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Ranking the top 16 seeds from upset bait to sure things
For every upset early in the NCAA Tournament, there’s a team on the other end heading home with unfulfilled expectations.
The top four seeds enjoy the most beneficial status in the field -- playing closer to home, playing against weaker competition. But every year, some of these will watch the Sweet 16 from their couches.
The No. 1 seeds are overwhelmingly favored to escape the second weekend, but that percentage drops with the No. 2 seeds and furthermore with the next eight teams.
Who could those early exits be this season? Which among the top 16 teams in the field are looking like upset bait and which look like sure things for the NCAA Tournament?
We ranked each of the top four seeds in each region from the most likely to last only one or two games in the Tournament to the most likely to advance to the Sweet 16.
Related: All Athlon Sports 2013 NCAA Tournament content
WHO COULD FLOP IN THE 2013 NCAA TOURNAMENT?
Ranking the top 16 seeds from upset bait to sure things
1. Michigan (No. 4 seed in the South)
It’s been easy to hype up South Dakota State’s Nate Wolters, but it’s going to be a tall talk for him to outplay Trey Burke, though it’s not impossible. VCU could be the toughest second-game opponent for any of the top 16 seeds, especially on one day’s rest. At 6-6 down the stretch, Michigan did not look like a team that wants any part of Shaka Smart’s defensive pressure.
COMPLETE REGION PREVIEWS
East | Midwest | South | West
2. Kansas State (No. 4 seed in the West)
Bruce Weber may have the toughest scouting assignment in the first round, preparing for either Boise State’s up-tempo team or La Salle’s sound defense in the round of 64. After that, Kansas State could face a suffocating defensive team in Wisconsin or the sometimes-unhinged play of Ole Miss’ Marshall Henderson. Playing in Kansas City will be a major advantage, though.
3. Florida (No. 3 seed in the South)
At one point, the Gators may have been our top team pegged for an early exit. Florida is 0-6 in games decided by single digits and was less than impressive playing away from Gainesville. The Gators shouldn’t have much trouble with an up-tempo Northwestern State team in the round of 64, and their second round opponents are less than inspiring. UCLA struggled with chemistry all season and now will miss one of the most valuable players in Jordan Adams. Minnesota has intriguing pieces to stage an upset with Trevor Mbakwe’s offensive rebounding and Andre Hollins boom-or-bust play, but the Gophers are limping into the Tournament.
Related: Our best tips for your bracket pool
4. Miami (No. 2 seed in the East)
The Hurricanes rebounded nicely from their late-season offensive woes to win the ACC Tournament. The Canes have the veterans, the balance, the talent and the coach to make a deep run in the Tournament, but they’re short on meaningful postseason experience. If Illinois has one of its hot-shooting nights, the Illini are capable of an upset, and Colorado’s Andre Roberson could cause problems for the Canes’ Kenny Kadji. Both Illinois’ and Colorado’s best days came before calendar turned to 2013, so they’ll have to regain form in a hurry.
5. Ohio State (No. 2 seed in the West)
Defending Iona’s Momo Jones in round of 64 will be tough, but Aaron Craft is up to the task. Seventh-seeded Notre Dame has had trouble advancing in the field over the years, so we’re more concerned about Iowa State. The Cyclones answered the call late in the season in defeating Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. Iowa State also leads the country by making 9.8 three-pointers a game. If the Cyclones can get hot and stay hot from three, they have a chance.
6. Saint Louis (No. 4 seed in the Midwest)
Ask Michigan State how it feels about this Saint Louis group in the Tournament. Saint Louis came within four points of a Sweet 16 berth last season in a 65-61 loss to then-No. 1 seed Michigan State. Now, Jim Crews' team is playing its best basketabll of 2013. The Billikens haven’t lost a game in regulation since Jan. 12. What’s most worrisome about their draw is the round of 32, where they could face Oklahoma State’s precocious freshman Marcus Smart or an Oregon team that’s 21-4 with point guard Dominic Artis in the lineup. The Billikens still have the edge in experience with senior Kwamain Mitchell and junior Dwayne Ellis.
