March Madness Upset Betting Predictions: NCAA Tournament Cinderella Nominee To Consider

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Written By Eli Hershkovich | Last Updated
March Madness Cinderella

With first-round March Madness odds tipping off tomorrow, there’s still time to look for possible bracket-busters. Generally, you shouldn’t pencil in a bevy of upsets, as I touched on in my bracket strategy guide, whether in a small or large pool. However, one school fits the mold and have the path to disrupt the 2024 NCAA Tournament. Let’s dive into my prospective March Madness upset predictions.

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Longshot March madness upset predictions

My potential Cinderella team is in the lower half of the East Region. It’s a longshot for a reason, equivalent to a 6.7% implied probability to cash in. If you decide to wager on it, I highly advise you to keep your bet stake of the lower variety.

Morehead State To The Sweet 16:

Led by future high-major coach Preston Spradlin, the Eagles operate a methodical offense, ranking No. 356 in average possession length (19.8 seconds). For novice bettors, slow-paced teams aren’t very appealing, but this tempo is preferable while trying to cover a hefty point spread — or even win the game outright.

Think about it. If a hefty underdog turns the game into a grinder, it increases the potential for variance, meaning the probability of an upset grows. Likewise, the Eagles boast a top-40 perimeter scoring rate, another element that operates similarly if their 3-point efficiency (35.3%) remains intact.

On Thursday, 14th-seeded Morehead State battles third-seeded Illinois. Although the Illini are coming off their first Big Ten tournament championship since 2021, they’re not as immune to a first-round exit as expected on the surface.

Since February, Brad Underwood’s team has ranked No. 161 in adjusted defensive efficiency. It’s particularly struggled to prevent dribble penetration. As I mentioned, the Eagles are fairly 3-point reliant but still showcase hyper-efficient mid-range shooting. That’s a major plus against Illinois’ drop coverage, which Underwood has oddly relied upon instead of a switch-friendly defensive scheme.

Between Morehead State point guard Drew Thelwell and wings Jordan Lathon and Kalil Thomas, the Eagles have a slew of quick-footed playmakers. Lathon and Thoms shoot at or above 37.6% from long range. But don’t ignore Riley Minix, the 2023-24 OVC Player of the Year, an imposing three-level scorer who should excel when Underwood uses his bigger lineups.

Unlike Underwood’s teams at Stephen F. Austin and Oklahoma State, Illinois isn’t constructed to turn over the opposition. It’s a huge relief for Spradlin’s crew, which ranks No. 278 in turnover percentage.

Eagles’ Defensive Advantage

Impeding Terrence Shannon Jr. & Co. in transition isn’t easy, but Morehead State has the intangibles to contain them. Most notably, the Eagles boast a top-85 rebounding percentage at both ends. If Xavier transfer Dieonte Miles keeps Illinois off the offensive glass and the Eagles are efficient enough in its half-court sets, the Illini’s fast-break opportunities will inevitably decrease.

Moreover, Morehead State’s transition defense ranks in the 73rd percentile, meaning it’s effective at matching up on the move when its opponent is pushing the floor.

The Eagles’ stylistic edge would translate to the second round against an uptempo BYU bunch — if the Cougars advance to the Round of 32. Mark Pope’s defense isn’t havoc-driven, either, which would be another break for Morehead State.

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If you’re looking for matchup data for Morehead State and Illinois, check out our March Madness tool below from PoolGenius. To change schools, click on the school logo and select the university you want to see metrics on.