The UMBC Retrievers put all of college basketball on notice during last season’s NCAA tournament. Their opening-round matchup as a No. 16 seed against the No. 1 Virginia Cavaliers is the greatest upset in the history of March Madness. They didn’t just defeat the Cavaliers, UMBC rolled past them in a 20-point victory.
While it’s unknown if we’ll see an underdog pull off an upset anywhere close to that magnitude this season, there’s certainly some reason for optimism that surprising results are on the horizon. The 2019 NCAA Tournament field features a number of teams with the talent to pull off an upset, but we’re going to evaluate which double-digit seed has the best chance to advance.
At this point, some matchups are already pegged as popular upset spots, so we’ll start there and then predict the highest seeded upset that will happen in 2019.
Top 2019 NCAA Tournament Upset Picks
- 11 Belmont Bruins (play-in) over 6 Maryland Terrapins
- 12 Liberty Flames over 5 Mississippi State Bulldogs
- 12 Murray State Racers over 5 Marquette Golden Eagles
- 12 Oregon Ducks over 5 Wisconsin Badgers
- 13 Northeastern Huskies over 4 Kansas Jayhawks
- 14 Old Dominion Monarchs over 3 Purdue Boilermakers
Belmont will be a popular choice, but they’ll have to defeat the Temple Owls first and then knock off Maryland. While I think the Bruins are an interesting pick, I do believe there are teams with higher seeds who can pull off an upset, so they’re going to be knocked off the list.
Of the three popular 12-seed picks to get the job done, there’s a decent amount to like about each one. Liberty flashed upside this season, but they failed to get many impressive non-conference wins. They might knock off Mississippi State, but it won’t be one of my picks.
Both Murray State and Oregon are squarely on the radar, for obvious reasons. First, the Racers have a decent all-around team and one of the best players in the country in guard Ja Morant. On the other side, Oregon won eight-straight games to finish out the year, catching fire while winning the Pac-12 title and grabbing an automatic bid.
I’m not hopping on the Northeastern bandwagon, as much as I want to. While Northeastern picked up a 13 seed, it was somewhat surprising, as they lost to Boston University, Virginia Tech by 28, Davidson by 14, Syracuse by 23, Delaware and Towson. The Huskies finished with 10 losses and I’m not sure they’ll have an answer for Dedric Lawson and the Jayhawks.
Old Dominion comes in as the lowest seed on this list, and while they suffered a few tough losses throughout the year, they also defeated Syracuse on the road. Along with that, the Monarchs knocked off VCU earlier in the season, but draw an unfortunate matchup against Purdue and Carsen Edwards. I’ll be pulling for an Old Dominion upset as a fan, but I’m not going to dive all-in on picking them in this spot.
Highest NCAA Tournament Seed Who Will Pull an Upset
I’ll take a 12 seed to get the job done, but it’s between Murray State and Oregon. If I’m riding star power, then it’s the Racers, as Morant is averaging 24.6 points, 10.0 assists and 5.5 rebounds this season. But based on a well-rounded team who’s playing great and likely has a slightly better matchup, I’m going with the Ducks.
Oregon’s streak to finish the year included two wins over both the Washington Huskies and Arizona State Sun Devils. Their second victory over Washington came in the Pac-12 title game, capping off a streak in which the Ducks defeated the three top seeds in the conference.
Beyond that, they have a solid core with quite a bit of talent including the likes of Louis King, Payton Pritchard and Paul White, among others. I’m hopping on the Oregon train, but I won’t blame anything for riding with Murray State as well.