NCAA tournament: 5 first-round upsets to pick in your bracket pool

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Few things bring more cachet – and occasionally bonus points – in NCAA tournament pools than the proper picking of double-digit upsets. Deciphering what upsets to choose, and which to avoid, often ends up being a determining factor in who leaps ahead in the early weeks of an office pool. Here are the five upsets you need to pick to win your bracket and earn 12 months of cubicle bragging rights.

1) No. 12 New Mexico State over No. 5 Clemson – One key factor in picking upsets every year is identifying injuries in the favorites. Clemson has sputtered late, a byproduct of a rugged ACC schedule and season-ending injury to Donte Grantham, their second-leading scorer, in late January. New Mexico State hasn’t flinched in beating teams like Davidson, Miami and Illinois. The Aggies have a prolific scorer in Zach Lofton (19.8 ppg) and the nation’s top defensive rebounder by possession (37.1 percent) in Jemerrio Jones. This game is this year’s version of Middle Tennessee beating Minnesota in last year’s NCAA tournament. It’s almost too obvious. The Sweet 16 isn’t out of reach for the Aggies.

2) No. 11 Loyola over No. 6 Miami – We’ll stick with the injury theme in choosing Loyola to topple Miami. The Hurricanes have been hobbled since Bruce Brown, their best all-around player, went out with a left foot injury in late January. He was averaging 11.4 points, 7.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game. Miami is a respectable 7-4 without him, but hasn’t looked capable of a deep run. Loyola may have the most potential of any mid-major, as it enters on a 10-game win streak and have a ball-sharing ethos – five players average double figures – necessary to make a run. Loyola shoots 40 percent from 3-point range as a team, which is No. 13 nationally. Miami is only a slight favorite in Vegas (1.5), which means this is a low-risk pick. With the Ramblers, don’t be afraid to push them to the Sweet 16.

College of Charleston guard Grant Riller shoots over UNC Wilmington guard Ty Taylor during an NCAA college basketball game in Wilmington, N.C., Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018. (Matt Born/The Star-News via AP)
College of Charleston guard Grant Riller shoots over UNC Wilmington guard Ty Taylor during an NCAA college basketball game in Wilmington, N.C., Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018. (Matt Born/The Star-News via AP)

3) No. 13 Charleston over No. 4 Auburn – The Midwest is the most unusual bracket, as the top three seeds – Kansas, Duke and Michigan State – have Hall of Fame coaches and legitimate title chances. The rest of the bracket is less than inspiring, including an Auburn team with the wheels falling off. The Tigers also have a key injury (rim protector Anfernee McLemore), have lost four of six and got blown off the floor by Alabama in the SEC tournament. It’s an intriguing stylistic matchup, as Charleston plays at a plodding pace (No. 324 in KenPom adjusted tempo), a stark contrast to Bruce Pearl’s preferred tempo (No. 21). Look for Charleston to muck up the game and squeak to the second round.

4) No. 10 Providence over No. 7 Texas A&M – The Friars got hot in New York, winning a pair of overtime games before falling to Villanova in the Big East final. This is a bet on the overall hunch that the SEC has been overrated all season. Their eight bids are bloated, so picking against them is also a bet against the SEC’s suspect middle class. A&M is 4-7 on the road and 3-2 on neutral courts, which means some of their trademark defensive intensity (No. 12 in effective field-goal percentage defense) may not carry over. Providence guard Kyron Cartwright appears poised to have a senior moment, carrying over his Big East tournament onions (15.6 ppg) to the NCAAs.

5) No. 10 Butler over No. 7 Arkansas – It seems as if Vegas is as skeptical of the SEC as we are. Butler is a 1.5-point favorite in this game, which means it’s a no-brainer for your pool. (Especially if your pool gives bonus points for upset picks). Butler’s interior wide bodies – Kelan Martin (20.8 ppg) and Tyler Wideman (5.1 rpg) – should be able to elbow their way to the tin. Butler also won’t get rattled by Arkansas’ pressure, as the Bulldogs are No. 28 nationally in turnover percentage.

More NCAA tournament on Yahoo Sports:
March Madness bracket: Tournament field of 68 revealed
Printable bracket: Start making your picks
Selection Sunday winners and losers: Kentucky, Duke get rough roads
Five biggest tournament snubs
Everything you need to know before filling out a bracket
For beginners: Tips and tricks to filling out a bracket
Non-traditional ways to spice up your bracket pool

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