Is this year’s NCAA Tournament set up to be a Year of the Upset?

On Monday night, teams from UConn in the east to Stanford out west to NC State in the south to Iowa in the Midwest had their dancing shoes on as they found out where they would be playing in this year’s NCAA tournament.

After everything the sports world (and world world) has endured over the course of the last year or so (including no tournament last year), we should be thankful that there even is an NCAA tourney this year even if it is being confined to a central Texas bubble centered around San Antonio and Austin.

The four No. 1 seeds for this year’s March Madness are Stanford, UConn, NC State and South Carolina. Typically, No. 1 seeds are almost guaranteed to at least make the Sweet 16, but there was that one time on the men’s side a few years ago when Virginia was seeded No. 1 but lost to 16-seeded UMBC.

This year’s four top seeds on the women’s side should get at least to the Sweet 16 – but the tournament after that should be anyone’s guess. One thing that has the potential to very likely happen is the concept of this year’s tournament being one where upsets may be the order of the day.

So … if you are a No. 3 playing a No. 14 – such as Georgia facing Drexel, watch out. Or a No. 4 vs. a No. 13 (Arkansas vs. Wright State), be on the lookout. What about a No. 5 vs. a No. 12 such as Gonzaga and Belmont? Upset waiting to happen. A No. 6 vs. a No. 11 such as Oregon and South Dakota? Yeah – same thing. Oh, you can bet that 14-seeded Middle Tennessee will get all the way up for its Volunteer State clash with the 3-seeded Lady Vols.

The biggest reason why this could be the season of the upset is because it is all being held at one centralized location. First-round games will occur at Bill Greehey Arena (St. Mary’s), the Frank Erwin Center (University of Texas), the Texas State University Events Center, the UTSA Convocation Center and the Alamodome (which will utilize two courts). This takes the concept of “Win or Go Home” to an entirely different meaning. Usually for lower seeds such as the 10-16, travel is an issue.

In a typical tournament, teams such as UC Davis (a 12 seed), Lehigh (a 13), Wyoming (a 14), Troy (a 15) or Mercer (a 16) would be traveling to face upper-echelon teams like Maryland (a 2 seed), Louisville (a 2 seed), Texas A&M (a 2 seed) and Baylor (a 2 seed) where a game would favor those teams even if they were contested on neutral sites.

Those games usually are not only favorable to those top-tier teams on paper, they are because they can typically be more geographically favorable to those teams, presenting them with a home court advantage. The concept of travel with tournament being in a bubble is completely removed from this year’s big dance, meaning underdogs like Wright State, VCU and Stony Brook (Strong Island!!!) will be well-rested when meeting up with the Arkansas, Indianas and Arizonas of the tournament.

Home court may not mean much of anything this year – except possibly in the cases of Lone Star State teams such as Texas, Baylor and Texas A&M. The tournament will feature four teams based in Texas – the aforementioned Longhorns, Bears and Aggies along with Stephen F. Austin, who was seeded 12th against Georgia Tech which earned a five seed in the Hemisfair Region.

And one of those Texas teams is … well, Texas and they happen to have Charli Collier, who recently declared that she will enter the WNBA draft after this season. This means that Collier will want to end her college career with an exclamation point before she likely stays in Texas after entering the W as she is projected to be the first overall pick to the Dallas Wings.

A Maryland-Texas Sweet 16 in the Hemisfair Region looks to be a real possibility when looking at that section of the bracket with the winner of that game likely earning a get-together with Dawn Staley’s Gamecocks for a berth to the Final Four.

A grand total of 64 teams will be traveling to Texas this week with dancing kicks ready to go. If one is a team such as Georgia, Iowa or UCLA, one may want to check the shoes of the Drexels, Central Michigans and Wyomings of the dance and see if those colorways look more like…Cinderella’s glass slippers.

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