A Model-Recommended First Round Upset for Your Consideration

Every March, 68 of the 353 nation’s best college basketball teams travel around the country to compete in the most exciting opening round of any tournament in any sport. There will be more games played and as many teams sent home in the first round as there are in the rest of the entire tournament combined. Millions of brackets across the country are busted before the second round begins, and much of that comes to the chaotic nature of the March Madness tournament and the difficulty of predicting first round upsets. However, one upset candidate stands above the rest this year: #12 Oregon vs. #5 Wisconsin.

This matchup is definitely the juiciest upset candidate for several reasons. The first is that Oregon +1.5 is officially a model play, meaning that my numbers give validation to the upset potential. Looking deeper into the numbers, this game should be a very ugly and low-scoring affair. Oregon ranks 18th in KenPom defensive efficiency while Wisconsin ranks 3rd. Offensive sets will be largely ineffective, as Oregon ranks in the 91st percentile in non-transition effective field goal percentage allowed whereas Wisconsin ranks in the 99th percentile. However, in the transition game, Oregon certainly has the advantage with their 71st percentile transition eFG% compared to Wisconsin’s 47th percentile ranking. Given that Oregon ranks above average in percentage of shots taken in transition whereas Wisconsin could literally not rank any worse, this is definitely an area where Oregon can exploit an edge.

Transition eFG%

% of Shots in Transition

OREGON
OREGON
WISCONSIN
WISCONSIN

That isn’t the only place where Oregon can find some wiggle room. Wisconsin’s struggles at the free throw line are well-documented, but it really would be a disservice on my part if I didn’t touch on it briefly. Wisconsin as a team is shooting 64.4% at the charity stripe. To put into perspective how awful that is, there are only 23 other teams in all of college basketball who sport a worse percentage. Wisconsin also ranks outside the top 300 in offensive rebound percentage. Considering we are expecting a low-scoring environment, getting the most out of your free throw opportunities as well as generating second-chance opportunities on the glass become even more valuable. Oregon happens to rank 133rd in free throw percentage and 123rd in offensive rebound percentage, meaning these are yet a few more areas where Oregon can exploit some matchup edges.

Another reason why Oregon is a fantastic upset candidate is that they provide great contrarian value. As someone who lives in Wisconsin and went to UW Madison, I tend to always try to take a contrarian stance against the deep Wisconsin runs that are littered all throughout my bracket pools. This admittedly worked against me from 2014 to 2017 as the Badgers fielded some incredible tournament teams. Nevertheless, a combination of Wisconsin’s name recognition value and their recent performance in tournaments (outside of their absence last year) as well as the large gap in seeds seems to have enamored the vast majority of the public. As of the time of this writing, Oregon is only being chosen to win this first round matchup by 37% of all CBS users. This comes despite the fact that neither team has been favored by more than two points since the line has opened. That to me, along with all of the considerations mentioned above, sounds like a great way to generate some value by backing an Oregon upset.

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