D’Marcus SimondsSam Wasson/Getty Images
Biggest First-Round Upset: No. 15 Georgia State over No. 2 Cincinnati
At long last, a massive upset! We have two No. 12 seeds and two No. 13 seeds advancing to the second round, but that isn’t too chaotic. Heck, from 2008-13, there was a No. 12 vs. No. 13 matchup in five out of six years. And everyone knows there’s at least one No. 12 over No. 5 upset in just about every tournament.
But a No. 15 over a No. 2? That has only happened eight times in tournament history. It has happened four times in the last six years, though, so it’s not patently absurd.
There are several reasons to like this spot for a major bracket-buster.
First, it’s the Sun Belt. This was the league responsible for No. 14 Georgia State over No. 3 Baylor, as well as No. 12 Arkansas-Little Rock over No. 5 Purdue in the past three seasons. It doesn’t get regular-season attention like the Missouri Valley or Mountain West Conferences, but this has become the league for shocking upsets.
Second, Cincinnati is unequivocally the worst of the No. 2 seeds. I am well aware that KenPom has the Bearcats as the fourth-best team in the country, but a good portion of that is the home games they won against Savannah State, Western Carolina, Coppin State, Alabama State, Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Cleveland State by a combined score of 547-344. They didn’t win a single game against a No. 3 seed or better. Duke and Purdue each won two. North Carolina won four.
Third, Georgia State is the best No. 15 seed, and it has one of the best candidates to take over a game in D’Marcus Simonds. The sophomore scored in double figures in all but one game this season, averaging 21.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.7 steals. And he is surrounded by teammates who can stroke it from three-point range, which spreads the floor for him to do his thing.
Other first-round upsets: No. 11 Loyola-Chicago over No. 6 Miami
Biggest Second-Round Upset: No. 11 Loyola-Chicago over No. 3 Tennessee
The bottom half of the South Regional is going to be absurd. There is not a team in that octet you look at and say, “Oh yeah, that’s a Sweet 16 team.” So, that’s where we’re loading up on the madness.
Loyola-Chicago isn’t your typical No. 11 seed that just barely sneaks into the tournament as a middle-of-the-pack team from a major conference. The Ramblers have great metrics and haven’t lost a game since the end of January.
Most notably, Loyola-Chicago won a road game over Florida back in early December. But here’s the incredible thing about that contest: one senior starter (Ben Richardson) did not play because of a broken hand, and leading scorer Clayton Custer suffered an ankle injury, finishing with just four points in 14 minutes. The Ramblers were nowhere close to full strength and still pulled off one of the bigger upsets of the season.
They did lose three of their next five games because of those injuries, but they are 17-1 at full strength since Jan. 7. And feel free to message me with your “the Missouri Valley isn’t the same without Wichita State” retorts. Every single team in that league finished in the top 155 on KenPom. Each game was a potential loss in the most balanced league in the country, but Loyola cruised through it.
So, yeah, the Ramblers are capable of beating Miami and Tennessee.
South Region’s Final Four Representative: No. 5 Kentucky Wildcats
Kentucky may lose in the first round to Davidson. It’s going to more than have its hands full with Arizona in the second round, as well as Virginia in the Sweet 16.
But this is John Calipari we’re talking about, and his team is peaking at the right time, just like it always seems to do.
In the previous 12 years—eight with Kentucky, four with Memphis—Calipari has one national championship, five Final Fours, nine Elite Eights and 10 Sweet 16 appearances. And that coach is scheduled to go up against the two coaches (Sean Miller and Tony Bennett) who are probably the most notorious for having never taken a team to the Final Four.
After beating Arizona and Virginia, knocking off No. 7 Nevada will feel like a walk in the park.
Feel free to lose sleep over the potential Sweet 16 showdown between Deandre Ayton and the pack-line defense, but we’re going with Kentucky to make an unlikely Final Four run on par with what it did in 2014.