Never count out Brad Stevens and the Butler Bulldogs.
Be sure to send at least one mid-major school deep into March Madness, because it happens every year.
Obviously the greatest challenge is deciphering the bracket and finding the smaller conference schools best fitted for a strong showing. Well, regardless of seeding there are a few things to look for when checking the mid-majors.
Whether it's a solid coach, resume, experience or offensive/defensive strengths, some combination here will be of immense assistance. Finding a school that ends up making a Cinderella run is also to your advantage in the pool.
Because not everyone will have the exact same team(s) pulling upsets.
Creighton Bluejays, Midwest Region
Entering the tournament on a five-game winning streak, the Creighton Bluejays won the Missouri Valley regular season and conference tournament.
Despite getting only the No. 7 seed in the Midwest Region, Creighton's slew of marksmen will connect from anywhere inside or outside the arc. At the same time the Bluejays are well-versed at sharing the ball and setting up one another for open looks.
Defensively, Creighton is decent and gives up an average of just 63.1 points per game. The Bluejays also challenge nicely, which ranks their defense No. 68 in opposing shooting percentage (40.7).
Within the bracket, Creighton squares off against Cincinnati first, and a win here likely sets up a bout versus Duke. The Bearcats are better than the Blue Devils defensively, so the Bluejays getting past the round of 64 simply adds much confidence to pull the upset thereafter.
Belmont Bruins, West Region
The threatening aspect of the Belmont Bruins is a combination of experience and motivation.
For one, Belmont is making its third consecutive tournament appearance and has the veteran depth to perform efficiently. Secondly, motive comes as a factor since the Bruins suffered two early exits in 2011 and 2012.
Entering the madness with a record of 26-6, Belmont won the regular season and conference tournament of the Ohio Valley. Mesh that with the ability to score virtually at will, knock down shots consistently and rely on multiple players, and this team will match anyone's pace.
The Bruins also rank No. 8 in forcing 17.1 turnovers per game. Taking on Arizona to tip off the bracket and then potential matchups versus New Mexico and Ohio State, the Bruins' talent to get a defense moving and capitalize off turnovers makes them a dangerous foe.
VCU Rams, South Region
VCU is arguably positioned the best among all the mid-majors this year. Two years removed from a Final Four appearance, coach Shaka Smart got his team to a 26-8 mark that included wins over Memphis, Belmont and Butler.
Finishing second in the Atlantic 10 during the regular season, VCU earned the No. 5 seed in the South Region. With an explosive offense that averaged 78 points per contest, the Rams also dish the rock around quite well.
And complementing the offense is a defense that ranks No. 41 in overall efficiency. As for the bracket, VCU takes on Akron to start and then sees a winnable opponent in Michigan or South Dakota State.
The biggest matchup would be Kansas in the Sweet 16, but the Rams have the offense to match the Jayhawks. Plus the Rams rank No. 1 in generating 19.9 turnovers per game. Kansas ranks No. 209.
Butler Bulldogs, East Region
One major advantage Butler has over a lot of teams is coach Brad Stevens. He has led the Bulldogs to two consecutive national title game appearances (2010, 2011) and his team currently sports a 26-8 record.
How far do you have Butler making it?
Even more impressive is the depth of the Atlantic 10, from which saw seven schools hit 20-plus wins this season. Receiving the sixth seed in the East Region, Butler faces Bucknell in the round of 64 and potential matchups against power-conference schools in Marquette and Miami (Fla.).
Well, the Bulldogs have the proven resume to make a strong run through the bracket. With impressive wins over Marquette, North Carolina, Indiana and Gonzaga, Stevens' crew will definitely hang with anyone.
Factor in a sound defense—only 63.5 points per game—and the offense capable of scoring effectively, and the Bulldogs possess the personnel to flirt with early April.
*Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of TeamRankings.com
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