2022 NCAA Tournament Bracket-Busters: Ranking 13- to 15-Seeds With the Best Odds for an Upset
Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images. Pictured: Baylor Scheierman (South Dakota State)
Everybody loves the No. 12 over No. 5 upset, and No. 11 seeds actually have a winning record in the first round since 2010. However, those are the easy upsets to pick. What about teams seeded even lower?
Depending on the pool size or contest you enter, your bracket’s success will usually come down to nailing the teams that make it through to the Elite Eight, Final Four and — ultimately — the national championship.
You can also improve your chances by picking some of the bigger upsets in the first two rounds. While I wouldn’t recommend picking any 16 seeds (who have one combined win in tourney history), we have seen some success from the 13-15 seeds.
In fact, six No. 13 seeds have won in the first round over the past five NCAA Tournaments. That includes a pair last year in Ohio and North Texas.
We also saw a stunner from No. 15 seed Oral Roberts. The Golden Eagles became just the second No. 15 seed ever to advance to the Sweet 16.
If you can get one or two of those games right, it will also increase your chances of nailing the teams that make it further. For reference, here are the all-time records for 13-15 seeds:
- 13 seeds: 31-113 (21.53%)
- 14 seeds: 22-122 (15.3%)
- 15 seeds: 9-135 (6.25%)
Since I’m not entertaining the thought of a No. 16 seed winning, let’s focus in on the 12 teams seeded between No. 13 and No. 15, highlighting their chances of pulling off a stunner. I have ranked them in descending order from least likely to the best shot at an upset.
These aren’t simply ranked in the order of my projected lines for these games, as I’m focusing more on the variance of each game and the matchup.
This is an exercise to help you pick an upset or two (while also offering some more insight into some of the lesser-known teams in the bracket for betting purposes).
Personally, I try to pick two upsets from this group of seeds each year. Let’s take a look.
Friday, Mar. 18 at 2 p.m. ET on TBS
Notable non-conference results: L by 36 at Seton Hall, L by 8 at Vermont, L by 22 at Auburn, L by 14 vs. Iona, L by 27 at Saint Mary’s
Purdue’s offense is elite in every sense outside of a few turnover issues that can creep up at times. Conversely, the defense has some worrying signs, specifically on the perimeter, where the Boilers struggle to create turnovers and stop pick-and-roll action.
Yale guard Azar Swain is a pure bucket-getter and could have some success here, but he can only do so much. Purdue should get plenty of easy buckets at the rim with its elite size, and it will dominate the boards throughout.
The Bulldogs also obviously don’t have anybody to match up with Jaden Ivey. It also doesn’t help that Yale prefers to play fast and isn’t a great outside shooting team. That’s not ideal for an upset given the pure talent gap in this particular matchup.
It’s hard to see the Ivy winners having a legit shot at an outright win here against a Purdue team that should be laser focused after losing in the first round to a No. 13 seed last year.
Friday, Mar. 18 at 7:10 p.m. ET on CBS
Notable non-conference results: L by 7 at Santa Clara, L by 13 vs. Wyoming, L by 10 at San Diego State
Duke fans should have legitimate concerns after a really poor close to the season, capped off by a loss in the ACC title game against a Virginia Tech team that was playing its fourth game in four days.
The issues on the defensive end are very worrisome. Maybe the whole Coach K farewell tour has turned into a complete distraction, as well.
However, I wouldn’t be too worried about this particular game. The talent gap is obviously enormous, and Duke will get to play a quasi-home game in Greenville, SC against a Big West team traveling across the country.
The Titans have assembled an interesting roster full of transfers, led by E.J. Anosike, who came over from Tennessee and Sacred Heart before Knoxville. They love to feed Anosike in the post in an offense that relies on attacking the rim. That likely won’t work well against Mark Williams & Co. on the interior.
Fullerton is also very reliant on getting to the charity stripe (where it’s very efficient), but Duke fouls at the second-lowest rate in the nation. And don’t expect to get many calls in Greenville to go in favor of the underdog.
When Duke has the ball, it shouldn’t find too much resistance against a Fullerton defense that thrives on forcing turnovers. That won’t work against a Duke offense that ranks in the top-20 nationally in that department.
The Blue Devils should get plenty of open looks from 3 and rebound their misses at a very high clip. That should lead to a couple of killer runs that will really put this game out of reach.
And while Fullerton does have a couple of capable shooters, it’s one of the least 3P-reliant offenses in the country, ranking 338th in 3PA frequency.
That’s not ideal for a large underdog.
Thursday, Mar. 17 at 7:10 p.m. ET on CBS
Notable non-conference results: L by 3 at VCU, L by 21 at St. John’s, L by 14 at Providence
Kentucky got a much tougher No. 15 seed than the aforementioned Duke, since Saint Peter’s has a legitimately excellent defense.
