Top Round 1 Upsets For March Madness 2024

Last Updated: Mar 22, 2024

You don’t have to be a kid to enjoy a fairy tale. That’s what the NCAA Tournament gives fans and onlookers each season — the opportunity to watch the improbable happen.

The 2024 iteration is expected to provide plenty of opportunities for a Cinderella story, and it all starts with the first round of games on March 21-22.

The Game Day has been waiting for this time of year to talk upsets. After what we saw in the conference tournaments leading up to March Madness, here are the top 5 Round 1 upsets that could lead to getting fitted for a glass slipper as the tourney goes on.

Top 5 Round 1 March Madness Upsets

The following are not in any particular order but deserve equal consideration.

No. 14 Morehead State Eagles vs No. 3 Illinois Fighting Illini - East Region

March 21 Tip-Off at 3:10 PM ET

Full disclosure: I have watched more Illinois games than any other team this season because I live 45 minutes from Champaign, IL. I have seen, read, and understood every reason to fade the Illini against the OVC Champs.

Morehead State can shoot the ball, it has size, and its defense can handle competition at a higher level. That is why getting the Eagles as double-digit underdogs is great for bettors. The concern is what happens if Illinois plays its game.

Few teams want to play at the tempo Illinois does, especially in transition. That has been this team’s calling card all season. The Eagles have done the opposite with great success, but no matter what anyone says, the Big Ten is head-and-shoulders better than the Ohio Valley in terms of competition and talent.

Morehead State will have to match Illinois’ intensity in transition, especially with catch-and-shoot three-pointers, an area where both teams are equals.

The Eagles are (+11.5), down from (+13.5) when books first posted spreads. Bet that number all the way down to (+8.5), and bet the Eagles Moneyline with 0.25 units. If they fall behind early, it could get ugly.

Illinois is clearly seeded as the fourth No. 3 seed because if they survive Morehead State’s size and defense, they will face the best No. 6 seed in BYU, so long as they advance, too.

No. 11 New Mexico Lobos vs No. 6 Clemson Tigers - West Region

March 22 Tip-Off at 3:10 PM ET

It’s a bad sign when the first thing lines are posted for a game, it opens as the underdog as the favorite. The Lobos have since commanded bets for the spread and Moneyline. Their experience and unrelenting defense are their best features.

Clemson played well into the ACC Tournament, but they got the short end of the draw. New Mexico was a better team than their early season record indicated, leading to them being closer to a bubble team before securing the automatic bid for the Mountain West.

If Clemson can’t drive to the basket, a style of play that got them a 6-seed, they’re toast.

No. 11 Oregon Ducks vs No. 6 South Carolina Gamecocks - Midwest Region

March 21 Tip-Off at 4:00 PM ET

Six is the new five in the NCAA Tournament. Six seeds have a slight winning advantage compared to fives over the last handful of tourneys.

Coaching deserves praise when it’s good and bad, and Oregon’s Dana Altman is 13-5-1 against the spread (ATS) when an underdog in the Rounds of 64 and 32. He is also 7-0 straight up in the First Round.

Sportsbooks have had to adjust since opening this game’s line. The Ducks are now (+1) against the Gamecocks. If not for New Mexico, I’d argue Oregon is the best 11-seed.

South Carolina has statement wins against Kentucky, Florida, and Tennessee, but if N’Faly Dante eats inside against the Gamecocks, playing at their tempo offensively may not matter.

This matchup plays out more like an 8/9, especially when considering their KenPom ratings; South Carolina is 49th, while Oregon is 55th.

No. 10 Drake Bulldogs vs No. 7 Washington State Cougars - East Region

March 21 Tip-Off at 10:05 PM ET

The books may already favor Drake, but the number should be bigger. This is also one of the few upset-minded matchups where the seeding is grossly incorrect.

The biggest issue betting Drake to win outright is the public. As of Mar. 20, the Bulldogs have 90% of the spread bets. According to research from The Action Network, teams that get over 60% of ATS money have a record of 72-97-5 (46.2%).

The spread is Drake (-1).

If the game ends up being a one-possession game as time winds down, the Bulldogs have a distinct free-throw advantage. Drake has the 8th-best free-throw percentage in the tourney, while Washington State has the 9th-worst.

No. 10 Colorado Buffaloes vs No. 7 Florida Gators - South Region

March 22 Tip-Off at 4:30 PM ET

I’m predicting Colorado to win their play-in game and then take down the Gators without center Micah Handlogten due to a broken leg. It’s awful, but his absence is an opportunity for the Buffs.

Colorado’s experienced backcourt, led by KJ Simpson, pairs well with Tristan de Silva and Eddie Lampkin, who combine to play well on each end of the court. A healthy Handlogten makes the duo less effective, but it’s next man up for Florida.

Since the introduction of the First Four, a team that won their play-in advanced to the Round of 32 in 11 of 12 years. Here are some other favorable stats for Colorado:

  • ✔️ 11 of the 12 were Top 50 in RPI (CU is 27th)
  • ✔️ 9 of 11 Round of 64 games had spreads under 7 points (Should be expected without Handlogten)
  • ✔️ 9 of 11 teams faced an opponent in the Round of 64 that was an at-large bid (Florida secured an at-large bid)

Overall, 24 non-16 seeds made the tourney from the play-in.

  • 🏀 Non-16 seed First Four winners are 10-14 in the Round of 64.
  • 🏀 Non-16 seed First Four winners are 2-3 in the Round of 32
  • 🏀 Non-16 seed First Four winners are 2-0 in the Elite 8
  • 🏀 Non-16 seed First Four winners are 0-2 in the Final 4

The teams that made it to the Final Four are the 2011 VCU Rams and 2021 UCLA Bruins.


Jeff Hicks

Jeff is the Digital Content Coordinator at The Game Day. He has been covering sports in some fashion for a decade. He has been published on Yahoo Fantasy, 4for4, FantasyLabs, The Action Network, Bleacher Report, Daily Herald (IL), and numerous others. His first published piece was a poem in 8th grade, so naturally he progressed to sports writing.

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