Everyone knows that upsets are the best part of the NCAA Tournament. And everyone who has filled out a bracket more than once knows that if you pick too many upsets, you will lose your pool. You have to be discriminating, rather, and pick the right upsets. (You also have to hope that the tournament’s early rounds are not strikingly bereft of upsets, as they were last year.)
Here, a guide to six upsets we think could hit. Including, yes, a No. 16 beating a No. 1.
No. 12 vs. No. 5
New Mexico State Can Beat Clemson
WHY IT WILL HAPPEN: Clemson is great at football, so we will put this in terms a football fan would understand: Clemson ain’t played nobody! (Or, more precisely, they have not beaten any of the best teams.) The Tigers played an extremely difficult Atlantic Coast Conference schedule. The problem is, they went 4-8 against ACC teams that made the NCAA Tournament. New Mexico State, meanwhile, is a solid mid-major that beat New Mexico twice as well as Miami and Davidson before winning the Western Athletic Conference championship. And the San Diego location makes this a far easier trip for the Aggies.
WHY IT MIGHT NOT: The advanced stats at KenPom.com say Clemson had the eighth-best defense, period, in Division I.
X FACTOR: New Mexico State is one of the country’s best offensive rebounding teams. They will need to outmuscle the taller Tigers to steal all the extra chances they can.
LINE: Clemson by 5 1/2, according to Pinnacle Sports.
No. 13 vs. No. 4
Marshall Can Beat Wichita State
WHY IT WILL HAPPEN: After a 31-year NCAA Tournament drought, Marshall beat the former Cinderella Middle Tennessee State to close the regular season, then held off a late comeback by Western Kentucky in the Conference USA title game. The Herd say they play “Hillbilly ball,” which means they spread the floor, run and take as many 3-pointers as possible. Sound familiar, NBA fans? Did we mention that the coach, Dan D’Antoni, is the brother of the Houston Rockets’ coach, Mike? Also, Wichita State’s defense is not what it used to be, and that will be a problem.
WHY IT MIGHT NOT: If there is any team familiar with lower seeds playing spoiler in the NCAA Tournament, it’s the Shockers. They won’t be overlooking anybody.
X FACTOR: Junior guard Jon Elmore does it all for Marshall and was the only player in the nation averaging more than 22 points, six rebounds and six assists per game. He was terrific in the C-USA tournament, scoring 27 points in the clinching game.
LINE: Wichita State by 11 1/2
No. 11 vs. No. 6
Loyola (Chicago) Can Beat Miami
WHY IT WILL HAPPEN: The Ramblers — Loyola definitely has the better nickname — make nearly 40 percent of their 3-pointers, near the best in the sport. If they try enough of them, they will put the game out of reach. Look for Iowa State transfer Clayton Cluster (another great name) to take over.
WHY IT MIGHT NOT: You don’t come in third in the ACC, as Miami did, by being bad. Jim Larrañaga is a Final Four coach.
X FACTOR: Befitting their underdog status, the Ramblers are small. If they miss a lot and Miami dominates the boards, they won’t stand a chance. Solution: They should try to make their shots go in the basket.
LINE: Miami by 2 1/2
No. 10 vs. No. 7
Providence Can Beat Texas A&M
WHY IT WILL HAPPEN: Providence is tough, experienced, gritty and aggressive defensively. Those are hallmarks of a team that can make noise in March. The Friars took top-seeded Villanova to overtime in the Big East championship game and beat Xavier twice this season. Meanwhile, Texas A&M will have to play at noon on the East Coast.
WHY IT MIGHT NOT: The Friars are one of the least efficient offensive teams in the field, and the Aggies won nine of their last 13 in the tough Southeastern Conference.
X FACTOR: Kyron Cartwright, Providence’s senior point guard, hit big shot after big shot in the Big East tournament. If this streaky shooter (42.8 percent) can get rolling again, he can carry the Friars on his back.
LINE: Texas A&M by 3 1/2
No. 11 vs. No. 6
San Diego State Can Beat Houston
WHY IT WILL HAPPEN: Nevada was the top seed in the Mountain West tournament — until it met the buzz-saw that is San Diego State. The Aztecs went up by 30 at halftime. Winners of nine in a row, San Diego State is finally healthy, looking like the team that beat Gonzaga in December. Houston has also been hot, winning five in a row before a 1-point loss to Cincinnati in the American Athletic Conference title game. But the Aztecs have more options offensively, with four players averaging double figures in scoring.
WHY IT MIGHT NOT: San Diego State is 1-4 in games decided by four points or less and has lost five games this season when leading in the final five minutes.
X FACTOR: Trey Kell missed four games in late January and early February, but the Aztecs’ spark plug is back and better than ever. The senior guard is averaging 18 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists in his last four games.
LINE: Houston by 4
No. 16 vs. No. 1
Penn Can Beat Kansas
WHY IT WILL HAPPEN: Deep breath on this one: It would be the first time a No. 16 beat a No. 1 in what will have been 132 contests. First, consider the imperfection of the No. 1: The Jayhawks are ninth according to KenPom.com, the equivalent of a No. 3 seed; they lag defensively; their average point differential was 21st, the same as fellow Big 12 member West Virginia (a No. 5 seed); and it is unclear how available injured big man Udoka Azubuike will be. Then there’s Penn: The Quakers won the Ivy League, which had a down year but is still a more formidable conference than No. 16s typically come from; are expert at defending the 3-pointer; and are coached by Steve Donahue, who took Cornell to the round of 16 several years ago.
WHY IT MIGHT NOT: It has never — repeat never — happened before. The closest a No. 16 has come to beating a No. 1 was in 1989, when Georgetown eked out a 50-49 victory ... over Penn’s Ivy rival Princeton.
X FACTOR: Caleb Wood is a strong perimeter defender who takes care of the ball. He typically comes off the bench for Penn. Maybe he has earned more playing time for this one?
LINE: Kansas by 14. That is smaller than every No. 2 seed’s line, by the way.