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Historically, advancing an underdog past the Sweet 16 was a sure-fire strategy for bracket bankruptcy. Sure, an occasional Gonzaga or Valparaiso would inflict carnage in the opening rounds, but mostly the clock struck midnight on the aspirations of college basketballís Cinderellas.
Yet the turn of the century begat a new era of amateur hoops, one where the so-called ďmid-majorsĒ made their mark. Hailing from the unheralded Colonial Athletic Association as an at-large No. 11 seed, the Patriots of George Mason shocked the sports world by knocking off powerhouse programs Michigan State, North Carolina and Connecticut on their way to a Final Four appearance in 2006. Emerging from the lowly Horizon League, Butler was just inches away from upending the Duke Blue Devils in the 2010 National Championship. Proving their run was no fluke, the Bulldogs returned to the Final Four last season, this time joined by giant-killer brethren Virginia Commonwealth, who had to defeat Southern Cal simply to make the field of 64. Once a showcase for the sportís Goliaths, March Madness has transformed into a forum for David (including Davidson, a No. 10 seed in 2008 that nearly ousted eventual champ Kansas in the regional finals).
So when the WhatIfSports.com engines released the 2012 March Madness Bracket Preview featuring an Elite Eight with seven No. 1 or 2 seeds, the public outcry was understandable. However, this is not to say upsets are non-existent in the simulationís output, with predicted surprises bountiful throughout the bracket. Perhaps the biggest shocker comes from the fourteenth-seeded BYU Cougars, who had to overcome Iona in a Dayton play-in game to earn a matchup with No. 3 seed Marquette. The Golden Eaglesí high-scoring attack and senior-laden roster has made Buzz Williamsí squad a trendy Final Four pick, adding further amazement to the Cougarsí victory. Alas, the engines envision BYUís run to end at the hands of Murray State in the Third Round.
Also holding a No. 14 seed is Belmont, the Atlantic Sun Conference champions. Winners of their last 14 games, the Bruins have big-time experience, taking Duke to the wire in a 77-76 loss at the beginning of the season. Fourth in the nation in team scoring with an average of 81.5 points per game, Belmont features a balanced offensive assault and a deep roster. Considering Georgetown has lost a 3-14 battle in the recent past (a 97-83 drubbing at the hands of the Ohio Bobcats in 2010), itís easy to imagine the Hoyas hitting the tournament showers early. Unfortunately, like their Cougar comrades, Belmont falls in the Third Round, albeit to a fellow underdog in eleventh-seeded N.C. State.
The Wolfpack arenít the only No. 11 seeds to do some damage in our forecast. Despite facing two of the hottest teams on the hardwood and losing four of their previous seven contests, the Texas Longhorns take down the Cincinnati Bearcats and Florida State Seminoles to reach the Sweet 16 thanks to a newfound focus on the defensive end.
Of course, a plethora of other upsets could transpire in the next few weekends, throwing a wrench into our prognostication. But thatís what makes March so maddening: the expectation of the unexpected.
For the rest of WhatIfSports.comís March Madness predictions, click here.
Joel Beall is the Assistant Content Manager for WhatIfSports.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.