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March Madness Upset Alert: Top 5 NCAA Tournament Underdog Picks

Dan Kilbridge for Bookies.com

Dan Kilbridge  | 9 mins

March Madness Upset Alert: Top 5 NCAA Tournament Underdog Picks

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The bracket is set, the field is wide open and anything’s possible as we get ready for another glorious opening round of the NCAA Tournament. Let’s dance. 

Rounds 1 and 2 are as unpredictable as it gets, with nonstop action from the early afternoon into the wee hours. Bracket pools and tournament-long competitions usually come down to the Final Four or National Championship, but the office chatter and buzz entering opening weekend always comes back to the same thing – upsets. 

The buzzer-beaters and Cinderella stories are what we all love about March Madness and there’s been no shortage of fun in recent years – last season saw No. 16 Farleigh Dickinson upset No. 1 Purdue in the first round, while No. 15 Saint Peter’s knocked off No. 2 Kentucky in the opening round in 2022. 

The chalk always looks good on paper until the ball is in the air, at this point, all regular season accomplishments go out the window and nothing is guaranteed. That’s what makes the NCAA Tournament one of the greatest sporting events in the world. 

Here are our top five upset college basketball picks for Thursday and Friday as Round 1 of the big dance tips off across the country. 

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No. 12 McNeese State Over No. 5 Gonzaga 

  • Thursday, 7:25 p.m.

Moneyline Odds: +215 at DraftKings Sportsbook

Gonzaga is going dancing for the 25th consecutive season, drawing a tough No. 12-seeded McNeese State team for the opening-round matchup in Salt Lake City. The Bulldogs haven’t lost in the first round since 2008 and are going off as -6 favorites in the Midwest region. But this is also a tougher draw for a Bulldogs team that came up in both the regular season and West Coast Conference tournament. 

McNeese State cruised to a Southland Conference tournament championship and enters on an 11-game winning streak. The Cowboys haven’t faced a ranked opponent this year, but they did have nonconference wins over VCU and Michigan. They can put up points and this Bulldogs’ defense has regressed this season. They have a ton of momentum and Gonzaga has all the pressure, needing a deep tournament run in order to meet program expectations. Don’t be surprised if they can’t rise to the occasion. 

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No. 11 North Carolina State Over Texas Tech

  • Thursday, 9:40 p.m. 

Moneyline Odds: +190 DraftKings Sportsbook

How ‘bout that Wolfpack? North Carolina State just pulled off the impossible, winning five games in five days to win the ACC tournament and punch the ticket. The final three couldn’t have been more impressive, with the Wolfpack knocking off Duke, Virginia, and North Carolina in order – three very different, very talented opponents. 

That’s why we think NC State still has life going into a Round 1 matchup with Texas Tech. The Red Raiders have been here, and done that, but this could be a tricky matchup – NC State is a balanced squad that doesn’t shoot a ton of 3s and spreads it around, with four different leading scorers in the ACC tournament. This looks like the danger zone for a Tech team that started hot but finished just 7-7 over the last 14 games. We like the Wolfpack to keep it rolling. 

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No. 10 Drake Over No. 7 Washington State

  • Friday, 10:05 p.m.

Moneyline Odds: -122 DraftKings Sportsbook

Drake is back in the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four years under coach Darian DeVries, and they’ve got their best seed since 2008 as a No. 10 taking on No. 9 Washington State in the first round. The Bulldogs had to knock off an excellent Indiana State team in the MVC tournament final to get here, and we don’t expect them to look back entering the big dance on a five-game winning streak. 

The Cougars finished second in the Pac-12 and lost a close one to Colorado in the conference tournament semis, making it two losses in their last three games. The Bulldogs can push the pace and run a more efficient offense, and they should have plenty of supporters in the stands for this first-round matchup in Omaha. Drake has some significant postseason experience now and we wouldn’t at all be surprised to see them make a run to the Sweet 16, starting with a first-round win over Washington State. 

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No. 9 Texas A&M Over No. 8 Nebraska

  • Friday, 6:50 p.m.

Moneyline Odds: -108 DraftKings Sportsbook

We’ve got a good 8-9 matchup on deck in the South Region, where Texas A&M takes on Nebraska at FedEx Forum in Memphis. The Huskers are back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014, riding a nice regular season and third-place finish in the Big Ten. Our concern is the Huskers often looked like a different team at home, where they went 15-4 against the spread. They were 3-8 overall on the road and that’s not a great sign with all the intangibles of a Friday afternoon Round 1 tip. 

A&M made a nice run in the SEC tournament and knocked off Kentucky in the quarterfinals for a big confidence boost. This team lost five straight games from Feb. 13-28 and responded with five straight wins. The Aggies also played one of the toughest schedules in the country and should be ready to bring it from the jump. 

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No. 12 James Madison Over No. 5 Wisconsin 

  • Friday, 9:40 p.m.

Moneyline Odds: +185 DraftKings Sportsbook

Barclays Center in Brooklyn will be rocking Friday night, with No. 12-seeded James Madison taking on No. 5-seeded Wisconsin. The Badgers came up just short in a Big Ten tournament championship loss to Illinois, preceded by an impressive overtime upset win over Purdue. The Badgers have been one of the top offensive teams in the country all season, but it’s been a bumpy road over the last two months and Wisconsin has several starters nursing injuries. 

James Madison has won 13 straight games and the Dukes are a wagon on offense behind junior guard Terrence Edwards Jr.. They began the season with a massive upset win at Michigan State and never looked back, becoming one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the country. Perimeter defense is a big weakness for the Badgers and we like James Madison to pull off the upset behind a hot shooting night.  

Betting apps are buzzing with anticipation as James Madison, exploiting the Badgers' perimeter defense vulnerability, eyes an upset victory.

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About the Author

Dan Kilbridge for Bookies.com
Dan Kilbridge
Handicapper Dan Kilbridge writes about college football, MLB and other sports for Bookies.com after spending three years covering Tiger Woods’ comeback and the PGA for Golfweek.