The Peacocks will pressure on the perimeter incessantly, knowing it has one of the best interior defenders in D-I as a safety blanket in KC Ndefo. It’s no fluke they finished in the top-15 nationally in both 2P and 3P percentage defense.
And Kentucky did struggle some against the press this season, albeit in part due to injuries.
Facing Oscar Tshiebwe is a clear step up in class for Ndefo, but it will still be a fun matchup to watch.
Also, keep an eye on early foul trouble, which could play a major role down low. That will actually be something to watch throughout the tournament with the Wildcats, as Coach Cal is one of the most conservative in the country when it comes to playing guys with two fouls in the first half.
As a Kentucky futures holder, that scares me, and could ultimately serve as its demise.
While Saint Peter’s defense is no joke, the offense can go through ugly droughts and doesn’t shoot many 3s, which makes the Peacocks an even less intriguing option to pull off a stunner.
SPU is completely reliant on getting to the line and cleaning up the glass on the offensive end, but both will be difficult against UK.
Kentucky has the guards to handle the pressure, and Big O will still get his inside. Peter’s can hang around here, especially if Kentucky isn’t hitting jumpers, but the talent gap is enormous.
For my money, Kentucky is the best team in the country when healthy, and this is the healthiest the Cats have been in quite some time.
Plus, it doesn’t help SPU’s chances that this game will be played in front of all blue in Indianapolis. That said, I wouldn’t blame you for taking the points here with the covering darlings of this calendar year.
Peters is 17-4 ATS in 2022!
— Stuckey (@Stuckey2) March 12, 2022
Friday, Mar. 18 at 1:45 p.m. ET on TNT
Notable non-conference results: L by 4 at Colorado, L by 17 at South Dakota State, L by 3 at New Mexico
Texas Tech can go into major offensive droughts in what are usually low-scoring games.
On the surface, that leaves it vulnerable to a potential upset in this tourney. Montana State will also pack its defense in to protect the rim and grab defensive rebounds.
Daring Texas Tech to shoot from distance is not a bad strategy, and not allowing it to dominate the offensive glass is necessary, so Montana State could have some success for stretches on that end of the floor.
However, I just don’t see how Montana State scores on the other end against a Texas Tech defense that ranks No. 1 in adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom.
The no-middle defense should be extremely problematic for a Montana State offense that relies on feeding the post and dribble penetration. Good luck with that against Mark Adams’ defense.
Unless the officials are calling this super tight (Montana State is excellent at getting to the line), it’s hard to see its offense doing much here in a nightmare matchup.
There could be an extreme amount of shock value for the offense, as well, after facing one of the easiest schedules of opposing defenses in the country.
Thursday, Mar. 17 at 2:45 p.m. ET on CBS
Notable non-conference results: L by 33 at Iowa, L by 16 at Abilene Christian
Longwood could look like a potential scary opponent to some when you look at its statistical profile. It’s an elite shooting team that comes into the tourney ranked sixth in the country in 3P% at 38.6%.
However, this is a major step up in class for a Lancers team that I believe is a bit overseeded after finding ways to win so many close games against a soft overall schedule.
Meanwhile, I think the Vols are underseeded and deserved a No. 2 seed after winning the SEC tournament in impressive fashion.
For what it’s worth, Tennessee played two Big South opponents earlier this season and won both by 40-plus. The Vols took care of business all year in games they were supposed to win, with zero bad losses nor even scares on their resume.
So, while this isn’t a massive Vols team in the post — which helps the tiny Lancers some — the talent gap is significant here.
That said, with Longwood’s size advantage in the backcourt and its ability to hit 3s, it can certainly stay within this number. It’s just too difficult to imagine anything more.
Friday, Mar. 18 at 2:45 p.m. ET on CBS
Notable non-conference results: L by 22 at Davidson, L by 1 at Temple, L by 11 vs. Iona
There’s some interesting storylines for this one. Delaware head coach Martin Inglesby will take on his dad’s alma mater, Villanova — he starred on the basketball team in the 70’s.
Additionally, former Villanova transfer Dylan Painter will face off against his old squad.
Delaware has talent for a No. 15 seed, and really came on toward the end of the year with the emergence of freshman Jyare Davis. He basically became the best player for the Blue Hens down the stretch.
I actually think Delaware’s bigs can have some success in this game. Plus, Villanova plays super slow (345th adjusted tempo) while shooting (and allowing) a very high frequency of 3-pointers.
That does increase the variance for the underdog. The problem is Villanova is extremely proficient at making those 3s (once it works for what’s usually a wide-open look) and defending them on the other end.
This is a really strong Delaware offense, with a number of shooters capable of getting hot from deep. The problem is I don’t see the Blue Hens getting enough stops.
