The NCAA tournament can often be won by a team that gets hot and fires on all cylinders—even if that team isn't a No. 1 or No. 2 seed.
Sometimes the most compelling teams at the Big Dance are the ones that make the most noise. When those teams are met by strong competition, the stories basically write themselves.
As lower-seeded teams, they garner confidence by winning close games or upsets in the early rounds. Not every Cinderella story reaches the pinnacle of college basketball, however, so it's worth considering each team's odds for the NCAA title.
That's just what I'll do here. These teams are very good, but do they actually have what it takes to win?
Nobody wants to play the Louisville Cardinals in the NCAA tournament. They're as hot as any other team in the country. Kyle Ringo of Yahoo! Sports breaks down some of their recent success:
If Louisville does end up as a No. 4 seed, potential No. 1 seeds such as Florida, Wichita State or Michigan could end up having an awfully difficult Sweet 16 matchup in the Cardinals. They've lost just once since late January, beat Rutgers by 61 points in its first game in the conference tournament and followed up with a 29-point victory over Houston in the semifinals. It beat UConn by 33 in the regular season finale last week before beating the Huskies handily again Saturday.
Louisville did lock down that No. 4 seed, but Ringo incorrectly predicted Michigan as the final No. 1 seed. Virginia actually earned that recognition.
Rick Pitino says the #4 seed for his Cardinals is a byproduct of conference affiliation "but we"re going to win this thing."— Terry Meiners (@terrymeiners) March 16, 2014
Regardless, Louisville is a dangerous team in the tournament. Even though all five of their losses this season came against ranked opponents, the Cardinals are very capable of making a run into the Elite Eight. In fact, this is a team that wouldn't surprise me if it made it all the way to the Final Four.
Senior Russ Smith can take over this tournament. He dropped 18.3 points per game this year, and the fact that he shot 47.5 percent from the floor is impressive, as he's not a volume scorer. Smith can get the ball in the basket consistently, and Rick Pitino will make great use of him in the tournament.
Duke may have lost in the ACC tournament final, but don't count the Blue Devils out.
This team had a chance to be a No. 1 seed if it had taken care of business against lesser teams during the season, but losses to Notre Dame, Clemson and Wake Forest made that an impossible task. Wins over Michigan, Pittsburgh, UVA, Syracuse and UNC are high points that suggest this team can compete with anyone in the country.
Instead, they locked down a No. 3 seed. Mercer doesn't represent a threat to them in the round of 64, and neither do No. 6 UMass or the winner of Iowa and Tennessee for the No. 11 seed. One of those teams will be the Blue Devils' second-round opponent.
Never underestimate a team led by head coach Mike Krzyzewski, especially in the NCAA tournament. He is a mastermind and will have this team prepared to play any opponent.
Jabari Parker has scored at least 20 Pts in 18 games this season – 1 shy of Kenny Anderson’s ACC freshman record.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 16, 2014
What makes the Blue Devils even more compelling is Jabari Parker. The standout freshman is one of the top overall players in the tournament. Look for him to dominate in the early rounds and match point-for-point with each team's top scorer.
That makes Duke dangerous.
Creighton went 14-4 in the Big East, and Doug McDermott is one of the top players in the tournament. He has the ability to take over games, and that's often what decides close contests at this point in the season.
It was disappointing to see Creighton lose the Big East tournament to Providence, but that doesn't mean you should be worried. McDermott told the Associated Press, via ESPN, that he certainly isn't worried:
Got to give them credit. They're physical. But I think we handled ourselves pretty well all the way throughout league play on the physicality, and I think that's really going to help us going into the (NCAA) tournament.
The Bluejays locked down a No. 3 seed in the West Region, and that will take them through Louisiana-Lafayette in the round of 64. Creighton should roll through that one en route to a game against Baylor or Nebraska. Creighton has the chops to defeat both.
Creighton-Nebraska in round of 32 maybe. Go wild, Nebraskans— Dana O'Neil (@ESPNDanaOneil) March 16, 2014
McDermott's Bluejays are more than capable of a Sweet 16 berth, and I wouldn't be surprised if they went even farther. They have an outside shot at winning the NCAA title, but it's hard to see them defeating a No. 1 seed like Arizona to get there.
*Note: Odds via VegasInsider.com.