A busted bracket should not ruin the March Madness experience.
In fact, a sea of red on your sheet could bolster your viewing pleasure from the Sweet 16 onward. No more rooting against the lovable underdog because the favored team is locked into your Final Four. No more configuring improbable scenarios to maintain the facade of still winning your office pool.
All Your Bracket Essentials
So maybe you didn't foresee No. 10 Stanford and No. 11 Dayton squaring off with an Elite Eight bid at stake. Just sit back, enjoy the game and take solace in the fact that you're not alone.
For those still going strong, congratulations, but nobody likes a showoff. Here's what to expect in the contests featuring the tournament's most surprising success stories.
Tennessee vs. Michigan
If Marty McFly showed up at the CBS studios holding the winning picks, but he only had time to tell us that Duke would lose to Mercer before he was chased off by Biff Tannen, picking Tennessee in the Sweet 16 would have been a smart play.
The Volunteers are criminally underrated as a No. 11 seed that needed to survive a Round 1 play-in game just to make the field of 64. Per Ken Pomeroy's team ratings, they're now placed No. 6 overall. Pomeroy has the well-balanced squad ranked No. 16 in adjusted offensive efficiency and No. 17 on the defensive side.
After making quick work of Massachusetts and Mercer, it should surprise nobody if the No. 11 seed continues its run through the Midwest region by defeating No. 2 Michigan.
Tennessee has enforced its significant size advantage during the tournament. The Bears collected 19 total rebounds in their bout of underdogs, while Jarnell Stokes grabbed 18 for the Volunteers. Stokes told USA Today's Nicole Auerbach that Tennessee's tournament success is not a flash in the pan, but merely the first time the nation has taken notice.
"As a team, we've been doing that all year," Stokes said. "Now that it's in the NCAA tournament, it's getting a lot more attention. We always feel like we can control the boards."
While Michigan can score with anyone, its defense ranks 133rd with 102.4 points per possession, according to Sports-Reference. After falling just short against elite competition all year, Tennessee will finally find itself on the winning side.
Prediction: Tennessee 80, Michigan 78
Stanford vs. Dayton
At the expense of Ohio State, New Mexico, Syracuse and Kansas, a double-digit seed will be one of eight teams standings after Thursday's game between Stanford and Dayton. According to SportsCenter's Twitter page, less than one percent of ESPN brackets picked that matchup.
Each squad has walked a tightrope to get here; both schools have won four games by a combined 11 points. Those calls would signal a likely end against a potent contender, but the Cardinal and Flyers lucked out.
Dayton was handed a slumping Syracuse while Dayton faced a vulnerable Kansas hoping to survive the weekend without Joel Embiid. Neither of these Cinderella teams is close to one the NCAA's top eight teams, but the draw means everything sometimes.
Yet ESPN.com's Mitch Sherman touted Stanford as a Final Four candidate behind guard Chasson Randle, who has scored a combined 36 points through two tournament games:
Stanford, with its big wings and the imposing Stefan Nastic to guard the rim, is now in position to make a run to the Final Four. Up next is Dayton after it slayed Ohio State and Syracuse, so the Flyers won’t be intimidated in Memphis by the Cardinal’s pedigree. But Stanford is a tough matchup for any opponent because of its diversity. Despite Stanford's size and versatility, Randle, the 6-2 junior, showed in St. Louis that he’s the catalyst for this group. As he goes, so goes Stanford. And Randle’s proving to be a reliable weapon in March.
Stanford plays a slow, precise style that should stymie a smaller opponent that will want to run whenever possible. As long as the pace doesn't ramp up to the Flyers' liking, expect the Cardinal to advance.
Prediction: Stanford 63, Dayton 59
Connecticut vs. Iowa State
In comparison, Connecticut's Sweet 16 inclusion isn't much of a shocker. The Huskies have had their fair share of run-ins with Villanova, who showed some vulnerability by falling to Seton Hall during the Big East tournament.
They are, however, the fourth-lowest seed remaining after the double-digit seeds highlighted above. Now they'll once again receive the underdog treatment against Iowa State, but not by much. Vegas Insider is listing Kevin Ollie's team as a one-point underdog, as of Monday, against the No. 3 seed.
Looking at Pomeroy's ratings, it's easy to see why the oddsmakers are struggling to pick a winner. UConn is ranked No. 19 in the overall team ratings, but Iowa State lags one spot and .0001 point behind. Connecticut is rated 56th in adjusted offense and 11th in adjusted defense; Iowa State is rated 10th in adjusted offense and 59th in adjusted defense.
Each team is on a roll. Each club has a do-everything guard (DeAndre Kane for the Cyclones, Shabazz Napier for the Huskies) leading the way. Does anyone have a coin handy?
In line with some of their recent nail-biters, the two clubs will go into overtime, where Iowa State's superior offense will convert the necessary extra basket to edge out a close call.
Prediction: Iowa State: 83, Connecticut 81 (overtime)