What’s better than when David takes down Goliath in March Madness? Not much! That’s what it’s all about! The small schools get a chance to run with the big dogs, and when they come out on top there’s nothing better (unless that giant they take down is your pick to win it all, in which case, it sucks to be you). This year, the field is chock-full of smaller programs including the Liberty Flames, who became only the second 20-loss team in history to make the tournament, after they won the Big South conference tourney. And while Liberty won’t likely make it too far, there are plenty of small schools that could do some real damage in 2013.
5 Davidson Wildcats
They may not have the national attention they had a few years back when Steph Curry was lighting up the scoreboards nightly, but as usual, coach Bob McKillop has pieced together a formidable and underrated Davidson team. Posting an overall record of 27-6, the Wildcats went 17-1 and absolutely ran away with the Southern Conference title for the second year in a row. Now a 14-seed in the East, Davidson will face a tough first-round task in 3-seed Marquette, but you can’t count out a Bob McKillop-led team until the clock hits zero.
4 Creighton Bluejays
There are few better stories in college basketball than the run of success that coach Greg McDermott and his son, forward Doug McDermott. The combo has won 79 games over the last three seasons, winning 27 this year on their way to another Missouri Valley Conference title. The Bluejays are led the entire nation in team field goal percentage and were 5th overall in team assists, so when their offense is clicking, they can definitely hang with the big boys. Now a 7-seed in the Midwest, Creighton could very well be the first team to fell Goliath, with a potential matchup against Duke set for the 2nd round.
3 Butler Bulldogs
This list isn’t meant to be evidence of some kind of under the table deal with the Atlantic 10; the conference is just that good. The Bulldogs have long been a perennial danger to big-time tournament bids, but they proved they were more than just a cute little story back in 2011, when they made it to the championship game and very nearly came away with a win. This season, after finishing 3rd in the A10 with a 26-8 record, the Dogs earned a 6-seed in the East region where they’ll face fellow upset threat Bucknell in the first round. But don’t be surprised if Butler once again dances into the Sweet Sixteen.
2 VCU Rams
Another great team from the extremely deep Atlantic 10, the Rams are a team that no fan wants to see show up in their squad’s bracket. After their improbable trip to the Final Four two years ago, VCU solidified themselves as giant killers and always have the potential for a deep run. With six tourney wins in the past two years, coach Shaka Smart has made his team, and the nation at large, believe that the Rams are for real. With a 5-seed in the South region, VCU is once again in a bracket where Kansas sits at #1, the same circumstances that set up their Final Four appearance in 2011.
1 St. Louis Billikens
What the hell is a Billiken? Who knows, but sure as hell can play basketball. The Billikens are looking like they may just be this year’s Cinderella as they bring a veteran squad to the number 4 seed in the Midwest bracket. St. Louis is playing inspired basketball, honoring their coach Rick Majerus, who passed away in December. After a 27-6 season in which they won the Atlantic 10 conference, the Billikens could pose a legitimate threat to anyone who comes across them in the tourney. There’s even a chance they’ll meet overall #1 Louisville in the Sweet 16, and that matchup would be far from a “gimme” for the Cardinals.