2024 NCAA bracket upset picks: Expert predictions for March Madness bracket busters to help win your pool (2024)

It's bracket season. The 68 teams that will compete in the 2024 NCAA Tournament are set, and now the onus is on you to figure out which team will emerge from the rubble as champion.

But let's not twist what ultimately matters most. In an ideal world, you want to emerge as the champion of your bracket pool.

How will you accomplish this? Perhaps you're the type who goes off your initial instinct. Maybe you are among the bunch who overanalyzes every matchup. You might even have your child choose bracket winners based on colors or mascots.

Technically, there is no right or wrong way to build your bracket! However, if you want to win your pool, there are some things to keep in mind, and the experts here at CBS Sports would like to help you as much as possible.

The first rule of winning any bracket pool is the most obvious: you have to pick the correct champion. There could be some exceptions if you're in a smaller pool among friends, but the general rule of thumb is that the more people in the pool, the more important it becomes to correctly pick the champion.

But even that isn't so simple! UConn is the defending champion and stands as the favorite to win it again. It will likely be the most popular pick in every pool, so if you pick UConn, you must nail the rest of your bracket to have a shot. So, if you're in a big pool, consider going contrarian (but not crazy contrarian). Find another team that isn't the favorite but has a good shot to win the whole thing and won't be the most popular choice.

March Madness® is better with friends, especially when you beat them! Get your bracket pools ready now and invite your friends, family and co-workers to play.

Then there are the upsets. Nothing is more exciting about the NCAA Tournament than David knocking off Goliath. That drama adds another layer of entertainment to the event. There's also the personal satisfaction of a No. 14 knocking off a No. 3 and turning to your friend or co-working and saying, "I picked that in my bracket." It makes you feel like a big shot.

There are some good upset candidates in the first round this year, but before we share our favorites with you, here's another word of advice if you'd like to win your pool: pick only a few upsets. And the upsets you do pick? Don't have them going too deep into the tournament.

Cinderella stories usually don't last long in the Big Dance, and the points structure of most bracket pools rewards you with more points for getting games correct in the later rounds (which is why getting the champion correct is huge). If you have that No. 14 you picked make a run to the Elite Eight, yes, you'll get the point for the first round win, but you're more likely to sacrifice 2-16 points once it's likely eliminated in the second round.

So, the best plan of attack is to find a few upsets but don't have them go past the Sweet 16 (if you even have them getting that far). Personally, I like to limit myself to two or three first-round upsets at most.

So, which two or three should you choose? Let's see what our experts think as they guide you to building as perfect a bracket as possible.

No. 11 New Mexico over No. 6 Clemson

Kyle Boone:Momentum is a funny thing in college basketball, and its reliability can be fickle, but I'll lean fully into it here taking a hot New Mexico team to take down a Clemson team that's gone sideways of late. The Lobos won four games in four days to take home the Mountain West Tournament title, while the Tigers enter this game just over one week removed from a 76-55 drubbing at the hands of Boston College in the ACC Tournament. New Mexico has the makings of a team that punches above its weight into the second weekend.

Chip Patterson:Brad Brownell's Tigers suffer from a curious seeding decision as the Lobos are not only Mountain West Tournament champions but currently playing at a level that is much closer to a single-digit seed. Clemson also lost three of its last four coming into the NCAA Tournament, including a no-show performance against BC in its first and only conference tournament game. The high-end talent for New Mexico is arguably as good if not better, and the recent form slants heavily in the Lobos' favor.

David Cobb:Clemson lost three of its last four games entering the NCAA Tournament, including an embarrassing 21-point defeat against BC in the ACC Tournament. The Tigers were awesome in nonconference play, beating Boise State, Alabama, South Carolina and other quality foes. But they weren't the same team in ACC play and will be up against a hot New Mexico team. The Lobos just ran through the Mountain West Tournament and probably deserved a better seeding.

Tom Fornelli:No need to beat around the bush with this one. New Mexico is the better team in this matchup. Forget the seeds. Clemson has a size advantage here, but the Lobos are better on the glass and defense. They're also the much deeper team and will probably come into this game with a chip on their shoulder about being seeded so low.

