For many sports fans, nothing beats the excitement and unpredictability of the NCAA tournament. Now that the bracket has been unveiled, millions of you will be filling it out for bragging rights, whether it's with your family, a group of friends or loads of strangers worldwide in ESPN.com's Tournament Challenge.
There's no right way to fill out a bracket, so we thought we'd do our part to give you enough information to make your head spin as you work your way through it. For those of you who like to pick each game individually throughout the tournament, College Hoops Pick 'em offers a different way to show off your prognostication skills, where you're rewarded for picking upsets.
Some of the trends below are more complex than others, but why not start off with one historical absolute that's not worth questioning:
That's the record of No. 1 seeds against 16-seeds, and only 11 times have they won by single digits (with the last time being in 1997). Needless to say, 16s don't seem to be getting any closer to that elusive first victory.
In the past five years, not only have all but one of the 20 meetings been decided by 16 points or more, but the average margin of victory for the No. 1s has been 29.6 points.
And while you're at it …
You might as well put the No. 2s through to the third round (round of 32) as well. In 27 years, only four times has a 15-seed knocked off a 2-seed, although it hasn't always been a cakewalk.
Although it's been 11 years since a No. 15 won (Hampton over Iowa State), in 18 of the previous 27 years of the 64/65/68-team field, at least one No. 2 seed has been played to within single digits or lost. However, in the past three tourneys, No. 15s haven't provided much of a challenge, with the only exception being Robert Morris' tough overtime loss to Villanova in 2010.
Let's talk upsets
So, now that the seemingly automatic is out of the way, how many upsets should you be picking early on?
Since 1985, there have been an average of 8.0 upsets according to seed in the round of 64. The most in a year is 13 in 2001, and the fewest is three the year before that.
While many remember last year's tournament as one full of surprises, there weren't that many in the round of 64. After two straight years with 10 upsets according to seed, there were just seven such upsets in 2011.
Focusing on seeds
NOTE: All data since 1985, when the tournament expanded to 64 teams, unless otherwise noted.
Round of 64
It's unlikely that the top 16 teams allsurvive: Only four times have the top four seeds in each region survived their first game (1994, 2000, 2004, 2007), so history begs that you consider at least one big upset in the early going. We've touched on the unlikely nature of 1s and 2s going down, but let's look at the other second-round matchups:
• 8 versus 9: All you need to know is that No. 9 seeds actually hold a 57-51 advantage, and that neither seed has swept the four meetings in a tournament in 10 years. A true toss-up, historically.
• 7 versus 10: No. 7s have won 65 of 108 meetings (60 percent), and only twice in the past 18 years has either seed won all four meetings (No. 7s in 2007, No. 10s in 1999). It's been such a seesaw recently that each seed has taken three of four twice each in the past four tournaments.
• 6 versus 11: No. 6s have won 72 of 108 meetings (67 percent), although No. 11s have won five of eight matchups the past two years. Only once in 27 years have the 11-seeds swept the four games (1989), while the 6-seeds have done so five times, but not since 2004.
• 5 versus 12: No. 5s actually have the same success rate No. 6s do in this round, but it's less likely that either seed will get a clean sweep. While No. 12s have never taken all four meetings in a tournament, they've been shut out only three times (1988, 2000, 2007). Plenty more on 12-seeds later on.
• 4 versus 13: Now the gap gets wider, as No. 4s have won 85 of 108 meetings (79 percent). One thing of note recently, though, is the fact that 13s have won at least one matchup in each of the past four years for the first time ever (and nine of the past 11), so don't be afraid to target one in your bracket.
Between Nos. 12 and 13 seeds combined, they have 17 wins in the past four years (six in 2008, five in 2009, three in 2010, three in 2011).
• 3 versus 14: With a 92-16 mark (85 percent), No. 3s have predictably owned this matchup. It's actually gotten worse for the 14s in the 2000s, as only three of them have won in the past 12 years (Bucknell over Kansas in 2005, Northwestern State over Iowa in 2006 and Ohio over Georgetown in 2010). Since only two No. 14 seeds have ever won two games in a single tournament, it's best to play the percentages and pick the favorites here. That said, the fact the final two at-large teams selected -- BYU and Iona -- landed as No. 14s adds some intrigue.
