Last year, the Final Four made its way to Houston and in a turn of events entirely emblematic of the type of sports year Houston sustained in 2011, we wound up with arguably the most underwhelming collection of four teams ever assembled at college basketball's marquee event.
The highest seeded team was Connecticut (a 3 seed out West) and they were joined by Kentucky (a 4 seed), Butler (an 8 seed) and VCU (an 11 seed!). Unless you were a UConn fan (which I happen to be), it was probably one big popcorn fart of a weekend, and if it taught us anything, it's that picking games on your March Madness bracket has now essentially become a series of educated coin tosses.
Therefore, on the cusp of the due date/time for most brackets (early games tip at 11 a.m. tomorrow), I am not going to share with you my entire bracket. A page full of barely 50-50 propositions handed over is overkill and kind of useless. The Final Four is a culmination of these coin-flipper propositions, but where your chances of winning the office pool can be increased by a percentage point or two is in finding those lower seeded teams (the Butlers, the VCUs) that might squeeze an extra round or two (or five!) out of their run above expectations.
So instead of giving you the full field, I'll shave off the two cents that I think may be of some value to you and tell you the most "live" teams at each numeric seed in the tournament field, "live" being my phrase for "possessing the team chemistry/skills/makeup to make a tourney run that belies their seed."
16 SEED: UNC-Asheville (East) A 16 seed has never beaten a 1 seed in the history of this tournament, so my picking a "live" 16 seed is more out of obligation than true belief. So if I have to pick one, I'll pick the one that is playing the 1 seed who just lost their difference-making center due to a suspension for not completing school work.
15 SEED: Detroit (Midwest) 15 seeds beating 2 seeds has happened, but rarely. Of the four 15 seeds this year, I like Detroit and it's as much an anti-Kansas play as it is a pro-Detroit play. Yes, Detroit has an NBA talent in coach's son Ray McCallum Jr., but Kansas is also living with fairly recent tournament skeletons in their closet in upsets to Northern Iowa and VCU. Detroit could do this.
14 SEED: Belmont (Midwest) This game is only a 3 1/2-point spread for a reason. Belmont is proficient shooting the three, and has enough talent to hang with the big boys for a round or two (witness, their one-point road loss to Duke early in the season). Georgetown seemed to peak about midseason and turnover problems could be huge if Belmont is knocking down shots. (NOTE: LOTS of "live" 14 seeds in the field -- South Dakota State against Baylor and St. Bonaventure against Florida State, too.)
13 SEED: Davidson (West) Bob McKillop's team doesn't have an NBA lottery type talent like Steph Curry on this squad, but they are balanced, have played a typically tough Davidson schedule (Duke, Vanderbilt, a win over Kansas) and catch a Louisville team that lost in this exact spot (4 seed) to Morehead State last season.
12 SEED: Long Beach State (West) Ali Farokhmanesh, Gordon Hayward, Stephen Curry...Casper Ware! Ware will be this season's mid-major darling individual player heading into the Sweet Sixteen week. The guard who was offered a scholarship by The Beach and that's it is an NBA-level talent. 11 SEED: N.C. State (Midwest) The Wolfpack gave North Carolina all they could handle in the ACC tournament last weekend. More than anything else, I like the softness of their section of the bracket -- San Diego State in the first round, and decent potential of a 14 seed in the aforementioned Belmont in the second round.
10 SEED: Xavier (South) The Musketeer backcourt of Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons is exactly what Notre Dame doesn't want to see in the first round, and Duke is the most beatable of the 2 seeds in the second round. Considering what this program was going through after the brawl with Cincinnati earlier in the season, a Sweet Sixteen run would be a huge feather in the cap of head coach Chris Mack.
9 SEED: Connecticut (South) No other nine seed has two players (Andre Drummond and Jeremy Lamb) that might go in the top eight in June's NBA Draft. That alone is enough to make them the most "live" 9 seed.
8 SEED: Memphis (West) Memphis was reportedly legitimately pissed off about their seeding, and rightfully so. Down the stretch the Tigers were one of the hottest teams in the country. Josh Pastner starts a young lineup of four sophomores and one junior, and if they channel the perceived "snub" the right way, they could pull off an upset of Michigan State in the second round. If they channel it the wrong way, Rick Majerus and St. Louis will frustrate the hell out of them in their opener.
7 SEED: Gonzaga (East) Every year I say I won't be fooled again by Gonzaga, and every year they enter the tournament battle-tested and talented. Robert Sacre is as athletic and active a seven-footer as there is in college basketball, and freshman point guard Kevin Pangos was the top newcomer in the WCC this season. Consider me fooled. Again.
6 SEED: Cincinnati (East) I already took one half of the Skyline Chili Brawl (Xavier), why not take the other half? Mick Cronin's team plays a defensive style of ball that will frustrate opponents and has a big man in Yancy Gates, who was playing "climb on my back" type ball in the Big East tournament. Definitely good enough to get to the Sweet Sixteen. 5 SEED: Vanderbilt (East) With the suspension of Syracuse's Fab Melo, the SEC tournament champions all of a sudden have a great look at a deep tournament run if they can ride the scoring tandem of John Jenkins and Jeffrey Taylor past their first two games against Harvard (spelling bee might break out!) and likely Wisconsin.
4 SEED: Wisconsin (East) And if Vandy doesn't get past Wisconsin, then I can see Bo Ryan's group frustrating the ever-loving hell out of Jim Boeheim's sporadically disciplined Orange in the Sweet Sixteen.
3 SEED: Baylor (South) Duke, UNLV, Notre Dame...the Bears caught about as soft a top-line hand as you can be dealt to get to the Elite Eight. They can out-talent all of those teams.
2 SEED: Missouri (West) Somehow the committee ranked Missouri as the weakest of the 2 seeds. I don't see it, and for the supposed weakest of the 2 seeds, they caught the most beatable (pre-Fab Melo suspension) of the top seeds in Michigan State.
1 SEED: Kentucky (South) End of story.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. weekdays, and watch the simulcast on Comcast 129 from 6 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.
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