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Here are two simple truths to bracket pools: To have a chance you have to get the champion, but to actually win a pool, you have to nail some upsets. Too many people are going to hit that first step. Correctly choosing upsets not only sets you apart in the short term, but also in the long term, as it can keep your possible points on the higher end of things.

When I wrote this column last year, the No. 12-over-5 upset was all the rage. It had happened in 33 of the 37 NCAA Tournaments since the 1985 expansion and multiple times in six of the previous 10 tournaments, including 2022. Then we got none last year. I'm sorry. But we still received upsets from a No. 13 seed (Furman), a No. 15 seed (Princeton) and a No. 16 seed (Fairleigh Dickinson), so not all was lost.

Here's an updated look at the history of the worse seed winning in the first round since 1985.


No. 9 vs. No. 8



No. 10 vs. No. 7



No. 11 vs. No. 6



No. 12 vs. No. 5



No. 13 vs. No. 4



No. 14 vs. No. 3



No. 15 vs. No. 2



No. 16 vs. No. 1



Knowing that these upsets do indeed happen is the first step. The second -- and by far the most important -- is knowing which ones to pick. Swinging and missing gets you nothing and can really hurt your bracket long-term. So without further ado, we're calling our shots, one for every seed line No. 9 or worse.

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(9) Texas A&M Aggies

First-round opponent: (8) Nebraska Cornhuskers

Your opinion on the Aggies depends on when you watched them. Did you tune in for their 6-1 start to the season that included a neutral-court win over Iowa State? In early January, when they lost three of four but the one win was against Kentucky? Mid-February, when they followed a blowout win over Tennessee with five straight losses?

If you're in the largest group -- you watched them in March -- you saw Buzz Williams' team win five straight, including an SEC Tournament win over Kentucky, before a narrow semifinal loss to Florida. That stretch is really encouraging. Wade Taylor is averaged 25.3 points on 43% shooting over his last four games; was at 36% this season prior to that. It's a tiny sample size, but we always prefer trending up to trending down.

The Huskers shoot the ball well -- 35.8% from 3-point range -- while the Aggies couldn't hit water if they fell out of a boat: 28.4% from 3-point range is 354th out of 362 D-I teams, and 39.9% inside the arc is 349th. But the Aggies rebound 42% of their misses, best in the nation. Nebraska, meanwhile, is 237th in defensive rebounding percentage. When the Cornhuskers fail to hit at least a 70% defensive rebounding rate this season, they are 5-7. I love Keisei Tominaga, and he'd be a perfect March hero, but he and his teammates have their work cut out for them trying to get Nebraska's first NCAA Tournament win.

(10) Nevada Wolf Pack

First-round opponent: Dayton Flyers

I put Colorado atop my First Four teams that could make a run, but the Buffaloes still have to beat Boise State in the First Four just to get a matchup with Florida, another team I like. Plus, it's not like multiple No. 10 vs. 7 upsets are unheard of. It happened in 2021 and 2019

So we're going in a different direction. Nevada's Mountain West Tournament exit to Colorado State may have scared some away, but I'm sticking with the Wolf Pack, who face another team that lost its first conference tournament game: Dayton. The Flyers, however, have lost four of their last nine, while the Wolf Pack has won seven of its last eight. The Kenan Blackshear-Jarod Lucas pairing is excellent, and unlike some past Steve Alford teams, this one can really defend. They're 36th in's defensive efficiency, Alford's best ranking since 2013 with New Mexico. The Wolf Pack are stingy with their interior defense, a necessary element when going against the excellent Da'Ron Holmes II.

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(11) New Mexico Lobos

First-round opponent: Clemson Tigers

The Mountain West was terrific this year, and putting four of the league's six bids on the No. 10 line or lower was a tough look. That includes New Mexico. The Lobos won four games in four days to win the conference tournament. The advanced stats sites like the Lobos a lot more than the committee did -- both and favor them over Clemson -- and Vegas has the Lobos favored as well.

It's more than recency bias, though. Mountain West Tournament MVP Jaelen House (son of Eddie) can be the best player on the floor in any game, and Jamal Mashburn Jr. (son of Jamal Sr.) joins him as excellent scoring guards who are doing their fathers proud. Throw in a deep front court, and the Lobos are an easy selection to lead the No. 11 seed-over-No. 6 seed discussion.