Advancing to the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight
As you attempt to determine which teams will survive the first weekend, here are more trends to consider:
It takes guts, but …:
A No. 1 seed has lost before the Sweet 16 in consecutive years (2010, 2011) for the first time since the field was expanded to 64 teams. Do you feel lucky enough to pick yet another top seed to go down during the first weekend?
Picking against a No. 2 is advised, though
The importance of getting a No. 1 seed instead of a No. 2 may not seem great, but recent history says otherwise.
Since 1985, just 14 of 108 No. 1 seeds have lost in the round of 32 (13.0 percent), but No. 2 seeds have lost nearly one-third of their round-of-32 games (34 of 104, 32.7 percent).
In fact, only once in the past 15 years have all four No. 2 seeds reached the Sweet 16. In that span, No. 2s have suffered 23 losses total -- 14 versus No. 10 seeds and nine against No. 7 seeds. No. 1s have just eight losses in the same round in those 15 years.
No. 3s and 4s ripe for early upsets recently
From 2007 to '09, 11 of the 12 No. 3 seeds reached the Sweet 16, but in the past two years, only three of eight survived the first two games.
The struggles go a bit deeper for 4-seeds. In the past five years, only seven of the 20 No. 4 seeds have reached the Sweet 16, and only 10 of 28 in the past seven years.
Sobering news for the top four seeds in each region
Since the tournament field expanded in 1985, 108 regionals have been played. In only 14 of those 108 regions (13 percent) have the top four seeds advanced to the Sweet 16 (none in the past two years).
Obviously, it's important to get a No. 1 seed, but there's also a noticeable difference between the third and fourth seeds when it comes to reaching the Sweet 16. Below is how the top seeds have fared during the past seven years.
While all but two of the top seeds have advanced during this stretch, note the trouble that No. 4s have had, with nearly two-thirds of them failing to escape the first weekend.
No. 1 seeds: 26 of 28 (93 percent)
No. 2 seeds: 19 of 28 (68 percent)
No. 3 seeds: 17 of 28 (61 percent)
No. 4 seeds: 10 of 28 (36 percent)
Since 1985, only 10 times has a No. 8 seed reached the Sweet 16. That's to be expected, since a No. 8 seed is matched up against a top seed in the third round.
What's interesting is the success rate of No. 8s once they get that far. Seven of the 10 to do so advanced to the Elite Eight, and four of those seven reached the Final Four, including Butler last year. Among teams seeded seventh or worse, only No. 8 and No. 11 seeds have reached the Final Four.
At least one double-digit seed has reached the Sweet 16 in 25 of the past 27 years, and at least two have done so in 12 of the past 15 years.
The past two years have been even more eventful on this front, as three double-digit seeds reached the Sweet 16 in 2010, and four did so in 2011. Clearly, it's worth it to tab at least one team seeded 10th or worse to win a couple of games.
The ever-popular 12-seed
Earlier in the column, we mentioned No. 12s as nice upset picks in the round of 64. Taking that a step further, 12-seeds have reached more Sweet 16s than 7- and 11-seeds, more than 8s and 9s combined and just one fewer than No. 10s.
Overall, No. 12 seeds have won at least one game in 21 of the past 23 years (no wins in 2000 and 2007) and at least two games in 10 of the past 11 years.
Stop at one, though!
Don't get greedy expecting multiple 12s to get to the Sweet 16. Even with the relative success that No. 12 seeds have had, only once have two 12s reached the Sweet 16 in the same year (2008).
Quirky double-digit note
The past 10 times a double-digit seed has faced a team seeded sixth or worse in the round of 32, the better seed has won each time. The last lower seed to win such a matchup was 13-seed Valparaiso over 12-seed Florida State in 1998. Overall, in these situations, the better seed is 26-3.
