Busting Brackets

Early College Basketball Non-Conference Upset Alerts


Although the Big Dance in March gets all the attention for upsets, we see some notable victories by smaller programs every November and December as well.

With preseason Top 25 rankings and non-conference schedules trickling out, the following are potential stumbling points for teams with expectations of national contention in the coming season.

I’m not predicting that any of these upsets will happen, each individual game is more likely to go to the favorite, but all four of these match ups should excite college basketball fans as opportunities for some serious non-conference intrigue.

Toledo @ VCU 11/18

Toledo was probably the best team in the MAC last year before losing in the conference tournament, and they bring back a ton of production.

Senior guard Julius Brown was First Team All-MAC last season, averaging 14.9 points and 6.0 assists per game. The Rockets bring back two more double digit scorers in forwards Justin Drummond (14.2 PPG, 50 RPG) and former Ohio State Buckeye JD Patterson (10.6 PPG, 6.6 RPG).

On top of having plenty of talent and experience, the Rockets barely turned the ball over last year. Their 10.3 turnovers per game rate made them one of the 25 best teams in the country at protecting the ball. Teams with seasoned guards who can protect the ball are in the best position to attack Shaka Smart and VCU’s havoc defense.

VCU is a highly talented team that brings back a lot of its best contributors from a team that won 26 games a year ago, but if Toledo can play their best game or something near it, we could see an early season upset in Richmond.

Green Bay @ Wisconsin 11/19

My biggest lament about last season is that we didn’t get to see Green Bay in the Tournament. While Toledo was probably the best team in the MAC, the Phoenix were definitely the best team in the Horizon League last year before getting shocked by UW-Milwaukee in the conference tournament.

Green Bay lost 7-foot center Alec Brown to the NBA (drafted 50th overall by the Phoenix Suns), but they still bring back the ingredients of a giant killer. They will have senior forward Greg Mays, who put up 10 points per contest last season, in the front court to pick up some of Brown’s production, and talented guard Carrington Love is likely primed for a breakout season.

The main attraction here, though, is point guard Keifer Sykes. Sykes is a stat-sheet filler who averaged 20.3 PPG, 4.9 APG, and 4.4 RPG last year. He can also do things like this despite being 6’0” on a good day. If that wasn’t enough for you, here he is again wowing Chris Paul.

The Phoenix did take Wisconsin down to the wire last season, but that was at home. The Kohl Center is a fortress, so it will take an incredible performance from Green Bay to have a chance to upset this year’s loaded Badgers squad, but they have the players to do it.

Yale @ UConn 12/5

As the defending national champion, UConn will come into the season with high expectations despite losing both Shabazz Napier and DeAndre Daniels.

Meanwhile, Yale comes into the season as an underrated potential bracket buster, with Harvard getting all the attention the college basketball world can muster for the Ivy League.

Junior Bulldogs forward Justin Sears is among the most underrated players in the country, and will lead the way for a team that brings back all off its major contributors (except for forward Brandon Sherrod, off to join the prestigious Whiffenpoofs a capella group) from a team pushed Harvard for the league crown early before fading late in February.

Sears will likely improve upon his 17 and 7 averages from a season ago, and he is surrounded by experienced teammates. Guards Javier Duren and Armani Cotton form a formidable backcourt, and at 6’4” and 6’7” can create a lot of matchup problems.

I don’t expect Kevin Ollie to let his team overlook Yale completely, but the Bulldogs are a major threat to go into Storrs and pull off a shocker if the Huskies let up for even a couple minutes.

UCSB @ SMU 12/8

Even without Emmanuel Mudiay, SMU is a hot pick as a team to break out this season. With a highly respected coach in Larry Brown and a roster full of the guys who almost won the NIT last season, the Mustangs do appear primed for a big season.

While dates at Gonzaga, Michigan, and Indiana will be the main non-conference stressors for SMU and its fans, Alan Williams and his Gauchos lurk in the shadows, ready to strike.

Williams is a legitimate star, and gets ignored far too often because he plies his trade in the basketball Siberia of the Big West (ironically, UCSB is basically paradise for an 18-23 year old in all other respects. Fair trade-off).

The big man averaged 21.3 and 11.5 on 53% shooting last year, and should push those numbers even higher last year. If UCSB is able to dominate the Big West as many think they should, Williams will be a potential All-American. He’s that good.

The ‘Chos will also bring back sharp shooter Michael Bryson (11.5 PPG and 4.3 RPG, shot 42% from beyond the arc) and point guard and leading assist-man Zalmico Harmon (8 PPG and 5 APG). They are an experienced bunch, and with a workhorse like Alan Williams, they won’t be afraid of any Mustangs.