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2022 March Madness: Ranking the Three Most Likely Upsets in the Sweet 16

College basketball expert Mike Spector ranks his three most likely upsets to take place in Thursday and Friday's Sweet 16 action.
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2022 March Madness: Ranking the Three Most Likely Upsets in the Sweet 16

While the West Region advanced its top four seeds to the Sweet 16, many other regions were flipped upside-down with upsets in the first two rounds. 

Perhaps we should not have been surprised by North Carolina’s victory over Baylor, as this marks the fifth consecutive tournament where the reigning national champion was eliminated before the Sweet 16. However, few envisioned a matchup between the Miami Hurricanes (picked 12th out of 15 teams in the ACC preseason poll) and the Iowa State Cyclones (picked to finish dead-last in the Big 12) for the right to go to the Elite Eight. In addition, the Saint Peter’s Peacocks aim to become the first-ever No. 15 seed to advance to a regional final.

If one expects upsets to continue in the Sweet 16, they have plenty of options, as five of the eight matchups have point spreads of five or fewer points. 

Below we rank the three most likely upsets to take place in the Sweet 16.

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North Carolina (+115) over UCLA

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Though the Tar Heels would have preferred not to have blown a 25-point lead against Baylor, one could argue it was the best thing for them. North Carolina showed tremendous resolve and composure in securing a Round of 32 win over the defending national champions with two of its key players unavailable.

Brady Manek did not play most of the second half after being ejected for a flagrant 2 foul, and Caleb Love had fouled out before overtime. In addition, the team had to carefully navigate Armando Bacot playing with four fouls. However, little-used Dontrez Styles and Puff Johnson made critical plays down the stretch, and the Tar Heels now have to feel good that they can rely on their bench if needed, as opposed to playing their starters heavy minutes like they have all season.

North Carolina shredded an outstanding Baylor defense, assisting on 22 of 28 field goals. However, the biggest reason the Bruins are on upset alert is the injury concern surrounding UCLA’s Jaime Jaquez. Jaquez (14.0 ppg) did not score in the second half of the team’s win against Saint Mary’s, and he sat on the bench for much of the second half with ice wrapped around his ankles. 

This year, Jaquez has only missed one game, but the ankle injury has been a lingering concern. If UCLA’s second-leading scorer is not 100% on Friday, the Tar Heels have a much better chance to win outright.

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Houston (+110) over Arizona

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Once Houston lost Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark to season-ending injuries earlier this season, not many gave Kelvin Sampson’s bunch a chance to get back to the Final Four. The Cougars were disregarded for much of the year because they play in a weak conference, yet all Houston has done to this point is silenced the doubters. However, the Cougars are in the Sweet 16 after winning its first two NCAA Tournament games by an average of 14.5 points and have a legitimate chance to represent the South Region in the Final Four.

Oddsmakers are giving Houston more than a puncher’s chance to beat top-seeded Arizona, as the Wildcats are just -2 point favorites. Arizona has a massive size advantage over Houston. However, the Cougars can mitigate that by harassing the Wildcats’ guards, namely Kerr Kriisa, who still does not look 100% in returning from an ankle injury. Kriisa has four more days to help heal his sprained ankle, but he has struggled with pressure all season, committing at least four turnovers in ten games, including in two of Arizona’s three losses. 

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Iowa State (+120) over Miami

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Miami has looked impressive through the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, beating USC and Auburn (two teams with elite size) by a combined 20 points. The Hurricanes have everything you want in a team built for March, including three solid guards that can break you down off the dribble and a head coach that knows a thing or two about making surprise runs to the Final Four. However, Iowa State is one of the most disciplined defensive teams in the country, and there is an old adage that says defense wins championships.

The Cyclones rank fifth in adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom, and are battle-tested, having survived the rigor of the Big 12 conference. Iowa State holds opponents to less than 29% shooting from 3-point range (ninth-best in the country) and can force an off-shooting night from the Hurricanes.

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Mike Spector brings unmatched knowledge and insight into the game of football, and more importantly the process of betting on NFL football. Mike is the #2 ranked expert in FantasyPros' NFL betting contest

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