We didn't forget you, No. 9
… But maybe we should. As stated above, it's certainly better to be a 10-, 11- or 12-seed than it is to be a No. 9. That shouldn't be a huge surprise, since the No. 1 seed is waiting for the No. 9 seed in the third round. However, did you know that since 1985, No. 9 seeds have the same number of Sweet 16 appearances (four) as No. 13s and just two more than No. 14s? It's hard to endorse a deep run if you like to play the percentages.
Let someone else get cute
While it would be fun to say you're among the few to have that Cinderella No. 13 seed to reach the Sweet 16 when it happens next, it's better to leave it alone. Only six schools seeded below 12th have made it to the Sweet 16, and only one since 2000 (Bradley in 2006).
Elite Eight likelihood
Since 1985, 71 percent of the Elite Eight has been composed of 1-, 2- and 3-seeds. However, only three times have all Elite Eight participants been seeded fourth or better, although two of those instances have occurred in the past five years (1995, 2007, 2009).
Take one underdog to reach the Elite Eight
At least one team seeded sixth or worse has reached the Elite Eight in 22 of the past 27 years. Last year, both eighth-seeded Butler and 11th-seeded VCU got there (and beyond, as you likely remember).
Back to 12-seeds again
This time, the news isn't as good. While it's interesting that 12-seeds have reached the regional semifinals as often as they have, their run pretty much ends there. Of the aforementioned 19 No. 12 seeds to get to the Sweet 16, only one -- Missouri in 2002 -- has gone any further. So, if you're playing the percentages, stop short of predicting an Elite Eight run.
Picking the Fantastic Four
So, you're sure about Kentucky, huh?
In the previous eight years that the No. 1 overall seed has been revealed, that top seed has reached the Final Four just three times. Can the Wildcats overcome this disturbing track record for the top seeds?
To expand on that point, reaching the Elite Eight has been far from a sure thing for the No. 1 overall seed. Last year, Ohio State became the fourth top overall seed in the eight years it's been announced to lose in the Sweet 16 or earlier. Florida in 2007 is the only No. 1 overall seed to win the title.
Zero No. 1s is just as likely as three
Last year marked just the third time since seeding began in 1979 that the Final Four had no No. 1 seeds (1980, 2006, 2011). What might surprise you is that also happens to be the same number of times that exactly three of the four No. 1 seeds reached the national semifinals (1993, 1997, 1999). Only once have we had a Final Four with all four No. 1 seeds (2008), and in the three years since, we've had a total of three No. 1s in the national semis.
The difference between 1 and 2
While some think there is not much difference between being a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, the numbers indicate otherwise in the later rounds as well.
• 2011 marked the first time in five years a No. 1 seed didn't win the national championship. Overall, nine of the past 13 national champions have been No. 1 seeds.
• The last No. 2 to win the title was Connecticut in 2004. And since the tournament expanded in 1985, only four No. 2 seeds have won the title ('04 Connecticut, '98 Kentucky, '91 Duke, '86 Louisville). In that same 27-year period, 16 No. 1 seeds have done so.
• Of the 33 national champions since seeding began, 29 of them were 1-, 2- or 3-seeds. The other four champions: two No. 6 seeds and one each for No. 4 and No. 8.
• While No. 1s have 18 of those 33 titles, you might be surprised to know that No. 1 seeds have met in the championship game just six times since seeding began in 1979 (1982, 1993, 1999, 2005, 2007, 2008).
Multiple teams from one conference
One trend that has moved in the other direction in recent years is that of multiple representation from one conference in the Final Four. At least two teams from the same conference have made the Final Four two-thirds of the time since 1985 (18 of 27 years), but it's happened just once in the past five years.
May the 4s be with you
Picking a No. 4 to get to the title game has been a losing proposition almost every time. Since seeding began in 1979, No. 4 seeds have reached the championship game just twice (winning once), and it happened in consecutive years (1996 Syracuse, 1997 Arizona).
Even worse …
At least a No. 4 has won a title before. No. 5 seeds have come up empty in their quest for a championship. Only three have ever reached the title game (2000 Florida, 2002 Indiana, 2010 Butler).
Unlucky No. 7
A No. 7 seed has never reached the championship game, and the only one to even reach the Final Four was Virginia in 1984. And since the field expanded in 1985, only six No. 7s have advanced to the Elite Eight.
