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How UAB’s Upset Of Iowa State Changed Our March Madness Predictions

The 2015 NCAA tournament is only a few hours old, and we’ve already seen what’s likely to be one of its bigger upsets: 14th-seeded UAB’s 60-59 victory over No. 3 seed Iowa State on Thursday afternoon. Before the game, we pegged Iowa State’s chances of winning at 90.8 percent, so the Blazers’ surprise victory certainly counts as a huge upset. It’s currently the third-most unlikely result in the tournament since we started publishing the FiveThirtyEight model in 2011, trailing only No. 15 seed Norfolk State’s upset of No. 2 seed Missouri in 2012 (which had a 2.8 percent probability of happening) and 14th-seeded Mercer’s victory over No. 3 seed Duke a year ago (7.1 percent).

So what are the implications for the rest of the bracket, particularly the South Regional? According to the changes to our model, the biggest beneficiary (other than UAB themselves) might be Southern Methodist University; SMU’s chances of cracking the Sweet 16 rose by 26.7 percentage points now that Iowa State isn’t standing in its way. A similar story goes for UCLA, SMU’s round-of-64 opponents; UCLA’s chances of making the Sweet 16 increased by 14.9 percentage points.

Looking further down the bracket, Gonzaga saw its chances of landing in the Elite Eight improve by 11.5 percentage points and its odds of making the Final Four improve by 5.5 percentage points. And even Duke, relatively distant from Iowa State in the bracket as a No. 1 seed in the other half of the region, saw its odds of a Final Four berth improve incrementally (by 1.9 percentage points).

It’s all proof that big upsets in the round of 64 can have ripple effects that extend beyond it. In particular, the absence of a potential threat down the road can make things easier for the other strong teams in the region along their path to the Final Four.

Check out FiveThirtyEight’s March Madness predictions.

Neil Paine is a senior sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight.