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How to See a March Madness Upset Coming

How to spot a potential upset
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One of the things that makes March Madness great is the fact that an upset can happen in virtually any game at any time. Even the one-seeds aren't safe against the 16-seeds anymore, after UMBC shocked Virginia in the first round of 2018. But every upset happens for a reason, and spotting those reasons before the games tip off can be what separates the good March Madness bettors from the great ones. Here are a few things to look for when trying to spot that March Madness upset.

Differences in Tempo

They say that styles make fights and, while a basketball game isn't exactly a fight, it can be dictated by style all the same. Differences between two teams in tempo are often huge determining factors in who wins a basketball game, especially in March. There isn't necessarily one style that is more effective than another, but seeing opportunities where there is a clash in styles can open up chances for an upset.

For example, in that now-famous UMBC/Virginia game, the underdog Retrievers played a faster pace than Virginia by a wide margin all season long. And during their game, that faster style of play gave them an advantage, as Virginia wasn't executing well in its methodical halfcourt offense. That forced Virginia to have to play from behind, where they aren't capable of playing quickly. And the rest, as they say, was history.

In 2019, Virginia is ranked as one of the slowest paced teams in the country again. That shrinks their margin for error on each possession significantly, as they often don't get enough possessions to make up for any empty trips on offense. As a result, they could be susceptible to another historic upset, or just not be worth the (best price) +1100 odds they carry to win the tournament.


Having a mismatch in college basketball is like having a golden ticket, in that the team with the mismatch knows that they have a decent chance to score almost every time they go down the court. In the NCAA Tournament, the ability to take advantage of mismatches is crucial for teams looking to pull an upset, and is something every bettor should look for when they start circling games to wager on in the early rounds.

These mismatches can come from both the perimeter and the interior, depending on what style a team likes to play. Examples in the 2019 tournament can include Ja Morant of Murray State (+100000 to win the tournament), whose explosiveness in getting to the rim will make him too hard to guard for even the best power-conference player. Tacko Fall of UCF (+20000 to win the tournament) can also cause matchup problems for opposing teams at 7'6". Either of those players could have huge nights and slay the giants of college basketball if things go their way.

Three-Point Shooting

It is often said that the three-point shot is the great equalizer in college basketball, as teams who can shoot the three can overcome their shortcomings on the interior or elsewhere by simply being able to make a shot that is more valuable than a two-pointer. As a result, one of the biggest indicators of a team that can pull an upset in the tournament is three-point shooting percentage, as one good night from beyond the arc can cement a team's place in tournament history.

This year, watch out for Wofford (+24000 to win the tournament) to scare some power-conference teams thanks to the second-best three-point shooting percentage in the country. The Terriers are shooting 42% from downtown this season, and all they need to do is have a couple of above average nights from long range to send the traditional powers of college hoops packing.


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