March Madness First Round Upset Predictions: 2024 NCAA Tournament Day One Underdog Picks

Akron Zips guard Ali Ali (24) celebrates during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the semifinals of the Mid-American Conference Tournament at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, Friday.
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Matt Marquart


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I'm a college basketball contributor here at Pickswise. I have been a longtime NCAAB fan and bettor, as I love to dive deep into every aspect of a particular matchup. In no other sport are there as many teams with different styles of play like college basketball, so I'm fortunate enough to share my thoughts at Pickswise. For Matt Marquart media enquiries, please email
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It’s the first big day of the NCAA Tournament and there are 16 great games on the schedule for March Madness. Who knows what the day will bring, but it’s likely we can count on a few upsets. In this article, we will take a look at some underdogs that have a great chance of covering the spread and perhaps even a chance to win the game outright! You can also read our full college basketball picks for EVERY NCAA Tournament matchup.

Akron Zips +13 over Creighton Bluejays (-110)

The first underdog worthy of consideration in Thursday’s action is the Akron Zips, who are the representative of the MAC this season. Akron is currently a 13-point underdog at Caesars Sportsbook, but there’s a decent chance that they compete in this matchup with Creighton. This is Akron’s second NCAA Tournament in 3 seasons, as the team earned a #13 seed in the 2022 tournament. In that game, the Zips led UCLA by 7 points with just over 6 minutes remaining but ultimately lost the game by 4 points. Four starters remain from that team. 

Creighton is a difficult opponent, as they rank in the top 25 in both offensive and defensive efficiency according to KenPom, but Akron has a chance to hang with them. Creighton’s defense is designed to force challenging 2-point jumpers, which they do at the highest rate in the country according to Hoop-Math. Akron ranks 62nd in 2-point jumper percentage, so they are capable of knocking those down.  Additionally, Creighton is not going to create many extra scoring chances, as they rank last in the country in defensive turnover rate and just 282nd in offensive rebounding rate. Creighton’s offense is explosive, but this could become a jump-shooting contest, which comes with a fair amount of variance. Lastly, a big reason why Akron was nearly able to beat UCLA in 2022 was the fact that the game finished with just 58 possessions. If Akron can slow this game down, the variance of the game increases and Akron could have a chance to win.

Read our full March Madness bracket guide, which includes analysis on all 68 teams!

Morehead State Eagles +12 over Illinois Fighting Illini (-110)

Another #14 seed cracks the list of possible upsets on Thursday. Morehead State will face its 4th Big Ten team of the season in #3 seed Illinois. Morehead State’s results against Big Ten teams this season are very mixed, as they lost by 30 and 23 against Purdue and Penn State respectively, but they led by 15 before ultimately losing by one point against Indiana. As you can see, the range of outcomes is wide, so the Eagles could certainly get destroyed by the Big Ten Tournament champion. However, there are some matchup angles to suggest Morehead State can compete.

The first thing to note about Morehead State is that they play incredibly slowly on offense. Just six teams have a longer average offensive possession length than Morehead State, which means they will attempt to make this a low-possession game. Additionally, Morehead State ranks 25th nationally in three-point attempt rate, so the Illini could be on upset alert if the Eagles have a hot shooting day.

On the other end of the court, Morehead State has the size to compete at the rim against Illinois. Per Hoop-Math, Morehead State ranks 18th nationally in field-goal percentage defense allowed at the rim. The Eagles can also defend fairly well in isolation, as they rank in the 82nd percentile in isolation defense, per Synergy. With Marcus Domask and Terrence Shannon leading the way, the Illini play in isolation at the 25th-highest rate and rank in the 97th percentile. Illinois is the much more talented team but Morehead State has a chance to keep this one close.

The great part about March Madness is that there are sure to be upsets that few see coming. Just last year, Purdue lost to #16 seed Fairleigh-Dickinson and #15 seed Princeton knocked off #2 seed Arizona! This year’s March Madness is sure to be full of excitement and we feel that the #14 seeds mentioned above have a good chance of putting their #3 seed opponents on upset alert.

Find out our March Madness Cinderella picks, including predictions at +2000 and +2200 odds!

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