Need Bracket tips? Mack has the insight on the upsets

By Mack McCarthy

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What Goes Into Those Crazy March Madness Upsets?


Every year, we fill out our brackets.  Every year, there are eye-opening upsets, especially in the first couple rounds.  They’ve become so expected that everyone feels obligated to include one or more of these predictions in their brackets.  They seem random, but are they really?  I contend that they are not as much of an anomaly as they might seem.  There are some common threads to look for that may help you predict some of these upsets.

1.  Veteran teams are more dangerous than ever.  With the top teams in America becoming younger because of players leaving early for the NBA and transferring in record numbers, veteran teams from smaller conferences need to be taken seriously.  Good teams from these leagues might have fifth year guys that transferred “down”, and almost certainly they don’t have their best players leaving early to enter the draft. 

2.  Watch for teams that have good guards.  While it’s difficult for low major teams to get quality big men, it’s not that unlikely to see good perimeter players at that level.  Tournament games are often played at a slower pace and come down to good guard play.  Decision-making and shooting the basketball become more of a factor in games with less possessions.  For the same reasons we referenced earlier, look for highly seeded teams that don’t have a legitimate big man.  This can be a great equalizer.

3.  Look for major conference teams that might be over-seeded after playing well in the conference tournament.  Just like you don’t want to see a team from a power conference that won the regular season, lost in their league tournament, dropped from a 1 or 2 seed down to a 3 or 4, you’d love for the opposite to happen.  It can happen in reverse, too, with a lower ranked conference champion being underestimated.

4.  Watch out for lower seeded teams that played a tough non-conference schedule.  If a small conference team plays bigger schools (usually on the road or on a neutral floor in a regular season tournament), they won’t be shocked by the size, speed, and strength of a ranked team.  This factor is enhanced even more if the lower seeded teams even beat one or more of these opponents.


5.  Another factor to look for is the history of the smaller schools in the Dance.  Have they been to the tournament multiple times in the past?  Many times schools from smaller conferences are just happy to make it to the tournament.  That’s a natural reaction.  However, if the lower ranked school regularly wins their league and/or tournament, they are much more likely looking at the tournament as a real opportunity to win rather than just go and enjoy the experience.

I’d be willing to bet that if you see an upset on Thursday or Friday this week, some, if not all, of these criteria will be factors in the outcome.         


 About the Author:  Mack McCarthy has spent over 40 years in Division I Athletics including 19 years as head basketball coach at Chattanooga, VCU, and East Carolina.  Mack led his Chattanooga teams to the NCAA Tournament five times including a trip to the Sweet 16.  Mack works as a TV Color Analyst for multiple networks covering the ACC, SEC, Conference USA, Big South, CAA and Southern Conferences. 

William Roth