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Wayne Staats | | February 9, 2021

7 NCAA tournament upsets fans saw coming, according to the data

Watch full game: Ja Morant records a triple-double for Murray State over Marquette in 2019 first round

Not all NCAA tournament upsets are the same. Some truly shock college basketball fans throughout the country — think UMBC beating Virginia. But others seem to be less surprising. Sometimes Bracket Challenge Game players can see March Madness upsets coming once the bracket is out.

Looking at BCG data since 2014, we found the most popular NCAA tournament upsets that happened. We limited games to the first round only (round of 64) to make for easier comparisons. We also defined upsets as wins by No. 12 seeds or lower (No. 12 through No. 16).

No. 12 Murray State 83, No. 5 Marquette 64 (2019) — 45.60 percent of BCG players

At 27-4 yet a No. 12 seed, the Racers were a popular upset pick in 2019. More than 45 percent of bracket users picked the 12 seed. The reason? Call it the "Ja Morant Show." Murray State's dynamic star posted the ninth triple-double in NCAA tournament history with his 17 points, 16 assists and 11 rebounds. The Racers shot 53.6 percent from the floor and were never seriously in trouble in the second half.

No. 12 Middle Tennessee 81, No. 5 Minnesota 72 (2017) — 43.24 percent

One year earlier, Middle Tennessee pulled off the biggest shocking upset (according to the data) when it stunned Michigan State in a 15 over 2 game. The next year, the Blue Raiders repeated as Conference USA champs and rolled into the NCAA tournament at 30-4 — and 43 percent of BCG users picked Middle Tennessee to beat a Big Ten team again. Fifth-seeded Minnesota reached the Big Ten semifinals, but Middle Tennessee made 48.3 percent of its shots and grabbed 13 more rebounds than the Gophers.

No. 12 Oregon 72, No. 5 Wisconsin 54 (2019) — 36.55 percent

The Badgers were 23-10 but went 14-6 in the rugged Big Ten to earn a five seed. Oregon was only 15-12 in late February before running off eight in a row to earn the Pac-12 crown. The Ducks later beat No. 13 UC Irvine in the second round (more on the Anteaters later) before falling to eventual national champion Virginia by only 4 points in the Sweet 16.

No. 12 Liberty 84, No. 5 Mississippi State 73 (2019) — 28.72 percent

The Flames earned their first NCAA tournament win after a 28-win regular season that included an Atlantic Sun tournament title. Darius McGhee finished with seven 3-pointers as Liberty connected from distance on 19 of its 39 attempts.

No. 12 Harvard 61, No. 5 Cincinnati 57 (2014) — 27.39 percent

The Crimson made for a brutal first-round foe for Cincinnati. Harvard beat New Mexico in the 2013 NCAA tournament as a No. 14 seed and was 26-4 going into this matchup. The Crimson also won eight in a row before upsetting No. 5 Cincinnati. The Bearcats shot only 36.8 percent as Harvard advanced to the round of 32 for the second consecutive season.

No. 13 Hawai'i 77, No. 4 California 66 (2016) — 23.56 percent

The top win by a No. 13 seed on this list, 23.56 percent of BCG players correctly saw Hawai'i winning an NCAA tournament game for the first time. The Rainbow Warriors shot 51.9 percent to eliminate the fourth-seeded Golden Bears. Cal turned it over 16 times and made only 41.1 percent of its shots.

No. 13 UC Irvine 70, No. 4 Kansas State 64 (2019) — 20.89 percent

Here's another 2019 game, as the Anteaters took down No. 4 K-State after winning 30 games and a Big West title. The win marked the program's first in the NCAA tournament in only its second appearance. Both Max Hazzard and Robert Cartwright scored 19 points for UC Irvine, which had 20.89 percent of BCG users celebrating their predicted upset.

UC Irvine upsets Kansas State for first tournament win

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