles of past Davids or Goliaths, and then modifies them again to account for matchups. This year, we’ve upgraded our cluster analysis. And without further ado, the top results.

For more Underdogs, listen to Peter and Jordan’s podcast. 

10 Most Likely First-Round Upsets

1. No. 6 Clemson Tigers vs. No. 11 New Mexico Lobos

Upset Chance: 57.8 percent

2. No. 6 South Carolina Gamecocks vs. No. 11 Oregon Ducks

Upset Chance: 43.2 percent

3. No. 6 Texas Tech Red Raiders vs. No. 11 NC State Wolfpack

Upset Chance: 38.2 percent

4. No. 5 Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. No. 12 McNeese Cowboys

Upset Chance: 30.8 percent

5. No. 5 Saint Mary’s Gaels vs. No. 12 Grand Canyon Lopes

Upset Chance: 30.4 percent

6. No. 4 Kansas Jayhawks vs. No. 13 Samford Bulldogs

Upset Chance: 30.1 percent

7. No.5 San Diego State Aztecs vs. No. 12 UAB Blazers

Upset Chance: 27.8 percent

8. No. 6 BYU Cougars vs. No. 11 Duquesne Dukes

Upset Chance: 24.8 percent

9. No. 5 Wisconsin Badgers vs. No. 12 James Madison Dukes

Upset Chance: 24.4 percent

10. No. 3 Creighton Bluejays vs. No. 14 Akron Zips

Upset Chance: 20.4 percent

Thanks to John Harris, Kevin Hutson and Liz Bouzarth of Furman University for research assistance.

(Illustration: Dan Goldfarb / The Athletic; Photo of New Mexico’s Jaelen House: Ian Maule / Getty Images; Photo of Grand Canyon’s Gabe McGlothan: Ian Maule / AP)

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