A No. 9 seed beating a No. 8 is hardly an upset, as there's really no difference between the seeds, and these games are usually the most evenly matched of the first round. Last year, two No. 9 seeds advanced in Florida Atlantic and Auburn

Coach Dusty May's Owls made history by going all the way to the Final Four in just their second-ever NCAA Tournament, but they were very fortunate to beat Memphis by a point in Round 1 thanks to a Nicholas Boyd floater with 2.5 seconds left. There was a controversial jump-ball call with about 20 seconds left that gave FAU possession and the chance for the lead. Memphis led by four at the break and for most of the second half, and an argument could easily be made the Tigers were the better team.

No. 9 seeds now lead No. 8 seeds 78-74 all-time. The last sweep for No. 9s was in 2019 and the last for No. 8s was in 2015 -- only the third sweep by the eights since the field expanded in 1985. Notably, Villanova won the national title in the '85 tournament as a No. 8 and remains the lowest-seeded school to win it all. What you may forget is that Rollie Massimino's club nearly lost to No. 9 Dayton in Round 1.

Kentucky reached the national championship game in 2014 as a No. 8 seed but lost to No. 7 Villanova. Two years ago, UNC was a No. 8 and got to the national title game as well, but lost to Kansas despite a huge halftime lead. 

Let's dive into each No. 9 vs. No. 8 matchup and isolate the best chance for an upset.

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9 vs. 8 upset rankings

Ordered from least likely to most likely.

4. Michigan State over Mississippi State (+1)

I'm probably the wrong person to write this story because I am a Spartans fan and have been hugely disappointed by their season, as Tom Izzo's historic streak of consecutive Big Dance appearances nearly ended at 25. I do think Michigan State was quite a bit overrated at No. 4 entering this season because they went on another patented Izzo run March Madness run as a No. 7 seed last year, with wins over No. 10 USC and No. 2 Marquette before losing in overtime to No. 3 Kansas State. Michigan State has 16 NCAA Tournament wins as a worse seed under Izzo, the most by a head coach in history.

The Spartans, who enter 2-5 in their past seven, have had only one opening-round exit over the past seven years, but Izzo's teams are generally based on defense and rebounding, and Mississippi State is arguably better in both. The Bulldogs are holding foes to 29.4% from deep this season, third-best in the NCAA field. Big man Tolu Smith is one of two SEC players to average at least 15 points and eight rebounds this season, and he could have his way inside. But I hope for the Izzo magic to show up again. 

3. Texas A&M over Nebraska (-1)

The Trev Alberts Bowl! The former All-American linebacker at Nebraska had been the athletic director there since 2021, but was recently (and shockingly) hired away by Texas A&M for the same gig. Not only does Alberts have to feel a bit uncomfortable watching this matchup, but Nebraska and A&M also are playing in the first round of the women's tournament. The Cornhuskers are the only Power 6 conference school to never win a game in the men's Dance at 0-7. One potential disadvantage for Fred Hoiberg's club was that it played only three neutral-site games all season (2-1 record), tied for the second-fewest among NCAA Tournament teams.

Texas A&M is an incredibly streaky team that finished just 9-9 in the SEC but got hot at the end with five straight wins -- including over Kentucky and Mississippi State -- before running into Florida in the SEC Tournament semifinal. The Aggies are one of four teams in the Dance to to have multiple players (Wade Taylor IV, Tyrece Radford) averaging at least 16 points per game (minimum of 25 games played) and are one of 13 teams with at least seven Quad 1 wins. A&M also leads the nation with a 42% offensive rebound rate. I also happen to believe Texas A&M is the only No. 9 seed with a realistic shot to win in Round 2 vs. a top seed, in this case Houston in the South (presuming the Cougars aren't upset by Longwood in Round 1). 

2. TCU over Utah State (+4)

Jamie Dixon's Horned Frogs are in the NCAA Tournament for a third straight season and won in the first round in the previous two. The No. 9 seed matches the worst in school history, matching their slot from 2022 when TCU beat Seton Hall before losing in overtime to No. 1 Arizona. Nine of TCU's 10 scholarship players who have logged minutes this year have played in the NCAA Tournament before, and that's obviously a nice bonus. The Frogs can run teams ragged as they average 18.1 fast-break points per game and 22.5% of their scoring is via the fast-break, with both leading the NCAA. Under Dixon, TCU is an excellent 31-16 all-time at neutral sites and 9-3 in games played in an NBA venue -- which will be the case in Charlotte

Utah State's Mountain West got six schools in for the first time, but those six team were not treated well by the committee in terms of seeding. USU won its first outright Mountain West regular season title in its 11 years in the league yet only got a No. 8? It's a pretty impressive title, though, considering Utah State was one of just three teams in the nation returning zero points to its 2023-24 roster from last season. Junior swingman Great Osobor, a transfer from Montana State, was named both the Player and Newcomer of the Year in the conference. KenPom ranks the Aggies 47th nationally with TCU at No. 35. 

1. FAU over Northwestern (+2.5)

Everyone of note is back from Florida Atlantic's Final Four run in 2023, although the Owls had to sweat Selection Sunday a bit considering they didn't win either the regular season or tournament titles in the American Athletic Conference. It was FAU's first season in the league after several years in Conference USA. That FAU got a No. 9 seed seemed a bit generous with their bubble stature. Led by AAC Co-Player of the Year Johnell Davis, the Owls led the league in scoring (82.5 PPG) and field-goal percentage (48.1). They had won 13 straight games in March before an upset loss to Temple by a point in the conference tournament.

In 2017, Northwestern earned its first NCAA Tournament win in school history as a No. 8 seed, beating No. 9 Vanderbilt by two. The current Wildcats' Boo Buie is one of the best players in the country and the only Power 6 player averaging at least 18.0 points and 5.0 assists this season. But Northwestern is brutally thin entering the Dance with guard Ty Berry (11.6 PPG) tearing a meniscus last month and 7-foot senior center Matthew Nicholson (5.3 PPG, 4.3 RPG) ruled out for the tournament Wednesday by head coach Chris Collins.