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Everyone's a fan of the underdog. It's one of the main tenets of March Madness: the theory that every favorite is vulnerable, making the tournament such must-see theater. It's why, even though the Louisville Cardinals took the NCAA title last spring, you could argue the high-flying Florida Gulf Coast Eagles were the winners of the 2013 tournament.
George Mason, Butler, VCU and Wichita State have proved "mid-major" is not a connotation to be taken lightly. Moreover, out of the past 12 Final Four teams, only two – Kentucky in 2012, Louisville last year – were No. 1 seeds.
It should be noted that six of the past seven tournament victors have been No. 1 seeds, meaning you might want to think twice about circling that No. 5 seed as champion. Nevertheless, upsets are bound to happen. So which teams might bust your bracket? Here are the projected dark horses from the WhatIfSports.com 2014 Bracket Preview:
The initial rounds look relatively quiet, going all chalk save No. 9 Pittsburgh's win over Colorado. The Sweet-16 seems to bring much of the same…until we see the mighty UCLA Bruins taking down the region's top-seeded Florida Gators. Though Billy Donovan's squad has not lost since December 2, it appears the engines aren't giving much love to the Gators' SEC schedule. Given the Bruins' recent victory over Arizona in the Pac-12 Championship, this shake-up isn't far-fetched. UCLA could not carry this providence into the Elite Eight, however, vaulting the Syracuse Orange back to the Final Four.
To amend the advice of the immortal Coach Finstock, there are three rules I live by: never get less than twelve hours sleep, never get involved with a woman with a tattoo of a dagger on her body and never bet against Tom Izzo in March. Stick to that, and everything else is cream cheese.
Similar to the South, little havoc was wreaked in the opening rounds of the East, with the top four seeds advancing to the Sweet 16. At this precipice, the region was dealt a blow with the Virginia Cavaliers sent packing by the Michigan State Spartans. Concededly, this may not be the biggest surprise, as the Spartans have arguably the deepest team in the dance and disposed of two No. 2 seeds in the Big Ten conference tournament in Wisconsin and Michigan. Alas, Sparty could not parlay this upset into another Final Four appearance for Izzo, as Jay Wright and the Villanova Wildcats upended Michigan State in the Elite Eight.
The western half of our country likes to flaunt a rebellious, nonconformist tone. This identity is certainly present in the West Region, with the upper-echelon teams hitting the ground like Angel Eyes in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
A first round of tranquility was immediately overturned by weekend chaos.
The No. 1 seed Arizona Wildcats see their season ended at the hands of Marcus Smart and the Oklahoma State Cowboys. Also meeting a demise is Doug McDermott and the Creighton Bluejays, falling to a pesky Baylor Bears squad. Both these sleepers continued their prosperity in the Sweet 16, with the Cowboys taking care of business against rival Oklahoma and Baylor beating Wisconsin. This Big 12 Elite Eight matchup produced a delight, with the No. 6 seed Bears cutting down the nets on their way to Dallas.
Can a lower-seeded team be considered an underdog if everyone expects said club to win?
That's the predicament the Louisville Cardinals find themselves in. Although some bracketologists penciled in Rick Pitino and company as a No. 1 seed contender, the defending champs were bestowed a No. 4 seed. It appears Louisville has taken this slight to heart.
Following a victory over the Xavier Musketeers (which won it's play-in game AND knocked off No. 5 seed St. Louis) in the round of 32, the Cardinals ended the magical campaign of the Wichita State Shockers. And while this arena has earned the title of the “Region of Doom,” Louisville's path to the Final Four is not as formidable as believed, as the Iowa Hawkeyes logged upset victories over UMass, Duke and Michigan. This performance was not expected from the Hawkeyes, who stumbled into the tournament losing six of their last seven outings. Unfortunately for Iowa, their slingshot breaks in the Elite Eight, giving the Cardinals a chance to defend their championship belts.
So how does the Final Four play out? Click here to see all the results of the WhatIfSports.com Bracket Preview.
Joel Beall is the Assistant Content Manager for WhatIfSports.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.