6 March Madness upsets to pick in your 2024 men’s NCAA tournament bracket

Upsets are always a big part of the NCAA tournament experience. And when it comes to upsets and the 2024 NCAA tournament, there is potential to feature a large healthy number of first-round scares.

Between another season of parity, the committee misplacing multiple seeds and the experience factor of the added COVID year, the NCAA tournament appears as wide open as ever in the first round.

Here’s a look at six matchups in the first round to look into when it comes to picking a first-round upset. For this preview, an upset will be defined as an 11 seed or larger winning a first-round matchup.

No. 6 South Carolina vs. No. 11 Oregon, Thursday, 4 p.m.

Despite the seeding disparity and Oregon only making the field as a bid thief, these two teams are very evenly matched. Even though the Ducks have been sluggish in a mediocre Pac-12, they’re still an incredibly dangerous team this March. Oregon has advanced to at least the Round of 32 in all seven of Dana Altman’s previous tournament appearances, including a 2019 Sweet 16 run as a No. 12 seed under similar circumstances.

Besides tactical history being on its side, Oregon has big man N’Faly Dante to give them an interior advantage. A stellar end-of-season stretch from Dante makes Oregon tough to stop on the inside, something South Carolina has struggled with at times this season.

South Carolina’s had a nice run going from picked last in the SEC preseason to legitimate top 25 team for much of the year. The Gamecocks won’t be scared of marquee opponents with road wins over Tennessee, Texas A&M and Mississippi State this season. But an Oregon team peaking at the right time is ripe for an upset in what should be a close game.

No. 5 Gonzaga vs. No. 12 McNeese State, Thursday, 7:25 p.m.

A popular upset call in some circles, it will be hard to knock Gonzaga out in the first round for the first time since 2008.

McNeese State, however, is an enticing candidate under Will Wade. The former LSU coach reloaded this program with athleticism and a fiery attitude with a roster featuring waves of defenders. Double-digit road wins over VCU, UAB and Michigan during non-conference play helped establish a strong 30-3 record.

The Cowboys are top ten in the country in defensive turnover percentage (No. 6) and three-point percentage (No. 7 at 39.7 percent). If the Cowboys can force Gonzaga turnovers and begin hitting threes then they have a blueprint for a major upset.

No. 6 Texas Tech vs. No. 11 N.C. State, Thursday, 9:40 p.m.

It’s hard not to ride N.C. State after an insane stretch of five wins in five days in the ACC tournament. But thanks to the strong play of DJ Horne and DJ Burns Jr, the Wolfpack now can continue to play free and easy entering the tournament.

A dangerous team with wins over Duke, Virginia and North Carolina to make the field, N.C. State needs Mohamed Diarra to continue to step up his play on both ends as he did in Washington D.C.

Texas Tech is rock solid thanks to balanced scoring and a number of capable perimeter threats. But thanks to N.C. State’s low seed, this feels like a power conference matchup rather than a typical 6-versus-11 matchup.

No. 6 Clemson vs. No. 11 New Mexico, Friday, 3:10 p.m.

Although the committee declared New Mexico a bid thief with its Mountain West title win, plenty in the sport believed they were a capable tournament team. Even with the potential seeding snub, the Lobos are favored in many places as an 11 seed.

The explosive backcourt of Jaelen House and Jamal Mashburn Jr. is a big reason why. New Mexico earned three convincing wins in three days over opposing NCAA tournament teams from the Mountain West, giving them a lot of confidence entering the week.

Clemson has dropped three out of four, including a blowout loss to Boston College in the ACC tournament. The Tigers haven’t defeated a team in this 2024 tournament field since early February.

New Mexico’s offense should be able to attack a Clemson defense that doesn’t pressure and force turnovers at a high rate.

No. 5 Wisconsin vs. No. 12 James Madison, Friday, 9:40 p.m.

Since a notable season-opening overtime win over Michigan State in East Lansing, James Madison has been a mid-major force. A balanced offense features nearly four double-figure scoring options, led by Terrence Edwards Jr., and numerous perimeter shooting threats.

Wisconsin was struggling at the end of the season with losses in eight out of 11 Big Ten matchups before a title-game run in the conference tournament that included a notable win over Purdue. A.J. Storr gives the Badgers an athletic wing off the dribble to handle the scoring.

This matchup could very well come down to three-point shooting. James Madison boasts the No. 2 three-point defense in the country (28 percent) while Wisconsin is 345th in the country (37.1 percent). If the Dukes space the floor effectively at four different positions as they’ve done at times this season then it could be trouble for a problematic Wisconsin perimeter defense.

No. 5 Saint Mary’s vs. No. 12 Grand Canyon, Friday, 10:05 p.m.

The first round ends with another potential 5/12 upset in the night slot. Grand Canyon is a dangerous 29-win team with previous NCAA tournament pedigree. Head coach Bryce Drew has a bonafide stud in wing Tyon Grant-Foster, and the Lopes have plenty of capable players around him.

Keeping Saint Mary’s away from the offensive glass could give Grand Canyon the chance to make things interesting. The Gaels offense is only above average if they aren’t cleaning up misses. If they get ahead, Grand Canyon is top five in the country at getting to the foul line so they are used to being in that setting.

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