The lowest seed to reach the Final Four is a No. 11 (LSU in 1986, George Mason in 2006 and VCU in 2011). In fact, they are the only seeds lower than eighth to do so.
Avoid teams to lose conference tourney openers
No team has won a national title after losing its first game in the conference tournament. In the previous three years alone, four teams –- all from the Big East -- have received No. 1 seeds despite doing so, but have failed to put an end to this trend.
Last year, it was Pittsburgh, which lost in the third round to Butler. In 2010, Syracuse fell in the Sweet 16 to Butler. In 2009, Connecticut lost in the Final Four, while Pittsburgh lost in the Elite Eight.
This year, the only high seed of note to lose its first conference tournament game is also a Big East member: No. 3 seed Marquette. If you have Buzz Williams' bunch as a national title sleeper, you now subscribe to the theory that all trends must end sometime.
Is it good to be No. 1?
In this case, we're talking about the polls, not the seed. Since seeding began in 1979, only 13 of 33 tournaments have been won by a team that was ranked No. 1 during the season. This season, only three teams have been ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press poll: North Carolina, Kentucky and Syracuse, and many would say they are the top three favorites to win the national title, in no particular order.
Bearish on first-timers
Since 1990, of the 76 teams to make their first NCAA tournament appearance, only three have won a round-of-64 game, and just one in the past 19 years. This doesn't bode well for the maiden voyage for 14th-seeded South Dakota State or 15th-seeded Norfolk State.
Naturally, seeding has been a major factor in the lack of success. Of those previous 76 teams, 53 were either 15- or 16-seeds, 73 received 12-seeds or worse, and none earned better than a No. 9 seed. The Jackrabbits and Spartans are no more fortunate this year.
Don't dismiss at-large selections under .500 in conference play
Connecticut became the 28th team since 1985 to receive an at-large bid despite having a losing conference record. Of the previous 27 teams, 16 won at least one game, including the latest two teams to be invited with a losing mark in conference play (Maryland in 2009, Georgia Tech in 2010). Of the 16 teams that won a game, five went on to reach at least the Sweet 16.
It's a team game
• Connecticut is 16-1 in the round of 64 under Jim Calhoun. The only loss came to 13-seed San Diego in 2008.
• Despite another high seed last year (No. 1), Duke was bounced in the Sweet 16 by fifth-seeded Arizona. The Blue Devils have advanced past the Sweet 16 just twice since winning the title in 2001 (Final Four in 2004, champions in 2010). Coach K's crew defeated three teams seeded better than fifth en route to that 2010 title, but hasn't done so in any other year since that previous title in 2001. That said, the Blue Devils are the only team to reach the Sweet 16 in each of the past three years.
• Gonzaga became tournament darlings in 1999 with a run to the Elite Eight as a No. 10 seed. While this is the Zags' 14th straight NCAA tournament appearance, they have reached the Sweet 16 just twice in the past 10 years (as a No. 3 and 4 seed). The Bulldogs have a tough road this year as a No. 7 seed.
• The past three times Kentucky received a No. 1 seed, it failed to reach the Final Four. The Wildcats fell in the Elite Eight in 2010 and 2003 and were shocked by UAB in the round of 32 in 2004.
Head coach John Calipari has been a No. 1 seed four previous times, and although he's still searching for his first championship, his top-seeded teams have never been bounced before the Elite Eight. His Memphis team lost a heartbreaker to Kansas in 2008; his Massachusetts team in 1996 lost to (you guessed it) Kentucky in the Final Four; the other two lost in the Elite Eight (2006 Memphis, 2010 Kentucky).
• Missouri has been impressive all season long, but can Frank Haith take his team where it's never gone before? Mizzou has the second-most NCAA tourney appearances (24, not counting this year) without reaching the Final Four. (BYU has the most with 26.) Mizzou also is tied for the most tourney wins (22) without a Final Four appearance.