No. 12 Samford over No. 5 Kansas

Norlander: The Jayhawks will not be 100%. Kevin McCullar Jr. is dealing with a bone bruise issue that he'll gut through, but it's going to limit KU. He's their best defender. Hunter Dickinson is good to go after a shoulder injury to close the regular season prevented him from playing in the Big 12 Tournament. This is the thinnest roster Bill Self's ever had at KU. Samford plays like 11 guys and presses on every possession. It is a chaos machine. Kansas will not be able to simulate it in practice. So, I like Samford's chances to strike some luck and pull off the upset.

Patterson:All season long, the Jayhawks have been dealing with depth issues as a weakness, and while Dickinson and McCullar Jr. were out for the Big 12 Tournament in hopes of healing up for the Big Dance, I'm going to evaluate this team as though they are still limited by injuries, even if both players are in the lineup. Now we're asking this hobbled Kansas team, with a short rotation, to play at altitude in Salt Lake City against a Samford team that loves to run relentlessly with a deep rotation of fresh bodies coming off the bench throughout the game.

No. 12 Grand Canyon over No. 5 Saint Mary's

Gary Parrish: This is a showdown between two teams that won both their conference's regular-season and tournament titles. Great matchup. I hate that it's mid-major on mid-major crime in the Round of 64. That's unfortunate. Either way, don't be misled by these seeds. Yes, Saint Mary's is a No. 5 seed and Grand Canyon is a No. 12. There's a difference in those seeds, but I don't believe there's much difference in the quality of those teams. This has 12-5 upset written all over it. And Grand Canyon has real Cinderella potential, too.

No. 13 Yale over No. 4 Auburn

Norlander: The Bulldogs are the most talented team in the Ivy League, and after they barely escaped Brown on Sunday, you won't see too many people picking this group. But keep this in mind: Yale has a big man named Danny Wolf who is good enough to start at the majority of high-major programs. They also have Bez Mbeng, who will be the best defender in this game not named Johni Broome. Yale will play a slow tempo, offsetting Auburn's desire to go fast and 10-deep.

No. 12 James Madison over No. 5 Wisconsin

Boone: Wisconsin's run through the Big Ten Tournament was fueled in part by some uncharacteristically good shooting from 3-point range, and that's where JMU's defense in particular has been effective this season. The Dukes get after you defensively and have a deep roster of older, experienced players who will be up for the moment. I always pick at least one 12 to take down a 5 -- it has happened 53 times since the tourney expanded -- and the Dukes have the best shot in this year's field at making it 54.

Parrish:James Madison opened this season with a win over a Big Ten school. I won't be surprised if the Dukes open this NCAA Tournament with a win over another one. Credit to Wisconsin for turning its season around and advancing all the way to the title game of the Big Ten Tournament. But before that mini-run, the Badgers had lost eight of 11 and looked exactly like the type of team that would get into the NCAA Tournament on the strength of the work they did early in the season but then lose in the Round of 64 to a team like James Madison. So here we are. Give me the Dukes.

No. 12 McNeese over No. 5 Gonzaga

Cobb: McNeese beat VCU, UAB and Michigan on the road by double digits before running through the Southland Conference without much resistance. This team is ruthlessly efficient offensively and has forces significantly more turnovers than it commits. With a handful of former power conference players in the rotation -- led by ex-TCU guard Shahada Wells -- McNeese won't be awestruck by Gonzaga. The Zags aren't built with the same level of talent, depth or physicality that we're used to seeing under Mark Few.

No. 11 Oregon over No. 6 South Carolina

Fornelli: Considering Oregon is an 11-seed, it's safe to assume it wouldn't be in if it hadn't run the table and won the Pac-12 tournament. Now, the Ducks have been rewarded a favorable draw. South Carolina did well in a down SEC this season, but while it has a nice win over Tennessee on the resume, there are more head-scratching losses than big wins. Based on their record, the Gameco*cks deserve this seed, but I don't know that they're that much better than Oregon. This one feels like a coin flip.

Get every pick, every play, every upset and fill out your bracket with our help! Visit SportsLine now to see which teams will make and break your bracket, and see who will cut down the nets, all from the model that nailed a whopping 20 first-round upsets by double-digit seeds.

2024 NCAA bracket upset picks: Expert predictions for March Madness bracket busters to help win your pool (2024)
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