March Madness most likely upsets: Is UConn, Purdue, Houston or North Carolina the riskiest 1 seed in 2024?

It’s hard to predict upsets when you fill out your March Madness bracket.

Unless you’re picking teams at random, one of the trickiest parts is trying to guess when higher-seeded teams will fall. As a result, you might get to the Final Four portion of your bracket and realize you ended up with all No. 1 seeds — something that hardly ever happens in real life.

Take last year as the perfect example. Purdue became the second No. 1 seed ever to lose to a No. 16 seed when it was upset by Fairleigh Dickinson. The carnage didn’t stop there.

For the first time in NCAA Tournament history, zero No. 1 seeds advanced past the Elite Eight. That means there were a lot of busted brackets if you went with the chalk picks.

How can you avoid the same mistake this year? The Sporting News breaks down the most likely No. 1 seeds to shred your bracket based on matchups.

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March Madness most likely upsets among No. 1 seeds

1. Purdue

  • Round of 64: No. 16 Grambling or Montana St.
  • Round of 32: No. 8 Utah St. or No. 9 TCU
  • Sweet 16: No. 4 Kansas or No. 5 Gonzaga
  • Elite Eight: No. 2 Tennessee or No. 3 Creighton

Purdue inevitably lands at No. 1 on this list, but not just because it fell to a No. 16 seed last year.

The Boilermakers have a long history of shortcomings in March Madness. They have never been to a Final Four and, subsequently, have never won a national championship. Under head coach Matt Painter, Purdue has only reached one Elite Eight in 14 tournament appearances.

Zach Edey is the most dominant player in college basketball, and stopping a 7-4 monster is not easy. But if a defense can limit his production, this Boilermakers team is extremely beatable.

If you look at their path of reaching the Final Four, fourth-seeded Kansas is a potentially dangerous opponent if Hunter Dickinson and Kevin McCullar Jr. are healthy. Dickinson isn’t known for his defense, but he has the size (7-1) to disrupt Edey with help from long and athletic wings around him.

Take it a step further and second-seeded Tennessee has the third-best defense in the country. Starting forward Jonas Aidoo (6-11) was an All-Conference defender and ranked third in the SEC in blocks.

If third-seeded Creighton were to pull off an upset, 7-foot center Ryan Kalkbrenner might be one of the only players in the country who could defend Edey without constant help or double-teams.

Purdue’s path to an elusive Final Four appearance is murky once again.

MORE: Midwest Region Breakdown: Upsets, sleepers to watch and Final Four pick

2. Houston

  • Round of 64: No. 16 Longwood
  • Round of 32: No. 8 Nebraska or No. 9 Texas A&M
  • Sweet 16: No. 4 Duke or No. 5 Wisconsin
  • Elite Eight: No. 2 Marquette or No. 3 Kentucky

Houston has been a wagon over the past six years of the Kelvin Sampson era. The Cougars consistently have one of the best defenses in the country, and that holds for their No. 2-ranked defense this season.

Houston has won at least two tournament games in each of the past four years. It has two Sweet 16 exits, one Elite Eight exit, and one Final Four loss in that span. Ranking the Cougars as the second-most-likely No. 1 seed to bust your bracket is more based on their path than it is their roster.

Eight-seeded Nebraska and ninth-seeded Texas A&M both proved to be pesky opponents, each reaching the semifinals of their respective conference tournaments. Fourth-seed Duke and fifth-seeded Wisconsin aren’t locks to get past their first-round opponents, but both teams have plenty of experience and talent on their rosters to make a deep tournament run if they find a rhythm. The Badgers showed that during their run to the Big Ten championship game.

Then there’s second-seeded Marquette and third-seeded Kentucky — two opponents no team would want to see in their Regional Final. There is a case to be made that those are the two best No. 2 and No. 3  seeds.

If Tyler Kolek (oblique) and Oso Ighodaro (knee) are healthy, Marquette could win the national championship. Kentucky has one of the most prolific offenses in the country.

The Selection Sunday draw was not very friendly to Houston.

MORE: South Region Breakdown: Upsets, sleepers to watch and Final Four pick

3. North Carolina

  • Round of 64: No. 16 Howard or Wagner
  • Round of 32: No. 8 Mississippi St. or No. 9 Michigan St.
  • Sweet 16: No. 4 Alabama or No. 5 St. Mary’s
  • Elite Eight: No. 2 Arizona or No. 3 Baylor

North Carolina and Houston could have been interchangeable but the Tar Heels’ path is slightly more favorable than the Cougars.

Eighth-seeded Mississippi State made an inspiring run to the semifinals of the SEC Tournament but North Carolina is better on both sides of the ball. You can never count out Tom Izzo in March, but ninth-seeded Michigan State doesn’t have the same level of talent we’re used to seeing on its roster.

Fourth-seeded Alabama has the second-best offense in the country, which would make for a heavyweight fight against the Tar Heels’ top-10 defense. The same goes for third-seeded Baylor, whose offense ranks sixth in the nation.

Second-seeded Arizona and star guard Caleb Love facing off against his former team in the Elite Eight is the matchup everyone wants to see. The Wildcats have the size to match up with Armando Bacot, and Love’s competitive edge could be the bracket-busting moment for Tar Heels pickers.

But with veterans like Bacot, RJ Davis, Cormac Ryan, and Harrison Ingram, North Carolina should be poised for a deep tournament run.

MORE: West Region Breakdown: Upsets, sleepers to watch and Final Four pick

4. UConn

  • Round of 64: No. 16 Stetson
  • Round of 32: No. 8 FAU or No. 9 Northwestern
  • Sweet 16: No. 4 Auburn or No. 5 San Diego St.
  • Elite Eight: No. 2 Iowa St. or No. 3 Illinois

UConn earned the top overall seed in this year’s March Madness, and rightfully so. The Huskies are looking to become the first team to repeat as national champions since Florida in 2006-07.

The East region is by no means a cakewalk, but UConn feels too talented and too deep to come up short of anything but a deep tournament run.

MORE: East Region Breakdown: Upsets, sleepers to watch and Final Four pick

Eighth-seeded FAU made a Cinderella run last year, but it’s not the same team defensively. Ninth-seeded Northwestern doesn’t have the size or 3-point shooting to keep up with the Huskies. UConn handled business against San Diego State in the 2023 title game, and I don’t think anyone would say this year’s Aztecs are better than last.

But after the Round of 32, the Huskies’ path is a gauntlet.

Fourth-seeded Auburn is coming off an impressive run to an SEC Tournament championship, and it’s the only team in the NCAA that ranks in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Second-seeded Iowa State dismantled Baylor and Houston en route to a Big 12 tournament title, winning both games by over 20 points.

UConn’s Donovan Clingan, Tristan Newton, Cam Spencer, Alex Karaban, and Stephon Castle make up the best starting five in the country, though. They’re the favorite to win the NCAA Tournament for a reason.

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