Let the Madness begin! The field for the 2013 NCAA Tournament has been selected, and you have approximately three days to fill out your brackets for most pools and contests.
Which top dogs will make good on their hype? I have no idea. But I do know that since 1985, 89.3% of the tournaments have been won by the top three seeds. Moreover, in that time, the top three seeds have taken up 84 of the 112 spots in the Final Four, which is a robust 75%.
Of course, what you math scholars out there realize is that while the top dogs are almost certainly going to win the tournament, there is a very good chance that at least one underdog will make the Final Four. Those aren’t great odds given that there are 52 underdogs, but it’s a lot better than nothing.
Obviously, anyone who claims to have real wisdom when it comes to filling out a March Madness bracket is an idiot. One year your bracket might be almost perfect, the next you might lose 50% of your first round picks. So I’m not going to tell you how to fill out your bracket. However, I am going to list nine underdogs—which I’ve classifed as teams seeded 4th or higher—that you might want to take a good look at. They are not locks to go deep, but they are interesting teams that have potential.
Let’s take a look, moving from the least to most potential to make the Final Four.
Vs. RPI Top 25: 2-0
The Oregon Ducks are better known as a football powerhouse, but in 2012-13 they had a solid basketball season. They finished in third place in the Pac-12 with a 12-6 record; however, they beat 2nd place Arizona once and 1st place UCLA twice—including in the Pac-12 Tournament Finals. They also beat then-ranked #18 UNLV earlier in the season. So while the Ducks may be a lowly #46 in the RPI index, they are definitely capable of winning big games. A victory over 5th seed Oklahoma State in the first round would not surprise me at all.
Vs. RPI Top 25: 0-2
Belmont may not seem like a sleeping Cinderella. After all, they lost their only two games against Top 25 RPI teams this year—65-75 to VCU, and 60-89 to Kansas. However, the Belmont Bruins are ranked 19th on the RPI index thanks in large part to the fact that they had the second toughest non-conference schedule this season (after Duke) and went 10-4 in those games. Then they wiped the floor in the competitive mid-major Ohio Valley Conference. So Belmont is definitely capable of knocking off the 6th seed Arizona Wildcats.
Vs. RPI Top 25: 2-2
The Wichita State Shockers got upset by the VCU Rams in the opening round last year as a #5 seed. This year, they are only a #9, but perhaps even more dangerous. They avenged their loss to VCU in the Tournament last year by beating the Rams (a team that would spend most of the season in the AP Top 25) back in November. Then they went 1-1 against Creighton in the regular season before losing another close one to the Blue Jays in the Missouri Valley Conference title game. So if the Shockers get past #9 Pittsburgh, they could very well make #1 Gonzaga the first top seed to be sent packing.
7. Wichita State
Vs. RPI Top 25: 1-1
Ole Miss is 1-1 against RPI Top 25 teams this year and 2-2 against teams ranked 26-50 on the RPI index. Are those intimidating numbers? Not quite. But how can you bet against the Rebels after their SEC Tournament Championship that included a come-from-behind victory over Missouri and a big win against Florida? This team is hot, and they are led by 20.1 PPG-guard Marshall Henderson. Their first round opponent, Wisconsin, may be more battle-tested, having come from the juggernaut Big Ten, but I would be wary of Ole Miss at this point.
6. Ole Miss
Vs. RPI Top 25: 0-0
The knock against Creighton is that their schedule was weak. Well, it was. However, they did beat Wisconsin once and Wichita State twice, and their field goal percentage of .508 was the best in the nation. If the Blue Jays' shooting stays hot, that can carry them a long way in the NCAA tournament. Duke, Creighton's potential second-round opponent, has certainly lost to lesser teams this season (I'm looking at you, Maryland and Virginia).
Vs. RPI Top 25: 2-2
The only question is which Missouri team are you going to get? Are you going to get the incredibly athletic Missouri that pounded lesser opponents at home and beat #5 Florida, #10 (at the time) Illinois, and lost in overtime at UCLA? Or are you going to get the team that overslept (figuratively) for their home game against Louisville and got throttled 84-61, or the team that lost at LSU and Texas A&M? If you get the good version, the Tigers can definitely beat Louisville in the second round. If you get the bad version, they won't even get a chance. Stay tuned.
Vs. RPI Top 25: 4-4
It might look like the Butler Bulldogs stumbled a bit this year. They finished 3rd in the Atlantic 10, after all. However, despite the fact that the RPI index only ranks Butler's strength of schedule 31st overall, they played 8 games against RPI Top 25 teams this year, and among these were huge wins over Marquette, North Carolina, Indiana, and Gonzaga. So I don't care what anybody says, this team can win games, and coach Brad Stevens has already led the program on two magical runs in recent years. I'm not counting these guys out.
Vs. RPI Top 25: 2-5
Notre Dame's record against RPI Top 25 teams may look bad. But you have to remember, a lot of teams don't even play that many games against such opponents. Sure, the Irish lost to #9 Syracuse, #22 Marquette, and #4 Louisville. But they also beat Marquette and Louisville this year, as well as #20 Pittsburgh. And even though it's pretty much disbanding this summer, this year the Big East was still one of the best conferences in college basketball. So I wouldn't want to face Notre Dame in the second round if I were #2 Ohio State.
2. Notre Dame
Vs. RPI Top 25: 6-1
I wasn't sure if I should count #4 seeds as underdogs. However, less than 10% of the Final Four spots since 1985 have gone to number fours, and number threes have won 3x as many championships in that same span. So it really does seem like the dividing line between top dogs and underdogs lies between the #3 and #4 seed. And of this year's #4 seeds, the biggest underdog would have to be the SLU Billikens.
They don't have any of those incredible wins against #1 teams, but they've done extremely well against RPI Top 25 Teams this year, and they completely dominated the A-10, beating VCU twice and Butler three times. In fact, Butler coach Brad Stevens said (after Saint Louis shut down his Bulldogs) that he thinks the Billikens are a Final Four team. So if you think much of Brad Stevens, you might consider making this team your sleeper pick.
1. Saint Louis University
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