#6 Texas vs #11 Northern Iowa
Thursday March 18, 9:50 PM ET
Every year, people clamor about who their 5/12 upset pick will be. However, I almost always make sure to include a 6/11 upset as well as 11 seeds upset 6 seeds at around the same clip as 12 seeds upset 5 seeds. That being said, will this be an upset pick? Keep reading to find out, and decide for yourself.
As a Purdue fan, I was relieved when I saw Northern Iowa drawn across from Texas instead of the Boilers. They strike me as a dangerous mid-major team, one that plays great defense and is your prototypical hard-nosed upset minded team. However, the Longhorns are no slouchers themselves. They had a great first year under Shaka Smart, and are lead by a great point guard in Isaiah Taylor. I feel that this could be a popular upset pick, so let me break down what you should do.
Why Texas Wins
Texas crashes the boards and a healthy Cameron Ridley shows up. Northern Iowa ranks as the 351st team (yes, that’s ast) in terms of offensive rebounding percentage, rebounding only 17.8% of their misses on the offensive side of the ball. In my mind, Texas is clearly the more talented team in this match up. However, one of the main ways less talented teams stay in games is by outworking their opponent on the boards. If Texas allows the Panthers to crash the boards more than usual, it could get interesting. This leads into my next point. A healthy Cameron Ridley would go a long way in securing the boards. He played 2 minutes in their Big 12 Tournament loss against Baylor, and apparently is expected to play around 15-20 minutes against Northern Iowa. If he can go 100% for that time, Northern Iowa could be susceptible to a Longhorn run fueled by a dominant rebounding effort on both sides of the ball.
Why Northern Iowa Wins
The Panthers control the pace of the game and get a great game from point guard Wes Washpun. The Panthers love to slow the game down and really limit the number of possessions. According to Kenpom, Northern Iowa ranks as the sixth slowest paced team in the country. Along with that, they really take care of the ball, ranking in the top 20 in the country in that aspect. If the Panthers can slow down the game even more that the Longhorns, who like to play at a snail’s pace in their own right, it could give Northern Iowa the upper hand in an upset bid. Along with that, the Panthers will need a great effort from senior guard Wes Washpun. When UNI beat North Carolina back in November, Washpun had a great game of 21 points and 8 assists. Dueling against another good point guard in Isaiah Taylor, Washpun will need to show up and outplay Taylor on the biggest stage. For a team that plays so slowly, they will need a go to player if they fail to get a quality look after running their offense. If Washpun can be that guy, there is no reason that UNI can’t pull this upset.
When I said this could be a trendy upset pick, I wasn’t kidding. The Panthers clearly present a tough challenge for Texas and I expect a close game. However, I am picking Northern Iowa to pull the upset in a barn-burner of a game. It can take some time to get going in the NCAA Tournament, and I expect Shaka Smart to have plenty of success in March down the road. The Panthers have a lot of experience and toughness, and I’ll take the Panther in this one.