Tuesday August 11th, 2015

If you’re like us, and consider the first few rounds to be the best part of the NCAA basketball tournament, this late-summer exercise is for you: a bracket packed with nothing but the most head-turning Cinderellas of March Madnesses past. Just Mouse McFadden and Dunk City and Gordon Hayward’s shot at the buzzer glancing off the rim. In honor of all the dilettante secretaries who won the office pool by picking some obscure compass-point school for the romance of it, we’ve collected 16 of college basketball’s sweetest surprises. We’ve seeded them. All we need is for you to tell us who’s best.

In assigning them seeds, we judged each not by how unlikely their few shining moments were; or how endearing a backstory they had; or how apoplectic their coach went on the sideline when, ultimately and inevitably, the clock struck midnight. We judged each only on their basketball bona fides.

Of course, in voting, you can weigh any factor you’d like. Does Bryce Drew’s famous shot to beat Ole Miss in 1998, carefully drawn up and assiduously practiced, constitute the kind of practical magic that leads you to believe that Valparaiso, our No. 16 seed—making the Crusaders the Cinderellas' Cinderella—could win four straight here? If so, by all means, pick Valpo.

Did watching the Golden State Warriors win their NBA title in June have you thinking that any team with Stephen Curry at the controls could win pretty much anything? Then Curry’s own 2008 Davidson Wildcats are there for the choosing, as the No. 4 seed.

Does seeing the 2011 VCU Rams as a No. 11 seed remind you of anything? They began their run from the same position that March in the First Four and won five straight games against power conference teams—four by double digits—to reach the Final Four. So go ahead, pick 'em.

As for the 2013 Wichita State Shockers, our top seed—yes, they were a Cinderella once upon a time—think not of the powerhouse that entered the 2014 NCAAs undefeated or the top-15 team that knocked out in-state rival Kansas to reach the Sweet 16 last March. This is the group of unranked upstarts that eliminated both No. 1 seed Gonzaga and No. 2 Ohio State to reach the school's first Final Four in 48 years.

Of course, you could always embrace the spirit of the exercise and go with the teams whose singular Cinderella experience still ranks as the highest their program has ever soared, such as 2013 Florida Gulf Coast (our No. 14 seed) and 1997 Chattanooga (No. 15), both of whom reached the Sweet 16.

A couple more notes on the field:

• We used as our starting point 1979, the year the tournament committee began the practice of seeding the field in the manner that has become familiar to bracketologists everywhere. So please, spare us the angry emails wondering why we overlooked Bill Bradley’s 1965 Princeton Tigers, or Big Daddy Lattin’s 1966 Texas Western Miners, or Cornbread Maxwell’s 1977 UNC-Charlotte 49ers. Each had Cinderella characteristics, to be sure—but all got fitted for crystal footwear in another era.

• The teams were seeded using Basketball Reference's Simple Rating System (SRS), ranking them by strength within their respective seasons. 

• For our purposes, a major-conference team that muddled through a mediocre regular season, then sneaked into the tournament with a low seed thanks to a surprising conference tournament title or stray at-large bid, is not a Cinderella. We chose our belles of the ball exclusively from mid-majors on down. So you won’t find national champions North Carolina State (1983), Villanova (1985) and Kansas (1988) in our draw, however storybook their runs may have been. No disrespect to those late closers from the ACC, the Big East and the late Big Eight or to the motivational chops of their melodramatic coaches. It’s just a simple sartorial fact: Cinderella doesn’t wear Prada.

Voting begins tomorrow, Thursday, Aug. 13, and runs into next week. Don’t be an evil stepmother. Give the draw an eyeball and submit your picks. It’s not every year that March comes around in August.

The Sweet 16
No. 1 — Wichita State (2013) No. 16 — Valparaiso (1998)
No. 2 — Loyola Marymount (1990) No. 15 — Chattanooga (1997)
No. 3 — Gonzaga (1999) No. 14 — Florida Gulf Coast (2013)
No. 4 — Davidson (2008) No. 13 — Richmond (1988)
No. 5 — Cleveland State (1986) No. 12 — Penn (1979)
No. 6 — Kent State (2002) No. 11 — VCU (2011)
No. 7 — George Mason (2006) No. 10 — Dayton (2014)
No. 8 — Bradley (2006) No. 9 — Butler (2011)

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