• Sixth-seeded Murray State is the fifth team to not receive a No. 1 seed despite entering the tournament with only one loss. So, how will the Racers fare? If history is any indication, don't count on a deep run. Although each of the previous four teams won their first game, only one advanced any further.
• North Carolina is a No. 1 seed for the fourth time in six years. Dating back to 1997, this is the seventh top seed for UNC, and in each of the previous six occasions, the Heels have won two titles and lost in the Final Four three times and the Elite Eight once.
Remember when Roy Williams' teams used to underachieve as top seeds earlier in his career at Kansas? Williams' first four No. 1 seeds (1992, 1995, 1997, 1998) all lost in the Sweet 16 or earlier. Since then, in five opportunities as a No. 1, his teams have two championships, two more Final Four trips and one Elite Eight.
• Notre Dame has not had much tournament success under Mike Brey, winning six games in his seven trips. The lone Sweet 16 trip came the year Milwaukee's Dylan Page missed a potential game-winning layup at the buzzer. Last season, as a No. 2 seed, the Irish were bounced by Florida State in the round of 32. This season, Brey has done a remarkable job with a team that lost three starters from last year's squad and suffered an early season-ending injury to its best player, Tim Abromaitis. Can the magic continue into the tournament? The Irish received a No. 7 seed and will face Xavier in the round of 64 on Friday.
• Purdue has won its past 13 round-of-64 games, the longest current streak in the NCAA tournament. As a No. 10 seed, the Boilermakers have their work cut out for them in the form of Saint Mary's.
• This is only the third No. 1 seed for Syracuse, and the previous two times didn't go well. Just two years ago, they were upset by fifth-seeded Butler in the Sweet 16, and back in 1980, the Orange also fell in the Sweet 16 to Lute Olson and the Iowa Hawkeyes, also a 5-seed.
• Last year, Temple won its first tournament game since 2001, and in doing so, head coach Fran Dunphy improved to 2-13 in the NCAA tournament.
• Vanderbilt, Notre Dame, Georgetown, and Kansas have been upset by teams at least five seeds worse than they were in each of the past two years (Kansas as a No. 1 seed both times).
• Vanderbilt, in fact, has lost to a double-digit seed in each of its past three tournament appearances (No. 12 once, No. 13 twice). So the Commodores have a lot to prove in the Big Dance, as they hope to build on their SEC championship game victory over Kentucky on Sunday. Wouldn't you know it, Vandy will face another 12-seed (Harvard) to start this year's tournament.
Last year, Connecticut gave the Big East its sixth national championship but its first since 2004. The Big East is hardly the only major conference in a bit of a slump.
The Big Ten hasn't won a national title since 2000, when Michigan State cut down the nets. The Big 12 has just one title since its formation in 1997 (Kansas in '08), while the Pac-12's last title came in 1997 (Arizona). The ACC, meanwhile, has five titles in the past 11 years.
Speaking of the ACC
Beware of the double-digit ACC seeds in the early rounds. With NC State and Virginia receiving No. 10 seeds, at least one ACC team has been seeded 10th or worse in seven of the past eight years. Of the seven previous teams, five of them advanced to at least the round of 32.
Before this year, 10 ACC teams have been seeded 10th or worse since 1985, and seven of them pulled off the upset in the round of 64. Last year, Florida State did so and actually came up one point short of reaching the Elite Eight, losing in overtime to VCU.
Many unhappy returns for the Big East
The previous two years, the Big East has sent a total of 19 teams to the Big Dance, but just four of those 19 have survived the first weekend (Syracuse and West Virginia in 2010; UConn and Marquette in 2011). The Big East got nine more into the tournament this year, so time will tell whether the conference as a whole will have greater success.
Overall in the NCAA tournament the past two years, there have been 20 instances where a team was beaten by a seed at least five spots lower than it. Ten of those featured a Big East team on the losing end (although one was Marquette over Syracuse last year).
Can Detroit carry on the Horizon League tradition?