Villanova also leads the country in free throw percentage and seemingly never misses in the final minutes. That doesn’t help an underdog’s chances of pulling off an upset.
The Blue Hens can keep this respectable, but I’d be hesitant picking against Jay Wright and a very experienced Villanova team in my bracket. Wright hasn’t lost in the first round since 2013 when his No. 8 seed Wildcats lost to North Carolina.
Then again, crazier things have happened in March before.
Friday, Mar. 18 at 12:40 p.m. ET on truTV
Notable non-conference results: L by 3 at Wichita State, L by 14 at VCU, L by 6 at Alabama
First off, this game will not be played at Auburn. That immediately gives the Gamecocks a puncher’s chance considering how utterly dominant the Tigers performed at home this season.
On the flip side, Bruce Pearl’s bunch looked extremely vulnerable away from the friendly confines of its home court. Barely pulling out one-possession wins on the road against Georgia and Missouri best highlight those struggles.
Auburn’s erratic backcourt just seems to play so much more poorly when not at home. Plus, the Tigers’ up-tempo style clearly thrives off of the energy in that building.
Jacksonville State won’t be afraid of this stage. It is well-coached and extremely experienced, with some high-level athleticism.
Most importantly, Jacksonville State has a number of guys who can light it up from 3 on an offense that shoots them at a top-65 clip and makes over 38% (11th nationally). Per ShotQuality, it’s elite in both catch-and-shoot and off-the-dribble 3s.
That’s the variance you want for a potential 15 over 2, especially since you can’t expect Jacksonville State to get much inside against Auburn’s elite rim defense.
Another bonus is Ray Harper will likely play even slower than usual here from what I know about him.
Defensively, Jacksonville State doesn’t foul often and allows a ton of 3-point looks, as you’ll see it sit in some 3-2 matchup zone or play off shooters.
Again, that’s a positive if you’re looking for increased variance, especially against an Auburn backcourt that has shown a willingness to chuck up bad shots. As a result, Jacksonville State should also have a decent chance to help prevent Auburn from living on the offensive glass, where it thrives.
Depth and turnovers are a major problem for the Gamecocks — which could spell doom against Auburn — but there is a path where this becomes a 3-point shooting contest.
Advantage Jacksonville State if that’s the case.
Thursday, Mar. 17 at 9:50 p.m. ET on TBS
Notable non-conference results: L by 1 at Ohio State
Almost the entire UCLA group returned from last year’s team that went from the First Four to the Final Four. The Bruins safely got in this year as a No. 4 seed, and are heavy favorites in their first-round matchup against a MAC team.
However, I think this game has upset potential for a few reasons.
First off, this will be a high-variance game, which is conducive to an upset. There should be a very limited number of possessions in what should be a snail-like pace throughout.
Mick Cronin prefers a slower pace. And while UCLA has played a bit quicker this season compared to recent ones, it’s still below average in that department. Meanwhile, Akron is a complete snail, ranking 351st in adjusted tempo. Expect the Zips to walk it up the floor in no hurry throughout the game.
Additionally, Akron will launch a high frequency of 3-pointers, as it ranks in the top-100 nationally in both attempt and make rates. That could serve as the great equalizer against a UCLA team that remains a bit vulnerable defensively on the outside.
Now, if those shots aren’t falling, it could be over quick. Look no further than a game against Fordham earlier this year when the Zips lost by 20 after shooting 1-of-18 from 3.
How this game is called could also have a major impact, as the Zips rely on getting to the line at the fifth-highest rate in the country.
The Zips also have some muscle inside to battle UCLA in Ali Ali and MAC defensive player of the year Enrique Freeman. The defensive concern lies on the perimeter, where UCLA should have a major edge.
Friday, Mar. 18 at 6:50 p.m. ET on TNT
Notable non-conference results: L by 2 at VCU, L by 2 vs. Charleston, L by 8 at Belmont, L by 11 at Murray State, W by 12 vs. MTSU
Chattanooga may be a mid-major, but it has high-major size and athleticism. The Mocs are led by two outstanding guards in super senior David Jean-Baptiste and the extremely dangerous Malachi Smith, whose size on the perimeter could give Illinois some issues.
But most importantly for this particular matchup, UTC is one of the few mid-majors that has a big capable of matching Kofi Cockburn’s physicality underneath. That big man is Kansas transfer Silvio De Sousa.
Foul trouble for either could end up being a major storyline, but just having a guy like De Sousa gives the Mocs a real shot here.
That said, this matchup isn’t without its concerns. The Mocs have struggled at times defending pick-and-roll action, which isn’t ideal against the Illinois offense. And while capable from 3 (especially Smith), Illinois has limited opponents to the eighth-lowest 3-point attempt rate in the country.
