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NCAA Tournament picks from our expert

Updated: March 17, 2014 3:06PM



Somehow, defending national champion Louisville, 29-5 with 12 victories in its last 13 games, was relegated by the NCAA tournament selection committee to a No. 4 seed in the upcoming Big Dance.

Somehow, Michigan State, a preseason favorite to win it all and the perpetrator of jaw-dropping nastiness at the Big Ten tournament, likewise is a No. 4.

It all makes one want to shrug and ask: What’s the point of these silly seeds?

Except that they matter.

A lot.

Six of the last seven national title winners were No. 1 seeds. Over the last 16 years, no team seeded worse than third has won it all. For all the talk of Cinderella this time of year, one of the best teams — from one of the power conferences — always cuts down the nets.

Let’s stay on championship trends. Sixteen consecutive tourney winners — again, all from power leagues — were conference regular-season champs, conference tourney champs or, in eight cases (including Louisville last year), both.

Meanwhile, 13 national runners-up were league regular-season and/or league tourney champs. And six of the last nine were both.

Is the chalk starting to look good yet?

Not so fast, friends

You should still have some fun with your brackets, for there has been a run on teams seeded 4 or worse that made it to the Final Four. There have been nine such teams in the last four years alone, including an 8-seed (Butler in 2011), a 9 (Wichita State in 2013) and an 11 (Virginia Commonwealth in 2011).

Also, the last five Final Fours have included seven teams that claimed neither a league regular-season nor league tournament title. So you still have to do a lot of homework before making your picks.

The non-major successor

Picking Wichita State to make a deep run doesn’t count because the Shockers are a No. 1 seed. Picking their old Missouri Valley running mate, Creighton, might have been an obvious move, but national player of the year Doug McDermott and the Bluejays now represent the Big East. That league is nowhere close to what it used to be, but still Creighton is officially ‘‘major.’’

Maybe there won’t be a deep run by any team in this category, but there are some contenders.

Harvard, the No. 12 seed in the East, is 26-4 and in the tournament for a third consecutive year. The Crimson knocked out No. 3 seed New Mexico in 2013.

Stephen F. Austin, the No. 12 seed in the South, has won 28 games in a row and is 31-2 overall. The Lumberjacks are just nutty enough to think they can chop down any of the big boys.

The nation’s leader in field-goal percentage? It’s North Dakota State, also a No. 12 seed. Notre Dame fans will remember losing to this team in South Bend this season.

And, of course, Gonzaga. The Bulldogs were a No. 1 seed last season. Maybe that was a little much, but they’re 28-6 this time around — with no pressure, really. A tough draw for this No. 8 seed with Oklahoma State first and top-seeded Arizona to follow, but it isn’t supposed to be easy.

The year of the freshman

Perhaps never has there been more buzz about a class of college freshmen than there was before this season. Duke’s Jabari Parker, a hero at Simeon High School, has more than delivered. Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid are spectacular, though 7-footer Embiid is expected to miss at least the first tournament game with an injury.

Kentucky’s Julius Randle, Arizona’s Aaron Gordon and Syracuse’s Tyler Ennis have proved worthy of all the hype, too.

Only Gordon plays on a No.  1-seeded team, but all of these freshmen are among the best players in the tournament. If any of them is named tourney MVP, we’ll wonder how we didn’t see it coming.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com

Twitter: @slgreenberg

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STEVE GREENBERG’S PICKS

East Regional winner: Michigan State

South Regional winner: Florida

Midwest Regional winner: Louisville

West Regional winner: Arizona

Cinderella: North Dakota State

Biggest disappointment: San Diego State

National finalist: Louisville

National champion: Florida



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