March Madness 2023: 3 teams capable of pulling upsets in first round featuring Oral Roberts, Iona, and more

Vermont v Iona
Iona coach Rick Pitino brings much tournament experience for his Gaels.

Filling out a March Madness bracket, you always want to predict the upset correctly. The best bragging rights on the first weekend come when that pesky mid-major pulls off the stunner and your bracket is still intact. Who wouldn't want to be the one who said they picked Maryland-Baltimore County when they stunned Virginia? OK, maybe no one picked UMBC that season.

However, there are plenty of potential upsets with a loaded field of contending mid-major teams in this year’s NCAA Tournament. Multiple teams with 20-plus wins which won both their conference regular-season and tournament championships made the field.

Let’s take a look at three of those small schools who could make a big splash and knock off some blue blood in the sport in the first round.

Three teams which can be potential giant killers

#1, Oral Roberts Golden Eagles (30-4)

Game Details: No. 12 Oral Roberts vs. No. 5 Duke (-6.5)


Amway Center, Orlando, Florida

In the 2021 tournament, Oral Roberts stole the hearts of the nation before falling by two points in the Sweet 16 to Arkansas.

9️⃣ teams secured their best #MarchMadness seed in school history(1) Alabama(1) Houston(2) Marquette(7) Northwestern(9) FAU(12) Oral Roberts(13) Furman(14) Kennesaw State(14) Grand Canyon

Guard Max Abmas was one of the stars on that team and is now the leader for the Golden Eagles. The senior is still a walking bucket, averaging 22.2 points per game, which is seventh best in the country.

Abmas dropped 29, 26 and 25 points in his three tournament games during their 2021 run. He will need another huge performance if Oral Roberts can stun the mighty Duke Blue Devils.

Oral Roberts dominated the regular season and went 18-0 in the Summit League. ORU is riding a 17-game win streak. The Golden Eagles got destroyed by Houston in nonconference play but played fellow tournament teams Utah State and Saint Mary’s close.

Duke (26-8), on the other hand, comes into the big dance as the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament champions and on a nine-game win streak of its own.

This will be the first postseason for coach Jon Scheyer who will attempt to fill the massive shoes of Mike Krzyzewski, who fell to rival North Carolina in last season’s Final Four in his last game.

Four of Duke’s five leading scorers are freshmen.

Duke’s inexperience combined with the experience of Abmas and coach Paul Mills could be the perfect recipe for Oral Roberts to slay the blue blood.

Most upset wins in the NCAA tournament (higher seed beating lower seed)Michigan State 18Villanova 17UCLA 15Syracuse 15Most upset losses (getting beat by higher seed)Duke 25North Carolina 22

#2, Iona Gaels (27-7)

Game Details: No. 13 Iona vs. No. 4 UConn (-9.5)


MVP Arena, Albany, New York

Iona is not a familiar name, but there is a name around the team most may know: Rick Pitino.

Yes, that coach, formerly of Louisville and Kentucky, stalks the sidelines for the Gaels and has rebuilt the program into a winner.

Iona has won back-to-back Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championships and have won 14 games in a row.

Neither team has to travel far to Albany for the game and should be well supported in the stands.

Iona has the experienced backcourt needed to succeed in the tournament with Walter Clayton Jr. and Daniss Jenkins leading the team in scoring. Both will need to come up big to pull off the upset.

UConn (25-8) started the season as seemingly the best team in the nation but has come back down to earth, going 13-7 in the Big East.

Iona will need to disrupt the UConn offense that likes to move the ball and is 13th in the nation with 17.3 assists per game.

Pitino should have a gameplan to install such a defense and give the Gaels a chance to pull off the upset.

REGION OF BRANDS (WEST) NUGGET:Iona assistant Taliek Brown won a national title for UConn in 2004 and was part of Dan Hurley's staff last season before taking his current post with the Gaels.

#3, Charleston Cougars (31-3)

Game Details: No. 12 Charleston vs. No. 5 San Diego State (-5.5)


Amway Center, Orlando, Florida

Charleston found its way into the Top 25 rankings multiple times this season and finished with an astounding 31-3 record. The Colonial Athletic Association champions were one of just four teams to win 30 games.

The Cougars compiled a 20-game win streak at one point and have now won 10 in a row.

Charleston last made the NCAA Tournament in 2018, when it lost in the first round as a No. 13 seed to Auburn. They have won one tournament game in program history (1997).

Charleston is a deep team with five players averaging at least 10 points per game, so they have plenty of options if any get in early foul trouble.

The Cougars can score, averaging 80.8 ppg, 15th best in the country.

San Diego State (27-6) has struggled a bit against better competition, going 5-5 against tournament teams this season. The Aztecs lost all three of their nonconference games against teams in the field.

Charleston has the makeup and confidence to pull off the famous 12-5 upset.

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Edited by Joseph Schiefelbein
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