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7. Kansas (No. 1 seed in the South)
Bill Self is way beyond his early exit days in the NCAA Tournament, but the round of 32 should be of concern. North Carolina’s smaller lineup surged at the end of the season, and Villanova won’t be intimidated by playing a No. 1 seed. Both teams are capable of defeating a team that was prone to puzzling lapses this season (a three-game losing streak and a 23-point loss to Baylor).
8. Syracuse (No. 4 in the East)
The Orange might be more likely to be upset bait against a Montana team at full strength, but the 13th-seeded Grizzlies are without one of their three scorers averaging more than 13 points per game. If Syracuse advances, its fate may depend on which opponent shows up. UNLV has the talent to make a run to the Sweet 16 despite underachieving during the regular season. When he’s on, Anthony Bennett can be as good as any player in the Big East. Meanwhile, Cal is perhaps underseeded at No. 12 and will need its backcourt of Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs to take over.
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9. New Mexico (No. 3 in the West)
With only one senior and one junior, 14th-seeded Harvard probably doesn’t have the veterans to score an upset of this magnitude. Belmont may upset Arizona to face the Lobos, but do the Bruins have the ability to reach the Sweet 16? The most intriguing matchup for New Mexico may be Arizona. While New Mexico has been a balanced team with players like Kendall Williams, Tony Snell and Alex Kirk all able to carry their share, Arizona struggled to put its pieces together. The Wildcats still be able to push the pace on New Mexico.
10. Georgetown (No. 2 seed in the South)
We’re going to assume this Hoyas team is too good to lose to a No. 15 seed. The real questions are in the next round. No. 7 seed San Diego State, who face a non-descript Oklahoma team in the round of 64, will be one of the few teams with a player as valuable to his own team (Jamaal Franklin) as Otto Porter is to the Hoyas.
11. Gonzaga (No. 1 seed in the West)
The Bulldogs will face the strongest No. 16 seed in Southern, the only 16 seed to win both its regular season and conference tournament titles. No. 8 Pittsburgh and No. 9 Wichita State are solid teams, but Pittsburgh may be the most worrisome matchup for Gonzaga. If freshman Steven Adams can keep Kelly Olynyk in check, and Pittsburgh’s perimeter players have a good day, Gonzaga could be on upset alert.
12. Marquette (No. 3 in the East)
Buzz Williams has led his team to back-to-back Sweet 16 trips with a cast of players few people acknowledged until they started beating up on Big East teams. It’s easy to forget the Golden Eagles, though seeded third in the Big east Tourney, finished tied with Louisville and Georgetown for the league lead. If Marquette avoids an upset with Davidson, are you going to doubt the Golden Eagles’ ability to execute a scouting report against Butler’s Rotnei Clarke or Bucknell’s Mike Muscala?
13. Michigan State (No. 3 seed in the Midwest)
The Spartans shouldn’t lose to Valparaiso after navigating the gauntlet of the Big Ten. And while Michigan State has its flaws, especially at point guard, it’s tough to pick against Tom Izzo in the second round. Memphis is the best potential matchup against the Spartans in the second round, but Memphis hasn’t proven it can defeat top-flight teams under Josh Pastner, whether in the Tournament or the regular season.
14. Indiana (No. 1 seed in the East)
The biggest threat to the Hoosiers may be eighth-seeded NC State, which has the talent to stack up against Indiana. That said, NC State might not be able to play soundly enough and disciplined enough to defeat a Fran Dunphy-coached Temple team in the round of 64.
15. Louisville (No. 1 seed in the Midwest)
Being the top overall seed has its perks. The Cardinals will draw either a 20-loss Liberty team or MEAC No. 7 seed North Carolina A&T in the second round. In the second round, the Cardinals may be more concerned with facing No. 8 seed Colorado State and its rebounding prowess rather than No. 9 seed Missouri. The Cards defeated Missouri 84-61 in November on a neutral court. It’s tough to see either beating a hot Louisville team in Lexington.
16. Duke (No. 2 seed in the Midwest)
The Blue Devils won’t fall to a No. 15 seed two seasons in a row. Unlike last season, the Blue Devils are at full strength and Albany doesn’t have a player like Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum. In the second round the Blue Devils will draw one of two flawed teams in Cincinnati, who can’t score, or Creighton, who can’t defend.