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11 potential first-round upsets to include in your March Madness bracket, according to Las Vegas

By Tyler Lauletta,

2023-03-15
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The Charleston Cougars celebrate during a game against the North Carolina-Wilmington Seahawks.
  • March Madness is back, and it's time to build your bracket .
  • When looking for an upset, it can be helpful to look to Las Vegas for guidance.
  • As the spreads will reveal, sometimes an early upset isn't much of an upset at all in the eyes of the oddsmakers.
No March Madness bracket would be complete without a few upsets.
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The Peacocks decided they would not get out-toughed by opponents.

Year after year, the first round of the tournament is defined by the shocking Cinderellas that outperform the expectations of those watching at home.

Last year, No. 15 Saint Peter's stunned No. 2 Kentucky in the first round of the tournament, and made a magical run all the way to the Elite Eight.

But sometimes, the early-round upsets that make the tournament great are not so shocking in the eyes of bookmakers who set the odds on games. By taking a look at the spreads set by sportsbooks for the first set of games, we can get a glimpse of some of the best early upset candidates.

Below are 11 games in the men's tournament that Las Vegas says are much closer than the bracket would have you believe.

No. 10 Utah State over No. 7 Missouri
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Utah State forward Taylor Funk brings the ball down the court against San Diego State.

No. 10 Utah State is actually a two-point favorite over No. 7 Missouri in their first-round matchup, indicating that Las Vegas believes the Aggies to be the better team, despite their relative seeding.

This isn't a total shock — the 7-10 matchups are understandably relatively split, with the 7-seed winning at just a 58% rate dating back to 1991.

At least one 10-seed has beaten their 7-seed opponent in the first round of the men's tournament every year since 2007. If you are struggling to find one this year, Utah State is as good a bet as any.

No. 9 West Virginia over No. 8 Maryland
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West Virginia guard Joe Toussaint drives up court against Iowa State.

Obviously if any matchup is going to be tight, it would be the 8-9 games, which should theoretically be the closest on paper.

Still, it's worth noting that No. 9 West Virginia is favored over No. 8 Maryland by two in this spot. Indeed, Las Vegas projects this one to be close, but gives the edge to the Mountaineers.

Over the past 10 tournaments, 8-9 battles have been split exactly 50-50.

No. 9 Auburn over No. 8 Iowa
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Auburn forward Yohan Traore rebounds during game against LSU.

Again, we've gone a decade where the 8-9 matchups have averaged out to a coin toss. This year, two No. 9s are favored over their No. 8 opponents, with Auburn joining West Virginia as a not-so-secret favorite heading into the first round.

Given the trends, it's likely a good strategy to split your 8-9 matchups evenly, and Auburn and West Virginia are the two 9-seeds favored to win.

No. 12 Drake over No. 5 Miami
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Richmond Spiders forward Matt Grace and guard Jason Roche attempt to defend Drake Bulldogs forward Darnell Brodie.

Matchups between 12-seeds and 5-seeds are always promoted as potential upsets, but not every 5-12 is created equal.

This year, the closest 5-12 matchup, according to oddsmakers, is between No. 5 Miami and No. 12 Drake, with the Hurricanes coming in as just 2-point favorites.

At least one 12-seed has beaten their 5-seed opponent in 12 of the past 14 years, so you likely want to include at least one upset, but don't get too overeager. Historically, 5-seeds have won their first-round matchup at about a 64% clip.

No. 13 Kent State over No. 4 Indiana
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Kent State Golden Flashes guard Sincere Carry dribbles.

While 12-5 upsets seem to demand the most media attention, it's possible that the 13-4 upset is the more important one to figure out in recent years.

4-seeds went 4-0 in the first round last year, but in two of the three years before that, they split their matchups against 13-seed opponents.

Indeed, this year there are some potential first-round shockers on the board, according to Vegas bookmakers.

No. 13 Kent State is just a 4.5-point underdog to No. 4 Indiana heading into the opening weekend of the tournament.

The Golden Flashes have lost just six times all year, and have played tough with quality opponents including Gonzaga and Houston earlier in the season.

If the Hoosiers come in sleeping, they could be in for a surprise.

No. 12 Charleston over No. 5 San Diego State
The Charleston Cougars celebrate during a game against the North Carolina-Wilmington Seahawks.

Another potential 12-5 upset that's getting some love this year is No. 12 Charleston over No. 5 San Diego State.

The College of Charleston Cougars made the tourney field as CAA Champions, and are just 5.5-point underdogs against the Aztecs in the first round.

The Cougars have just three losses on the season and have won 10 straight games heading into the tournament. They also have the 15th highest scoring offense in the country.

No. 13 Furman over No. 4 Virginia
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Furman Paladins guard Mike Bothwell goes for the basket.

If you're looking for a 13-4 upset but would prefer to keep Indiana in your bracket, jump over to the other side of your sheet and take a look at No. 13 Furman up against No. 4 Virginia.

Virginia has been ousted early before, infamously becoming the first men's 1-seed to be knocked out in the first round of the tournament by a 16-seed in 2018.

This year, the Cavaliers are just 5.5-point favorites over Furman in the first round.

Furman has the 11th scoring offense in college basketball this year, and Virginia ranks 9th in scoring defense, so it should be a great matchup to watch regardless.

But if you're the type that believes the best defense is a good offense, maybe take a close look at the Paladins.

No. 11 Providence over No. 6 Kentucky
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Providence's Alyn Breed brings the ball up against Creighton.

The 11-6 upset is another not to be overlooked.

Last year, three 11-seeds won their first-round games, and two of them made it to the Sweet 16. Because of the shape of the bracket, an 11-seed is one that can potentially make a run if they escape the first round.

This year, oddsmakers think No. 11 Providence could make some noise, as they are just four-point underdogs against No. 6 Kentucky in the first round.

No. 10 Boise State over No. 7 Northwestern
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Tyson Degenhart of the Boise State Broncos celebrates while taking on the Memphis Tigers.

The No. 10 Boise State Broncos are a woeful 0-8 in their history at the men's NCAA tournament, but against No. 7 Northwestern this year, they could be poised to finally break through.

Northwestern enters the game as just a 1.5-point favorite over the Broncos, meaning this game is about as close to a toss-up as you can get.

If you want a 3-14 upset, Montana State is your best bet.
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Montana State guard RaeQuan Battle puts up a shot over Northern Arizona forward Carson Towt.

OK, now we're getting a little out there.

Since 2017, just one 14-seed has made it out of the first round. Still, if you are looking for one to add to your bracket, Las Vegas gives No. 14 Montana State the best chance out of any of them against No. 3 Kansas State.

The Montana State Bobcats are just an 8.5-point underdog against the Wildcats. Compare that to spreads of 11, 11.5, and 16 in the other 3-14 matchups, and it's clear that the oddsmakers think Montana State could be frisky.

And if you're feeling extra bold, No. 15 Vermont over No. 2 Marquette.
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Vermont and Arkansas face off in the NCAA tournament.

It might feel easy to dismiss 15-2 upsets, and historically, that would be the right move. But a 15-seed has actually won a game at the past two men's tournaments, including Saint Peter's first-round upset over Kentucky last year, which sparked a run all the way to the Elite Eight.

According to the oddsmakers, No. 15 Vermont is the best bet to pull off such an upset this year, entering their first-round matchup as 11-point underdogs against No. 2 Marquette.

It's a pretty big spread, but with every other 2-seed favored by 14 points or more, it's as close a game as you will find if you're looking for a truly wild upset.

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