Almost as soon as the bracket comes out, we start talking about upsets. Which No. 12 seeds will start the annual upset parade? Which Cinderella will be the one to extend their moment beyond only one day and make a run to the Sweet Sixteen?

It happens nearly every year. Talented but lesser-known small conference teams crash a field brimming with star-studded, national-TV-graced favorites. Make no mistake: The upsets are coming. Our challenge is to identify the golden tickets from among the excited fray. Not every team with scrappy guards, hidden strengths and a good matchup will move on — but some will, perhaps more than usual this season.

Here are a few to consider, rated by my confidence in such an outcome:

Dagger Swagger: Oh yeah, count it.

Solid Shot: A 50-50 midrange jumper.

Please don’t air ball: Heaving it from half-court here, people.




(11) UCLA over (6) SMU

2:10 p.m. truTV

Many will argue the legitimacy of UCLA as a tournament team at all — and that’s fair, after the Bruins went 4-12 away from Pauley Pavillion and beat only four teams in the RPI top 100. But now it’s all about matchups, and the Bruins can win this one. Yes, the Mustangs have Hall of Famer Larry Brown at the helm, but UCLA has the bigger, more talented roster with recent victories over Oregon and Utah. SMU is less battle-tested, having faced only two top-30 teams, and both of those — losses to Gonzaga and Arkansas — came in November.

Confidence meter: Please don’t air ball.

(12) S.F. Austin over (5) Utah

6:27 p.m. truTV

I’m back on the bandwagon with the Lumberjacks after watching them churn through VCU as a 12 seed last year. Me and a lot of others. S.F. Austin is a popular pick to upset because the Utes have lost four of seven, and because the ’Jacks are the highest-ranked 12 seed in the field in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings — ranking higher than some 8 seeds even. S.F. Austin’s up-tempo offense grabs 37.7 percent of its misses, and its aggressive defense generates turnovers on 23 percent of opponents’ possessions. What’s more? The Lumberjacks have the experience and know what it takes to win a game in the tournament. Utah? It hasn’t been there since 2009.

Confidence meter: Dagger swagger.

(12) Wofford over (5) Arkansas

8:50 p.m. TNT

In games decided by six points or fewer, Wofford is 11-2. The Terriers have experienced guards who won’t be sped up by Arkansas’ pressure, and Wofford already posted a big victory at North Carolina State this season. If the much-smaller Terriers can hit the defensive glass as they normally do and contend with matchup nightmare 6-11 Bobby Portis, they’ve got a chance.

Confidence meter: Solid shot.


(13) Eastern Washington over (4) Georgetown

8:57 p.m. truTV

Eastern Washington has become a trendy pick because, a) the Eagles have one of the nation’s top offenses, b) Georgetown is historically bad against lower seeds in the first round, and c) the game is being played in Portland., a five-hour drive from EW’s Cheney, Wash., home, and a coast away from the Hoyas’. Eastern Washington features sharpshooter Tyler Harvey, a 40.4 percent three-point shooter and one of three players who totaled 20 or more in beating Indiana in November.

Confidence meter: Solid shot.




(12) Wyoming over (5) Northern Iowa

12:40 p.m. TBS

The Cowboys have been on the verge, and this time around, Larry Shyatt’s bunch has the excellent defense necessary to contain UNI, and a top-10 offense. Wyoming would be seeded higher if not for a couple of ugly losses — a back-to-back sequence at Air Force and San Diego State, lost by a combined 49 points — sustained while senior Larry Nance Jr. was injured. But the son of the three-time NBA All-Star is back now, and might be the best dunker in the tournament field.

Confidence meter: Please don’t air ball.


(12) Buffalo over (5) West Virginia

1:10 p.m. TNT

Let’s not beat around the bush: Bobby Hurley’s team can ball. West Virginia’s game is all about turnovers, but the Bulls take care of the ball better than most, turning it over on only 16.4 percent of their possessions, and there aren’t any obvious weaknesses to exploit otherwise. What’s more, the Mountaineers’ offensive leader, Juwan Staten, is at best hobbled from a knee injury and at worst on the bench after missing four games. That opens the door Buffalo needs to Bull-doze its way to the round of 32 (yes, I did use that pun).

Confidence meter: Dagger swagger.


(10) Davidson over (7) Iowa

6:20 p.m. TNT

I’ve watched the Hawkeyes enough to know their oversized one-through-five can be intimidating and more than effective. But Iowa also isn’t above a bad loss here and there (see Minnesota’s win at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, sorry Gophers fans). Though the Hawkeyes own the paint, their guards could have trouble keeping up with Davidson’s Tyler Kalinowski and Jack Gibbs, who combine for more than 33 points and, along with Jordan Barham, shoot better than 42 percent from three-point range. The committee didn’t show respect of Davidson, which is a bit underseeded as the Atlantic 10 champ in its first season. But Ken Pomeroy has the Wildcats ranked overall just above 4 seed Maryland by his metrics.

Confidence meter: Solid shot.