(12) James Madison Dukes

First-round opponent: Wisconsin Badgers

Here we go again with the infamous No. 12-5 upset. Dukes, it's your turn. James Madison beat Michigan State to open the season and can defeat another Big Ten opponent in Wisconsin. The Dukes are more than a good story -- one I chronicled a few months ago -- with 31 wins, including 13 in a row. They have plenty of scoring, led by Terrence Edwards Jr. at 17.4 per game. Fifth-year workhorse big man T.J. Bickerstaff and sharp-shooting guard Noah Freidel round out` a strong top three. The Dukes rank 41st nationally in 3-point percentage and fifth nationally in 3-point percentage allowed, while Wisconsin ranks 136th and 343rd, respectively. Oh, and the last time the Badgers were a No. 5 seed, in 2019, they lost to Oregon by 18 in the first round.

(13) Samford Bulldogs

First-round opponent: Kansas Jayhawks

As you saw in the chart, the likelihood of an upset falls off slowly for seeds No. 10-12 and then falls off a cliff for No. 13. We're looking for something -- anything -- to give us hope. Samford gives us a lot. Bucky McMillan's "Bucky Ball" has produced three straight 20-win seasons for the Bulldogs after a 6-13 debut season and a program-record 29 wins this season. The Bulldogs play fast (14th in tempo), have a ton of depth (third in bench minutes) and can really shoot it (seventh in effective field goal percentage, eighth in 3-point percentage). Achor Achor can give any matchup fits. Samford faces Kansas, and while the team name is imposing, the team itself isn't, really. The Jayhawks have lost four of five. They've scored 98 points in the past two games combined. Their two best players -- Hunter Dickinson and Kevin McCullar Jr. -- are dealing with injuries, and McCullar remains uncertain.

Last year, the Southern Conference gave us the only 13-vs.-4 upset when Furman stunned Virginia. Could Samford make it two years in a row?

(14) Akron Zips

First-round opponent: Creighton Bluejays

Creighton at its best can beat anyone, but it takes very little for the Bluejays to get in trouble. The starting five of Steven Ashworth, Trey Alexander, Baylor Scheierman, Mason Miller and Ryan Kalkbrenner rate as the fifth-best lineup in the country per, but all it takes is foul trouble somewhere for an unwanted dip to the bench. Greg McDermott's bench plays just 19.6% of the team's minutes, eighth-fewest in D-I and the fewest by any tournament team. Enter Enrique Freeman, a physical but skilled (36% from 3-point range) big man who takes nearly seven free throws per game, and Ali Ali, who also draws a ton of fouls. Kalkbrenner is the Bluejays' indispensable defensive anchor, but the Freeman-Ali duo will be a handful for one of the nation's thinnest teams.

(15) Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

First-round opponent: Marquette Golden Eagles

Western Kentucky plays at the fastest pace in the nation and has power-conference talent in transfers from Kentucky (Dontaie Allen), Purdue (Brandon Newman) and Indiana (Khristian Lander). Need any more reasons the Hilltoppers could inject some madness? Allen's knee injury is worth monitoring, but if he plays, Marquette has to add a 42% 3-point shooter to its list of worries.

Two more things work in WKU's favor: Golden Eagles star Tyler Kolek is returning from an oblique injury, and doing so in a win-or-go-home game won't be easy. Plus, Shaka Smart has lost in the first round in six of his last seven NCAA Tournament trips.

(16) Montana State Bobcats

First Four opponent: Grambling State
Potential first-round opponent: Purdue Boilermakers

Last year, I put Northern Kentucky in this spot, and the Norse played even with Houston for 23 minutes before eventually losing by 11. Of course, if I had called the Fairleigh Dickinson upset over Purdue, I would have felt a lot better, but it wasn't bad.

This year, we're going with another plucky 16 seed that has to get through a First Four game before even thinking about the Boilermakers. Purdue fans, I promise I'm not just doing this for the bit. The Bobcats boast a power-conference win over Cal and shoot nearly 37% from 3, 34th in D-I. They pounded Montana in the Big Sky Tournament final by 15. We have no clue how Purdue will respond from its No. 1-vs.-16 upset loss last year, but when Virginia did it in 2019, the Cavaliers trailed Gardner-Webb by as much as 14 before coming back ... and then winning it all. If Purdue goes down by 14, you'd better believe all eyes will be on the Boilermakers again.