If the NCAA men’s basketball tournament began today instead of March 19, here are Mark Wiedmer’s top four seeds in each regional:
EAST — 1. Duke, 2. Michigan State, 3. Marquette, 4. Oklahoma State
SOUTH — 1. Louisville, 2. Ohio State, 3. Kansas State, 4. Miami
MIDWEST — 1. Indiana, 2. Kansas, 3. Florida, 4. Saint Louis
WEST — 1. Gonzaga, 2. Georgetown, 3. Michigan, 4. New Mexico
They all know the history. George Mason in 2006. Butler in 2010 and 2011. Virginia Commonwealth in 2011.
So-called mid-majors, they shocked all of college basketball by reaching the NCAA tournament Final Four. That 2010 Butler squad even came within an inch or two of winning, Gordon Hayward's desperation 3-pointer at the close of the Bulldogs' title game against Duke bouncing out instead of in.
So when Creighton narrowly defeated Wichita State on Sunday to win the Missouri Valley Conference tournament 68-65, Bluejays star Doug McDermott knew exactly whom he hopes his team can copy in this year's March Madness.
"We want to be that team this year," McDermott told the media. "I think we're going to be ready for whatever Selection Sunday brings."
But which teams outside the top seven or eight teams should the fans be ready to see shock the nation in the weeks ahead? Which schools have realistic chances to knock off a No. 1 or 2 seed? Which could realistically reach this year's Final Four in Atlanta?
Some will no doubt point to this year's models at VCU and Butler and include them in the mix, and they could get there, as could Southern Conference champ Davidson, which won its 17th straight game -- currently the longest active streak in college men's hoops -- in beating the College of Charleston in the SoCon tourney title game.
But for today's story only, we'll focus on the Feisty Foursome of Creighton, Memphis, New Mexico and Saint Louis, each team capable of a deep run.
Creighton Bluejays (27-7)
RPI/schedule strength: 25/75
The Bluejays have won at California and Nebraska and beaten Wisconsin on a neutral court. McDermott may be the MVC player of the year, but he's far from Creighton's only quality player, despite averaging 23 points a game.
Referring to Jahenns Manigat's 16 points and reserve Ethan Wragge's five 3-pointers, Wichita wing Ron Baker noted during Sunday's postgame news conference: "You've got to have your head on a swivel at all times [on defense]. They've got shooters everywhere and they're tough to guard."
According to USA Today, a Blujays fan held high a sign during Sunday's game that read: "We've given up losing for Lent."
If Creighton reaches a Thursday-Saturday regional, the Blue Jays just might make the Final Four, since Easter falls on March 31, six days before college basketball's last weekend.
Memphis Tigers (27-4)
RPI/schedule strength: 16/78
Since losing at home to Louisville on Dec. 15, the Tigers have won 21 of their last 22 games, including all 16 of their Conference USA contests and at Tennessee, 85-80.
After falling 89-73 to Memphis a couple of weeks ago, Southern Miss coach Donnie Tyndall said of the Tigers: "They're arguably the best passing team in all of college basketball. I think they had 27 assists on 31 field goals the first time we played them, and tonight they had 25 assists on 29 made field goals. That's unbelievable."
That's also why Memphis is a threat to reach the Final Four for the fourth time in school history.
New Mexico Lobos (26-5)
RPI/schedule strength: 2/3
Lobos coach Steve Alford famously won an NCAA title during his playing days at Indiana. If Mountain West Conference regular-season MVP Kendall Williams can turn in a few more games like he had in helping snap Colorado State's 27-game home winning streak -- Williams scored 46 points -- the Lobos just might carry Alford back to the Final Four as a coach.
Especially when you consider this quote from San Diego State coach Steve Fisher, who won the NCAA title as Michigan's head coach in 1989: "New Mexico's a great team defensively. They guard hard and they guard well, and they've got a lot of weapons."
Saint Louis Billikens
RPI/schedule strength: 27/70
If there's a sentimental favorite in this 75th NCAA tourney, it should be Saint Louis, whose coach, Rick Majerus, died of a heart attack in early December, after taking a leave of absence in late summer.
In his place has stepped Jim Crews, who's done such a good job of getting under the skin of Billikens opponents that New Mexico's Alford earned two technicals and was ejected during a 60-46 loss.
Saint Louis also has beaten VCU (76-62) and Butler (65-61), causing Bulldogs coach Brad Stevens to note, "It was an absolute joy to watch one team play. The problem was, it wasn't the team I coach."
Come the NCAA tournament, it should be an absolute joy to watch the Feisty Four attempt to advance through the Dance. Unless, of course, it's your team they're playing.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...