Upsets are coming folks, but do you have the gall to put a low seed through to the Final Four this year?
The 2013 NCAA tournament bracket has been released and the matchups are set, giving us a chance to survey the field and see what teams (if any) are on upset watch this season (don't worry, there are some).
We're fresh off a No. 1 seed (Kentucky) winning the tournament last season, but visions of No. 10 Butler and No. 11 Virginia Commonwealth squaring off in the Final Four two years ago still forces us to think about which teams have a similar chance to make it to Atlanta this year.
Former low seeds Saint Louis, VCU, Butler and Wichita State all have the benefit of being at least a Top 9 seed this season, making for a re-defining of the Cinderella story. For example, if VCU beats Kansas and Georgetown this season en route to the Final Four, you could certainly make the argument that they are a Cinderella team.
Granted, opinions will differ on that assertion. In any event, Cinderella teams are ones that we don't expect to make it to the Final Four and these five teams fit that bill perfectly.
5. No. 13 South Dakota State
The Jackrabbits won the Summit League to earn the conference's automatic bid, and their 25-9 record overall would have been a strong mark for the selection committee even without the automatic bid.
Before you rag on this team for its losses to Belmont, Alabama and Minnesota, recognize that it is playing its best basketball of the season, has won four straight since losing to Murray State and avenged an earlier loss (North Dakota State) to a rival in the conference tournament championship.
South Dakota State also has a guard that can light it up.
Nate Wolters averages 22.7 points per game on 39 percent shooting from the three-point line, and teammate Jordan Dykstra isn't far behind with averages of 12.7 and 43 percent in both of those categories.
The Jackrabbits have a tough draw (No. 4 Michigan, followed by the winner of other mid-majors No. 5 VCU and No. 12 Akron), but if they get rolling, it could be tough to stop Wolters and a strong supporting cast in March Madness.
4. No. 12 Ole Miss
Marshall Henderson and the Rebels are the new SEC tournament champs, but like fellow No. 12 seed Oregon, they didn't get much respect from the selection committee. The Ducks are certainly a candidate for this list, but are playing in the Midwest, the region widely considered to be the toughest of the four in this year's bracket.
Ole Miss gets Wisconsin, fresh off a 43-point performance against Ohio State in the Big Ten championship. Say what you want about Wisconsin's defense—it's stellar, by the way—but if Jared Berggren and Ben Brust combine for eight points (like they did in the Big Ten tournament championship), this team is going home in March.
The Badgers will be favored coming into the game, and rightly so. They've beaten Indiana on multiple occasions this year, control the ball well and run a system that makes it schematically impossible to blow them out.
However, Ole Miss has talented scorers and athletes that could pose problems for Wisconsin on both ends. I love Wisconsin to beat Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 if it gets there, but that progress might be protruded by Ole Miss, a team that itself could make a charge toward the Final Four with the kind of play it showed in Nashville.
3. No. 6 Butler
We all know about Brad Stevens and his propensity to take down top teams. Butler has been doing it with regularity since its stunning two-straight appearances in the national championship game (2010-11), and has a chance to do so again.
The giant-killing Bulldogs have faltered this year in that department some, but not to the teams you might expect.
Butler has once again proven itself against power-conference teams. It's beaten Marquette, North Carolina, Indiana and Gonzaga—all teams that are dancing in other parts of the bracket. However, Atlantic 10 losses to Saint Louis (3), VCU and Charlotte remind us that nothing is for certain when it comes to college basketball.
Even with the steady Bulldogs.
However, the draw is a good for Stevens and leading scorer Rotnei Clarke. Butler's best competition in the next round would be Marquette (which it has already defeated), before taking a turn at ACC champ Miami and maybe Indiana again in the Elite Eight.
The draw is good, but the Bulldogs have to get past Bucknell first before we start talking about Final Four again. Still, you can't leave this team off any Cinderella list after the impressive showing its had in the Stevens era.
2. No. 4 Saint Louis
As mentioned in the previous slide, the Billikens have taken the hoops world by storm this season, finishing in the AP Top 25 poll after winning the Atlantic 10.
I know what you're thinking—No. 4 seeds aren't Cinderella teams.
Maybe not, but after the tragic loss of former head coach Rick Majerus and a season that doesn't reflect that pain, any kind of tournament success should be considered a Cinderella story.
Brian Hamilton of Sport Illustrated did a fabulous cover story on the rise of the Billikens this season, as did Shane Ryan of Grantland.com. Both stories chronicle how hard it has been to both compete and win the A-10 in a season in which the Billikens were pitted against both Butler and VCU, and how the death of Majerus has kept Jim Crews' squad motivated for March.
Behind Dwayne Evans, Kwamain Mitchell and shooter Mike McCall Jr., the Billikens have a legitimate shot at going toe-to-toe with Louisville in the Sweet 16. For the same reasons I left Oregon off this list, Saint Louis won't be the No. 1 pick to crash your bracket in April.
1. No. 11 Minnesota
I know what you're thinking here, too—Minnesota got swallowed up by the Big Ten.
That's very true, as a 15-1 start to the season for the Golden Gophers turned into a 20-12 finish down the stretch of the season. However, Minnesota did beat Michigan State, Indiana, Memphis and Wisconsin this season—all three teams that are six-seeds or higher in this tournament.
While Minnesota was horrendous on the road (3-8) it was also decent (2-2) in neutral site games and played Duke extremely close in a neutral-site game earlier this season.
Minnesota clearly has the odds up against it—also a reason why it is a Cinderella pick for this tournament. Guards Austin and Andre Hollins both have plenty of talent, but neither are efficient shooters and there isn't much scoring help on the wings if neither are putting the ball in the basket.
What Minnesota does do well is rebound—something UCLA, Florida and even Georgetown have struggled with this season. If the Gophers are motivated on the offensive glass and hitting shots (a questionable assertion right now, yes) then they have a case on paper to make it to the Sweet 16.
UCLA was out-rebounded by Oregon in the Pac-12 title game, Florida was out-rebounded in both of its latest losses and both teams are on upset watch to start March Madness. If Minnesota gets that far, it could have the confidence to produce something special.
Writers everywhere are making their case for a sleeper team, and I'll make mine here with Minnesota. It isn't a popular pick after a poor showing in the Big Ten, but that experience coupled with strong guard play should make the Gophers extremely dangerous.
Maybe even worthy of a Final Four spot.
Make your picks for the 2013 NCAA Tournament here with the Bracket Challenge Game.
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