Chattanooga at least plays slower (302nd in adjusted tempo), which is generally a good thing for an underdog. However, it must balance that preferred tempo with taking advantage of transition opportunities when available.
The Mocs rank in the 99th percentile in points per possession in transition, per Synergy. It’s also an area where the Illinois defense can be exploited a bit.
Thursday, Mar. 17 at 9:20 p.m. ET on TNT
Notable non-conference results: W by 14 at UNI, L by 11 at Maryland, L by 10 at Providence, W by 10 vs. Colgate
This is an extremely experienced Vermont team that shredded the America East with ease, including three victories in the conference tournament all by at least 30 points.
The Catamounts are led by versatile big man Ryan Davis, who can also do plenty of damage from beyond the arc, where he shot 43.6% on the season.
Vermont doesn’t play particularly fast and will take (and make) plenty of 3-pointers, which makes it a viable underdog in a tournament setting.
Additionally, the Catamounts rank No. 1 in the country in defensive rebounding rate, and do a solid job of limiting fouls on that end. Both are key against the Razorbacks, as is the fact that Vermont ranks in the top-20 in turnover rate with multiple ball-handers, which is a major plus against Arkansas.
In fairness, Arkansas has a very capable perimeter defense and wants to play much quicker, ranking 28th in adjusted tempo.
If Vermont can prevent this game from speeding up too much, it will have a good chance of advancing to the second round.
Friday, Mar. 18 at 9:50 p.m. ET on TBS
Notable non-conference results: L by 3 at NC State, W by 5 vs. Syracuse, L by 3 at Pitt, L by 18 at St. John’s, L by 10 at Vermont
Colgate features an uber-efficient spread pick-and-roll attack with elite spacing that takes advantage of a bevy of shooters on the perimeter.
With Nelly Cummings running the show, the experienced Raiders were one of only two teams in the country to connect on over 40% of their attempts from beyond the arc.
Lower-seeds that attempt and make a high frequency of 3s will always have upset potential due to the inherent increased variance. Look out for Jack Ferguson, who can get white-hot from distance.
Wisconsin is also severely overseeded here, having had Lady Luck on its side more times than not during the season. Per ShotQuality, it finished with four more wins than projected.
The Badgers do a great job of taking away 3s under Greg Gard, but Colgate ranks in the top-10 nationally in terms of both volume and efficiency on catch-and-shoot 3s.
That’s definitely the matchup to watch, in addition to Colgate’s very underrated big man Keegan Records at the rim.
Now, the Colgate defense is nothing to write home about, but it at least won’t be completely overmatched athletically, as we saw last year late in a first-round matchup against Arkansas.
I’m sure the Raiders will also double Johnny Davis, which has proved successful for other clubs of late.
Lastly, the Badgers should have a massive crowd advantage in Milwaukee. However, that could end up working against them if this stays tight throughout (nerves could potentially build up). I think this goes down to the wire.
Thursday, Mar. 17 at 12:40 p.m. ET on truTV
Notable non-conference results: W vs. Bradley by 16, W at Stephen F. Austin by 12, W vs. Nevada by 27, W at Washington State by 3, W vs. George Mason by 4, L at Alabama by 16, L vs. Washington by 11, L at Missouri State by 12
This is the most obvious choice. This is a one-possession spread, which is on track to be the lowest a No. 4 seed has been favored by since the tournament expanded in 1985.
The public likes South Dakota State (+2) against Providence…
— Evan Abrams (@EvanHAbrams) March 15, 2022
Providence is a bit overseeded, as a result of extreme fortune in close games throughout the season. The Friars finished with a 12-2 record in games that either went to overtime or ended with a margin of five points or fewer.
Head coach Ed Cooley’s group might be in for another battle against a South Dakota State team that can shoot the lights out. On the season, the Jackrabbits — who became the first Summit team to finish league play undefeated — rank first nationally in both effective FG% (59.7%) and 3P% at a ridiculous 44.2%.
To put that latter number into context, that’s over four percentage points clear of the second-highest team and the best single-season clip since 2012 when Northern Colorado cleared 45%.
The defense isn’t great on the perimeter and Nate Watson will be a problem underneath, but the offense can certainly compensate for some of those deficiencies. They will also arrive in Buffalo with an abundance of confidence, having not lost since Dec. 15.
Keep your eye on sophomore point guard Baylor Scheierman. He runs the show and is an absolute flame-thrower from deep, but he will have to bring his peak form against an excellent defender in Justin Minaya.
My only concern is I’m just not sure South Dakota State can keep shooting 45% from distance, so regression may be looming against a very formidable Providence perimeter defense.
Plus, I’m sure the experienced Friars will be playing the disrespect card all week leading up to this one.