Picking upsets in your brackets is dangerous. Since 1985, only 34 percent of 11-seeds have beaten the 6-seeds, and only 40 percent of 10-seeds have beaten 7-seeds. However, this year our crunching of six factors (better team, hotter team, NBA-level players, best trio, injuries and experience of guards) indicated three 11-seeds are among the five teams with the best chance at opening round upsets. In 27 of 32 cases, the better seed does look better under our matrix.
Three 11-seeds have matrix edge: Minnesota, Belmont and Bucknell.
We may sound crazy in picking UCLA to make a run when others did not even believe they would make the tournament, and picking them to lose now that they are up to a 6-seed. But while they have tons of talent, they lost by far their best player, Jordan Adams, to an injury and that knocks them down a couple of points to a 27 on our matrix. Minnesota is a 30, and matches UCLA’s two NBA players with Trevor Mbakwe dominating underneath and Rodney Williams. The two trios were evenly matched, but give Minnesota the edge now.
Belmont has a slightly better team than Arizona, but more importantly their two best players are exceptional guards in Ian Clark and Kerron Johnson, who can handle the pressure Nick Johnson will throw at them.
Bucknell has the ninth best player in the country in center Mike Muscala, and Butler has a lot of magic but not a top 200 player this year. As great as Brad Stevens is at coaching the upset, Butler’s top trio is not one of the top 100 in the country, while Bucknell’s trio of Muscala, Cameron Ayers and Bryson Johnson are the 36th best.
Colorado has edge as 10-seed (only win 40% of the time)
The 10-seed in the East, Colorado (25 matrix points) gets a slight nod over 7-seed Illinois (20). Both Colorado and Illinois enter the tournament cold, and both have one NBA-level player (Colorado’s 6-foot-7 Andrew Roberson vs. Illinois’ 6-foot-4 Brandon Paul). However, Colorado has the 14th best trio in the country (Roberson, Spencer Dinwiddie and Josh Scott) while Illinois’ is on the 47th best (Paul, DJ Richardson and Tracy Abrams). Illinois could hold them off with a more experienced set of senior guards, but give Colorado the edge.
Strong 9-seed Missouri has edge
Historically 9-seeds actually have a slight edge over 8-seeds, and this year Missouri is the 9-seed with a big edge. This is actually a game between very strong teams for their seeds, but Missouri is loaded at a 30 on the matrix, making them one of the top 16 teams in the tournament. Both teams are senior-dominated, but Missouri’s seniors include two future NBA players in Alex Oriakhi, who won the title at UConn and finally gives Missouri size, and point guard Phil Pressey who went through the big upset last year.