Which double digit seed is most likely to pull an upset in this year's NCAA Tournament (ROUNDTABLE)
The NCAA Tournament officially tips off late Tuesday night, with a pair of "First Four" games in Dayton, with another two games Wednesday before the big bracket gets underway Thursday.
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But also, as we look ahead to a full day of hoops on Thursday, our staff is also starting to break down how the games will unfold - by asking a few simple questions heading into the Big Dance.
Today: Who is the most likely double-digit seed to pull an upset?
Aaron Torres, and AT Media staff writers Jake Faigus, Austin Montgomery and Zac Krull weigh in with their picks.
Austin Montgomery - No. 12 VCU over No. 5 Saint Mary’s (West Region)
The Gaels have had a great season, but I think this is a matchup the Gaels struggle. Saint Mary's ranks in the bottom 200 in efficiency against the press. VCU brings pressure every defensive possession. We saw the Gaels struggle against said pressure in the second half against BYU and against Gonzaga in the WCC Tournament.
VCU star Ace Baldwin is back in star form after recovering from a wrist injury. The Rams have the size to battle Saint Mary’s on the low block and on the boards. VCU is the more athletic team. Saint Mary’s has not played a team with the length and versatility the Rams present since back in the out of conference portion of their schedule.
VCU has been playing great offense and has shot over 40 precent from three in four out of their last five games.
If the hot shooting continues, VCU has the ability to win in a route.
Trust the Rams to pull the classic 12 vs 5 upset here.
Jake Faigus - No. 12 Drake over No. 5 Miami (Midwest Region)
Drake is the best lower seed that could pull off an upset in this tournament. A 12-seed beats a 5-seed almost every year, and Drake is the one best equipped to do that against Miami.
The first thing that jumps out is Tucker DeVries on the perimeter. He’s the best player for the Bulldogs this season. He averages 19 points, two assists, six rebounds, and 38.7 percent from three-point range per game for the season. He’s also just a sophomore but is a great player. His dad is also the coach of the Bulldogs, Darian DeVries, so his leash is very loose too, which is a good thing.
Next, Roman Penn stands out as a senior point guard, who averages 13 points, five assists and five rebounds per game. That includes a game this year in which he had18 assists with just one turnover. He’s very solid and is a player they’ll lean on for this upset.
Drake is solid across the board on offense and is elite on defense. They give up 63.9 PPG, which is good enough for 32nd in college basketball. They also score 75 PPG this season too.
Another key about Drake that stands out in a tournament setting is the fact that they have a lot of experience on their team with five seniors and 2 juniors making up most of the team.
The last reason why I love the Bulldogs in this spot is because Miami is most likely going to be missing their best big man in Norchad Omier after he got injured very early into the ACC Tournament game against Duke. The Hurricanes have a very good backcourt in Isaiah Wong and Jordan Miller, but without Omier, they can’t do everything on their own.
Aaron Torres - No. 12 Drake over No. 5 Miami (Midwest Region)
To be blunt, this is the one I had circled as well, and since Jake made many of the same points, let me just tack on a few more.
When looking for a team that can pull off a potential upset, there are a few things I look for. One, is team experience. Have they been here before? Will this stage intimidate them? Well, for Drake the answer to those two questions are "Yes" and "No." This is a team that earned an at-large bid two seasons ago, and starts four players who are either grad transfers or true seniors. Several key players, including Roman Penn (mentioned above) are still at Drake from that tournament team from two seasons ago.
More important to me though, is balance.
As Jake mentioned, the Bulldogs are a team that can beat you in a number of ways, ranking in the top 30 nationally in fewest points allowed, while also very efficient offensively, shooting almost 37 percent from behind the three-point line.
A veteran team, with good guard play, who defends and hits an abnormal number of threes? That sounds like the recipe for an upset especially when, again, as Jake said, Miami is at less than full strength.
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Zac Krull - No. 14 UC-Santa Barbara over No. 3 Baylor (South Region)
One upset I envision that not a lot of people see coming is #14 seeded UC Santa Barbara over #3 seeded Baylor in the South Region.
Now to his credit, Scott Drew is a college hoops icon. He completed the greatest rebuild in the history of college basketball a few years ago by winning a title at Baylor, and a few guys from that title team - like Adam Flager, LJ Cryer, Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua, Flo Thamba - are still around.
But for all the firepower on offense, the one thing that the national title team did well, was get stops on the defensive end. That is the one thing that this Baylor team really struggles with, ranking 170th in the country in defensive efficiency and really struggling to get stops since the start of the season. These defensive struggles have been on full display in each of the last two games that Baylor has played in, both against Iowa State. The Cyclones have not been great offensively, especially recently and Baylor still really struggled, allowing an offense that ranks 173rd in offensive efficiency, to score 73 and 78 points respectively in each of the two games. These struggles on defense really make Baylor vulnerable.
Their opponents will be the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos, out of the Big West Conference. In his sixth season at UCSB, head coach Joe Pasternak led the Gauchos to 27 wins, along with conference regular season and tournament titles. Pasternak is no stranger to the NCAA Tournament setting, coaching UCSB to a No. 12 seed in 2021 and serving as an assistant with five consecutive NCAA Tournaments during his time at Arizona. Two years ago, the Gauchos had No. 5 seed Creighton on the ropes late in their first round tournament game, before the Blue Jays left with a narrow victory.
In order to pull this big of an upset as a No. 14 seed, you have to have players that are at least capable of going head-to-head with high major talent and competing. That is exactly what this Gaucho team has, as three of their four leading scorers are transfers coming from a higher level. That includes former Oregon Duck and Top 50 recruit Miles Norris, who provides legitimate length and size up front that can give Baylor some trouble. In addition, UCSB also has a former first team Pac-12 player in Andre Kelly, who began his career at Cal, as well as star guard Ajay Mitchell. Mitchell is UCSB’s leading scorer and assist man, really making this offense go. This trio along with the coaching of Pasternak should keep the Gauchos in the game from start to end, and I still have a very difficult time trusting Baylor’s defense after what they did to Iowa State.
The other thing that also really scares me in this matchup for Baylor, is the fact that UCSB really likes to slow the game down, ranking 302nd in the country in tempo. This limits the number of possessions that Baylor will have, and we’ve seen plenty of other teams use this formula to pull off upsets in the tournament before. As great of a coach as Scott Drew is, we’ve also seen him prone to some shocking early upsets in the tournament. Baylor was once in this exact same position as a No. 3 seed in 2015, before losing to No. 14 Georgia State on the epic RJ Hunter buzzer beater and also losing as a No. 5 seed to No. 12 Yale in 2016.
I think this UCSB team is more than capable of repeating history against this very vulnerable edition of Baylor.
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