Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams (now 68) in 1985, the most common first-round upset has been a No. 12 beating a No. 5. True, No. 5 seeds have won 65.4 percent of matchups with No. 12 seeds, but a 12 has won at least one game in all but five years.
The most intriguing 5-12 matchup in the first round this year appears to be Thursday’s matchup between No. 12 Murray State and No. 5 Marquette in the West Region. The Golden Eagles are 3.5-point favorites on the college basketball betting lines at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com even though they have lost five of their past six games. The Racers, meanwhile, have lost just four times all season and were Ohio Valley Conference Tournament champions.
What makes this fascinating is that two players ranked in the Top 10 nationally in scoring will face off in a matchup of guards: Murray State’s Ja Morant, a lock Top 5 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, and Marquette’s Markus Howard (not a mega-NBA prospect right now). Both were their conference players of the year, with Morant averaging 24.6 points and a national-best 10.0 assists, and Howard putting up 25.0 points per game.
Virginia became the first-ever No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 last year. The Cavaliers thus surely won’t overlook No. 16 Gardner-Webb in South Region action Friday afternoon. UVA is one of the biggest first round favorites at -22 on the March Madness betting lines; it was -20.5 in last year’s stunner to UMBC. Gardner-Webb was the Big South Tournament champion and is in its first NCAA Tournament. The Bulldogs played three ACC teams on the road during the regular season, losing big at Virginia Tech but winning at Georgia Tech and Wake Forest.
Also on Friday, No. 4 Kansas State could be on upset alert against No. 13 UC Irvine in South Region action. The Wildcats opened at -8.5 but have dropped as low as -4.5. That’s likely because the team’s best player, senior Dean Wade, is expected out for at least the first round. The two-time first-team All-Big 12 selection missed both games in the Big 12 Tournament with a foot injury that also cost him six regular-season games. Wade averages 12.9 points and a team-high 6.2 rebounds. Overall, K-State was 5-3 without him this year.
UC Irvine was the Big West regular-season and tournament champion and enters on a 16-game winning streak. The Anteaters had a very impressive regular-season win at NCAA Tournament team Saint Mary’s. A No. 13 seed has won at least one game in 24 of 34 years since the field expanded, and two did in 2018.
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