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March Madness First-Round Upset Picks: Watch out for Drake and Penn State

Cinderellas. Bracket-busters. Call them what you will, but everyone loves a big-time March Madness upset. The drama and chaos are what keep us glued to our screens for over 60 games throughout the duration of the NCAA tournament.

What upsets might happen this year? Let’s look at some tournament history and predict a few March Madness first-round upset picks. 

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March Madness First-Round Matchup History

Whenever you’re filling out your March Madness brackets, it’s always tempting to make a prediction of a No. 15 seed pulling off a wild upset against a No. 2 seed. But how often are top seeds sent home packing in the first round? Here’s a look at the opening round history since 1985, the year March Madness expanded to 64 teams.

  • No. 1 vs No. 16: 147-1
  • No. 2 vs No. 15: 138-10
  • No. 3 vs No. 14: 126-22
  • No. 4 vs No. 13: 117-31
  • No. 5 vs No. 12: 95-53
  • No. 6 vs No. 11: 91-57
  • No. 7 vs No. 10: 89-58
  • No. 8 vs No. 9: 72-76

The only time in tournament history the top seed lost to a No. 16 seed came in 2018 when Virginia got bounced by the University of Maryland-Baltimore County Retrievers.

We’ve seen back-to-back years of No. 15 seeds advancing past the first game, with Saint Peter’s taking down Kentucky in 2022 and Oral Roberts beating Ohio State in 2021.

Only one No. 14 seed has defeated a No. 3 seed since 2016 when Abilene Christian knocked off Texas in 2021, but we saw five such upsets between 2013 and 2016.

From the No. 4 vs. No. 13 matchups on, we start to see a real uptick in the percentage chance of an upset. No. 13 seeds have a winning percentage of almost 21%, with No. 12 seeds at 35.8%, No. 11 seeds at 38.5%, No. 10 seeds at 39.4%, and No. 9 seeds holding an advantage over No. 8 seeds at 51.3%.

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2023 March Madness First-Round Upset Picks

Now that we laid the groundwork for the likelihood of a first-round upset, let’s make some picks for this year’s March Madness upsets. Betting odds for these games can be found at all of the best sports betting apps.

No. 9 West Virginia vs. No. 8 Maryland

Let’s start off with the low-hanging fruit. Should these closely-ranked seeds be considered true upsets? Probably not in the way we think about March Madness upsets, but it’s worth noting that West Virginia is actually favored by two points against Maryland according to DraftKings Sportsbook.

As noted above, No. 9 seeds have a slight advantage in opening-round games against No. 8 seeds, going 76-72 since 1985.

No. 10 Utah State vs. No. 7 Missouri

Utah State ranks 18th in adjusted efficiency margin while Missouri comes in at 51st. While the Tigers hold a slight advantage in adjusted offensive efficiency (10th versus 13th), the Aggies are much better defensively. Utah State ranks 64th in adjusted defensive efficiency with Mizzou coming in at 178th.

Oh, and Utah State’s head coach held the same position at UMBC in 2018 when the Retrievers pulled off the upset of a lifetime over No. 1 Virginia.

No. 12 Drake vs. No. 5 Miami

The Drake Bulldogs are 2.5-point underdogs against Miami in the first round of March Madness according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

If Drake can get hot from three and limit Miami’s offense, the Bulldogs have a solid chance of pulling off the upset.

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No. 10 Penn State vs. No. 7 Texas A&M

Penn State is 8-2 in its last 10 games, including nearly pulling off a 17-point comeback against Purdue in the Big Ten championship game. The Nittany Lions are 17th in adjusted offensive efficiency and 13th in three-point percentage.

Penn State has been playing better defensively as of late and is aggressive from behind the arc. If the Lions start knocking down threes early, they could make it past the first round for the first time since 2001.

Article contributed by Cody Kutzer

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