- Don't be surprised if underdogs like Rhode Island, Middle Tennessee and East Tennessee State pull off upsets in their first-round games of the NCAA tournament.
The Power Rankings is taking its annual, first-week-of-the-NCAA tournament respite from analyzing the elites and focusing on the Cinderellas (or at least Cinderella-ish teams) instead. These are the No. 11-or-lower seeds with the best chance of pulling off upsets.
(* Because this is being published on Tuesday, I'm not including any 11-seeds from the play-in games—but my favorite of that bunch is Wake Forest, which would rank No. 3 on this list if made it through to the first round.)
(Midwest No. 11, vs. Creighton)
(South No. 12, vs. Minnesota)
(East No. 13, vs. Florida)
(West No. 11, vs. Maryland)
(Midwest No. 12, vs. Iowa State)
(East No. 12, vs. Virginia)
(West No. 12, vs. Notre Dame)
(Midwest No. 13, vs. Purdue)
Bonus: If You Must Pick a No. 16 Seed, Take ...
NC Central (Play-In Game; Midwest No. 16, vs. Kansas)
The Eagles need to win their play-in game to set up a meeting with the Jayhawks in Tulsa. If that happens, my composite-advanced-metrics model gives them a 5.0% chance of beating KU, the highest odds of any 16 seed in a first-round game. One-in-20 is a serious long shot, but weird stuff happens to Kansas in the NCAA tournament (see: Northern Iowa, VCU, Stanford, etc.), and the Jayhawks—who just went one-and-done in the Big 12 tournament while Josh Jackson was suspended—have a bad habit of letting lesser teams hang around in games this season.
NC Central starts five seniors, excels at defending jump shots, and has an offense that's odd enough—it spreads the floor and almost never tries to post up—to create problems. I have very limited faith here, but there is a chance.