If the secret to winning an office pool is going against the grain, then you may want to find a Final Four threat besides Villanova and Virginia in the East and South regions.
Two-thirds of all Yahoo users like the top-seeded Wildcats to emerge from the East region. The top-seeded Cavaliers are nearly as popular a choice in the South.
Here’s an early look at who Yahoo users like to pull upsets, to reach the Final Four and to win the national championship in this year’s Yahoo Sports Tourney Pick’em. And just in case you want the thoughts of a college basketball writer with a long history of picking national champions who fail to make it out of the opening weekend, I also offered my thoughts on where I agree and disagree with popular opinion.
Most popular Round of 64 upset pick by a double-digit seed: No. 10 Butler over No. 7 Arkansas (59.0 percent)
My take: This is certainly a reasonable pick considering oddsmakers don’t even consider it an upset. Butler opened as a one-point favorite and the spread has increased to as much as two in some places. One concern for Butler is that it generates most of its offense inside the arc and Daniel Gafford’s rim protection is the one strength of Arkansas’ otherwise mediocre defense. Expect Butler to hoist a few more threes than usual and Tyler Wideman to have a big game on the offensive glass.
Most popular 11-6 Round of 64 upset pick: San Diego State over Houston (31 percent)
My take: San Diego State is a better and healthier team now than the one that dumped games to Cal and Washington State in non-conference play and dropped six of eight midway through the Mountain West season. The Aztecs closed the season on a nine-game win streak fueled by balanced offense and a renewed commitment defensively. This is no slam-dunk pick, by any means. Rob Gray is one of college basketball’s elite scoring guards and Houston has a capable defense. But the Aztecs certainly have as much hope as any other 11 seed.
Most popular 12-5 Round of 64 upset pick: New Mexico State over Clemson (26.9 percent)
My take: Having beaten Miami and Illinois and pushed USC to the final buzzer, New Mexico State won’t be intimidated facing Clemson. The Aggies won 28 games and swept the WAC regular season and tournament titles thanks to their strong defense and dominance on the glass. The key to this game should be whether New Mexico State can generate enough second-chance points to stay close until the end. Clemson’s interior defense is its biggest strength and the Aggies don’t shoot it efficiently from behind the arc.
Most popular 13-4 Round of 64 upset pick: Marshall over Wichita State (9.7 percent)
My take: This feels like a reach. Marshall is a tricky opponent because of its fast-paced, 3-point-heavy style of play, but a high-possession game doesn’t favor the underdog. Look for Wichita State to adjust to Marshall’s style of play as the game goes on and bludgeon the Thundering Herd on the boards. There’s not a No. 13 seed I love in this field, but fading Auburn is a vulnerable No. 4. Taking Charleston to upset the Tigers might be a better pick than this one.
Double-digit seed most likely to reach the Sweet 16: No. 12 New Mexico State (11.1 percent)
My take: If you take New Mexico State to win its first game, you might as well ride the Aggies to the Sweet 16. Fourth-seeded Auburn would be a more favorable second-round matchup than first-round opponent Clemson is. Auburn has dropped four of six games since shot-blocking standout Anthony McLemore’s season-ending injury. The Tigers also are more vulnerable on the defensive glass than Clemson is.
No. 1 seed most likely to lose before the Final Four: Xavier
My take: Only 20 percent of Yahoo users project the top-seeded Musketeers to reach the Final Four, making them the eighth-most popular Final Four pick in the field. Considering the Musketeers have never been to the Final Four, check in 14th in the KenPom rankings and have benefited from a 9-1 record in games decided by five points or less, a little bit of healthy skepticism is to be expected.
Most popular Final Four picks: Villanova (67.0), Virginia (59.7), North Carolina (38.7), Kansas (32.2)
My take: This is reasonable, though I’m a bit surprised Kansas is a more popular pick than Michigan State or Duke in the Midwest. Yahoo users’ most popular long-shot Final Four picks that aren’t top-three seeds? Arizona, Gonzaga and Kentucky.
Five most popular national champions: Virginia (26.1), Villanova (18.7), Duke (9.6), Michigan State (8.5), Kansas (8.2)
My take: Three of the top five title contenders hail from the Midwest Region, an unfortunate break for Duke and Michigan State in particular. The top choices behind this quintet: North Carolina, Michigan and Arizona.
Kentucky will: lose in the round of 64 (13.7 percent), lose during the first weekend (63.8 percent), make the Final Four (7.5 percent), win the national championship (1.5 percent)
My take: This reflects how tough Kentucky’s draw is. The Wildcats could have to beat surging Davidson, talent-laden Arizona and the best team in college basketball, Virginia, just to get to the Elite Eight.
Duke will: lose in the round of 64 (3.4 percent), lose during the first weekend (12.1 percent), make the Final Four (30.7 percent), win the national championship (9.6 percent)
My take: 3.4 percent of you are throwing your bracket pool entry-fee away. Iona is one of the worst rebounding teams in the country. It plays fast and freewheeling. To say that’s not the formula to upset Duke is a massive understatement.
More NCAA tournament on Yahoo Sports:
•March Madness bracket: Tournament field of 68 revealed
•Printable bracket: Start making your picks
•Selection Sunday winners and losers: Kentucky, Duke get rough roads
•Five biggest tournament snubs
•Everything you need to know before filling out a bracket
•For beginners: Tips and tricks to filling out a bracket
•Non-traditional ways to spice up your bracket pool
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