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How USC’s Upset Of SMU Rattled The East Region

The NCAA tournament started with one of the chalkiest opening days in NCAA tournament history, and Friday wasn’t looking very different: better-seeded teams won the first five games of the day, bringing their record to 19-2 going into the late afternoon on the east coast. But what was shaping up to be one of the most boring opening rounds ever received some much-needed surprise when University of Southern California upset SMU on Friday afternoon, knocking out what the computer power ratings considered one of the tournament’s most tempting dark-horse picks.

Despite being seeded sixth in the stacked East region, SMU was a trendy choice to go to the Sweet 16 — or beyond. After going 27-4 in the regular season and winning the American Athletic tournament, SMU was the 11th-best team in the country according to Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, and one of only 15 schools to rank among the top 30 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

But against Southern Cal, SMU’s shooting efficiency and rebounding cratered. Now, with one SMU out of the mix, the landscape of the East region — the most difficult quadrant of the tournament — has been altered.

3 Baylor +30 +10 +3 +1 +1
11 USC +18 +4 +1 0 0
2 Duke 0 +4 +1 +1 0
10 Marquette 0 +1 0 0 0
1 Villanova 0 0 +1 +1 0
5 Virginia 0 0 +1 0 0
4 Florida 0 0 0 +1 0
The ripple effects of SMU’s loss in the East region

Changes caused by SMU losing to Southern California on Mar. 17.

Source: ESPN

Unsurprisingly, the changes in odds are mostly concentrated in SMU’s sector of the bracket. Baylor’s path became far easier with SMU out of the way (our model considered that Round of 32 game a virtual toss-up), and even Duke saw a slight increase in its probability of advancing deep into the tournament.

The way this largely upset-free tournament has been going so far, those changes count for some of the most movement we’ve seen, and they show just how much impact the loss of one dark horse (or is it one dark Mustang?) can have at this stage of the tourney.

Check out our March Madness predictions.

Neil Paine was the acting sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.