The Horizon League has at least one tournament victory in each of the past seven years, the longest such streak among non-power-six conferences. Going back even further, the HL has a win in 11 of the past 14 years, dating back to when the conference was called the Midwestern Collegiate Conference. The league has done so despite sending only one representative in 10 of those 14 years (which is the case again this year). Butler has been the national runner-up each of the past two years, and in 2009, it was 13th-seeded Cleveland State that represented the Horizon by defeating Wake Forest by 15 in the round of 64. This year's representative, Detroit, is a No. 15 seed, so keeping the streak alive will be quite a challenge against Kansas.
The Atlantic 10 is another non-power-six conference that has enjoyed plenty of success. The A-10 has a win in six straight years, 20 of 21 and 32 of 34. The only years in that span in which the A-10 didn't win a game were 1990 and 2005. In both of those years, the conference received just one bid. No such problem this year, as the Atlantic 10 received four bids for the first time since 2004.
The MAAC gets two bids
For just the second time in conference history, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference has two teams in the tournament, Loyola (Md.) and Iona. The only other time the MAAC received two bids (1995), the conference's at-large entry, Manhattan, won as a No. 13 seed. Iona earned one of the final at-large bids but will have to take care of BYU in the first round on Tuesday if it wants to face No. 3 seed Marquette on Thursday.
Has the Mountain West reversed the curse?
Last year, the Mountain West Conference had two teams reach the Sweet 16 (BYU, San Diego State), equaling the number of conference members to do so in the MWC's first 11 years of existence. While the conference is just 14-29 overall in 12 years of NCAA tournament play (.326 win percentage), multiple teams have won tournament games in consecutive years now. With four teams in the field -- New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV and Colorado State -- it could happen again.
OVC for three?
After a 20-year drought without a win in the round of 64, the Ohio Valley Conference has a win in each of the past two years. Last year, it was Kenneth Faried and 13th-seeded Morehead State shocking Louisville, and in 2010, Murray State knocked out Vanderbilt, also as a 13-seed. This year, the tables are turned, as Murray State will be hoping to avoid being upset as a No. 6 seed in its home state against Colorado State on Thursday.
Beware the WCC
The West Coast Conference has at least one win in 11 of the past 13 years, and this year there are three WCC teams in the field (Saint Mary's, Gonzaga and BYU) for just the second time in history. Of the 20 wins the WCC has in that span, Gonzaga owns all but four of them (Pepperdine in 2000, San Diego in 2008, Saint Mary's two in 2010).
After 11 straight years without an NCAA tourney victory by an Ivy League team, Cornell came up with two double-digit W's before falling to No. 1-seeded Kentucky in the Sweet 16 in 2010. Then, last year Princeton took Kentucky to the wire before falling by a single basket in the round of 64. As a 12-seed, Harvard certainly has the opportunity to make some noise early in the Dance.
No Steph Curry, but Davidson's back!
The Southern Conference has been known for giving opponents a hard time despite seeds mostly in the 13-15 range. This year, Davidson is back in the field, and surely you remember the Wildcats' special run to the Elite Eight in 2008 as a No. 10 seed, which is the only time the SoCon hasn't been one-and-done in the past 14 years. Considering this year's bunch beat Kansas earlier this season, it won't sneak up on Louisville in the second round.
Return of the MAC?
The Mid-American Conference has just one NCAA tourney victory since 2003, 14th-seeded Ohio's shocking rout of Georgetown in 2010. Well, D.J. Cooper and the Bobcats are back again to burst brackets, this time as a No. 13 seed.
Hard times for the WAC
The Western Athletic Conference has failed to win an NCAA tournament game in four straight years for the first time since 1967 to '70. WAC teams have gone winless five of the past six years after a streak of 11 straight years with at least one win (1995 to 2005).
It doesn't help that the WAC become a one-bid league these days. From 1985 to 2007, the conference had multiple teams qualify for the tournament in 22 of those 23 years. However, in four of the past five years, the WAC has had just one representative. This year, that's New Mexico State, the No. 13 seed in the South region.
C-USA one-and-done of late
Conference USA has gone winless in the tourney in each of the past two years despite sending multiple representatives to the Dance. Until these past two years, the conference had never gone winless since its formation in the '95-96 season. The last time a C-USA team other than Memphis won a tournament game was 2005, when Louisville, Cincinnati and UAB all won games.
