March Madness First Round Upset Predictions: 2024 NCAA Tournament First Round Day 2 Underdog Picks

GCU Head Coach Bryce Drew at Grand Canyon University Arena in Phoenix on Feb. 17, 2024.
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Sam Avellone


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Long-time suffering Browns fan born and raised in the greater Cleveland, Ohio area who now resides in SEC country. University of South Carolina alum. Sports handicapper for close to 10 years with a primary focus on NCAAB while enjoying NFL, PGA, NCAAF, NBA, and Soccer. For Sam Avellone media enquiries, please email
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After a fantastic slate of Day 1 games in the NCAA Tournament, we are back for another jam-packed day in the Round of 64 as March Madness rolls on. There are plenty of great matchups on Friday, but there are 2 that caught my eye from an upset/underdog perspective. With so much action and so little time, there’s no need to beat around the bush. Let’s get right into our best upset predictions, but make sure you also check out our experts’ college basketball picks for EVERY game of the NCAA Tournament.

2024 NCAA Tournament First Round Day 2 Upset Picks

Colorado Buffaloes ML over Florida Gators (+110)

Odds available at FanDuel Sportsbook at the time of publishing.

This may not be much of an upset per the betting odds, but it is per the seeding lines – so I’m going to say it counts. This matchup offers a bit of a clash of styles, as Florida plays at a top-20 pace while Colorado plays much slower. Both offenses are highly efficient with reliable guards, wings and post players. However, Colorado boasts a top 20 defense per BartTorvik’s adjusted efficiency and a top 35 opposing eFG% over the last month.

To combat Florida’s early transition offense, the Buffaloes will need to be sound in transition defensively, which is something they should be able to do. Per Hoop-Math, the Buffaloes are top 50 in preventing transition opportunities, and they are outside the top 265 in average defensive possession length per KenPom. What that tells me is Colorado makes its opposing offenses work for a good shot, which is not Florida’s modus operandi. The Gators want to score quickly off opposing made field goals and rebounds. The longer Colorado makes Florida work in the halfcourt, the better chance the Buffs have to win.

For what it’s worth, Florida’s offense ranks 288th in points per possession with under 4 seconds left in the shot clock. Ultimately, I like Colorado’s defense to frustrate the Gators enough in the halfcourt to get the win, forcing them into contested shots – on which they are not very efficient according to Synergy (32nd percentile).

Lock in our experts’ March Madness day 2 best bets

Grand Canyon Antelopes ML over vs Saint Mary’s Gaels (+200)

Odds available at BetMGM Sportsbook at the time of publishing.

Saint Mary’s success is due in large part to its defense. On the season, the Gaels are top 3 nationally in opposing eFG% with a top 15 adjusted defensive efficiency per KenPom. They also excel at running opponents off the three-point line, yielding less than 30% of opposing shots from the perimeter. However, since Joshua Jefferson went down with an injury, Saint Mary’s has not been quite the same on the defensive end of the floor. According to BartTorvik, the Gaels dropped to 41st in adjusted defensive efficiency and outside the top 75 in opposing eFG% since his injury. They have not forced many turnovers in that time either, ranking 321st in opposing turnover rate – which is great for Grand Canyon and could neutralize its turnover concerns in this game.

As a top 20 defender nationally per EvanMiya’s DBPR, Jefferson would have been invaluable opposite Grand Canyon’s leading scorer Tyon Grant-Foster and his partner in the frontcourt Gabe McGlothan. The duo averages almost 33 points and more than 13 rebounds combined per game, providing the Antelopes with plenty of stability on the offensive end. Together, they excel in ball screens and pick-and-rolls along with Rayshon Harrison, who adds 13.7 points and nearly 4 assists per game. TGF and Harrison are especially good at drawing fouls, which could be a concern for SMC’s Mitchell Saxen in the post. If Saxen were to get into foul trouble, it would open up opportunities for the ‘Lopes to get to the rim and score. 

The Gaels play at 1 of the 5 slowest tempos in the country, so Grand Canyon’s halfcourt defense is going to be tested. Luckily for the ‘Lopes, they are one of the nation’s best halfcourt defenses. Per Synergy, GCU’s halfcourt defense ranks quite literally right behind Saint Mary’s and just outside the top 10 nationally in yielded points per possession. The Antelopes hold opponents under 45% in eFG% in those sets, while limiting them to a three-point rate that is below 34%. Saint Mary’s will do what it can to get to the rim as frequently as possible, but Grand Canyon has a very good rim-denying defense with multiple players sporting a 2.8% block rate or better – showcasing its athleticism. The ‘Lopes can be a bit erratic defensively and foul quite a bit, but the Gaels are outside the top 300 in free throw rate and make less than 68% of their chances from the charity stripe – possibly neutralizing another of GCU’s weaknesses. 

Per Haslametrics, Saint Mary’s is 1 of the 15 least consistent teams in the country, while Grand Canyon is 1 of the 15 most consistent. In a battle of 2 great defenses, I’m going to side with the more consistent and better free-throw shooting team in the Grand Canyon Antelopes, and hope Grant-Foster puts on a show (I will likely take the points with GCU, in addition to the ML).

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