Can Lamar get the Southland back on the board?
The Southland Conference has lost 25 of its past 26 round-of-64 games, all but two of which have come by double figures. Northwestern State's stunning comeback versus Iowa in 2006 is the only win in that span. Before Northwestern State, the last Southland Conference school to win a round-of-64 game was fifth-seeded Louisiana Tech, featuring Karl Malone, in 1985. In those past 26 years, no Southland team has received greater than a 13-seed, and every year since 1996, the conference rep has been a 14-, 15- or 16-seed. It's no different for Lamar and head coach Pat Knight this year, as the 16th-seeded Cardinals will have to win on Wednesday against Vermont just to get to the round of 64.
Big Sky has limits
The Big Sky Conference has just three NCAA tournament victories to its credit since 1985, and only one in the 2000s. Montana's upset of fifth-seeded Nevada in 2006 is the Big Sky's only NCAA tournament victory since Harold Arceneaux, Eddie Gill and Weber State took out North Carolina in 1999. Overall, Big Sky teams have lost 30 of their past 33 tourney games, although 14th-seeded Montana did give New Mexico all it could handle in the round of 64 in 2010. The Grizzlies are back with designs on a victory, this time as a 13-seed in the East region.
Belmont looks to cash in this time
The Atlantic Sun hasn't enjoyed an NCAA tournament victory since it was the Trans America Athletic Conference in 2001 (Georgia State beat Wisconsin 50-49). That's also the last time the conference representative received better than a 13-seed. But that doesn't mean A-Sun teams haven't been competitive despite facing protected seeds each year. Belmont's close call against second-seeded Duke in 2008 and 16th-seeded East Tennessee State's battle with Pitt in 2009 are just the latest examples. Belmont was a popular upset pick last season against Wisconsin, but the Bruins were simply outplayed by the Badgers. The nucleus of that time is back for another shot this year, and it will face Georgetown in the round of 64.
Wichita State has been mentioned as a potential sleeper to make a deep run in this year's tourney. So, what kind of history are the Shockers and fellow Missouri Valley Conference representative Creighton up against this year?
Since Indiana State's championship game appearance in 1979, the only Missouri Valley Conference team to reach the Elite Eight was Antoine Carr, Cliff Levingston and Wichita State in 1981. Since then, eight Valley teams have reached the Sweet 16, and all lost.
This is the first time since 2007 that the Valley has had multiple teams make the tournament. If there's one thing we've come to expect of teams from the MVC in the tournament, though, it's that they are tough outs. Last year was an aberration, as 14th-seeded Indiana State became the first MVC team to lose by double-digits in an NCAA tournament game since 2006. Fifth-seeded Wichita State and eighth-seeded Creighton are talented enough to make it to the second weekend this year, though Creighton clearly has the tougher road.
NEC still searching for a round-of-64 win
The Northeast Conference is the only current conference yet to win a round-of-64 game (3-30 overall record, all three wins coming in what are considered preliminary rounds). That almost changed in 2010 when Robert Morris lost a tough one to No. 2-seeded Villanova in the round of 64. That's the only time in the past 14 years an NEC team has come within single digits of an NCAA tourney opponent, though. Fast-paced LIU Brooklyn hopes to make NEC history this year, but the Blackbirds have to do it as a No. 16 seed against Michigan State.
Pinning hopes to a first-timer
The MEAC is just 3-30 all-time in NCAA tournament play, but two of those wins account for half of the all-time wins by No. 15 seeds ('97 Coppin State & '01 Hampton). The other win was an opening-round win by FAMU in 2004.
The biggest issue for MEAC teams in recent years has been scoring in the tourney. Of the six games MEAC squads have played in the round of 64 since 2003, only once has a team reached 55 points. (FAMU scored 76 in a 20-point loss to top-seeded Kentucky in 2004.) First-time tourney participant Norfolk State hopes to make a favorable impression against fast-paced Missouri.
Keith Lipscomb is an editor for ESPN Fantasy Games. Chris Fallica is a researcher for ESPN Stats and Information.