Despite it happening twice in the past eight NCAA Tournaments, it's still a surprise to see a double-digit seed reach the Final Four. LSU in 1986 started the trend, but it was 20 years before 11th-seeded George Mason made the national semifinals. Only five years later, VCU Havoc-ed past everyone to get to the Final Four before falling. There are three candidates to join that group this year: No. 10 Stanford, No. 11 Tennessee and No. 11 Dayton.
It wouldn't carry the same sort of shock if one of those three teams made it to Dallas, though. Part of the fun of George Mason and VCU was the fact both schools were from the Colonial Athletic Association, a mid-major conference that didn't get more than two or three bids to the NCAA Tournament. Dayton was among six Atlantic 10 teams to get to the tournament, while Tennessee and Stanford are from traditional power conferences.
With all that said, it would still ruin a lot of brackets if a double-digit seed won two more games and reached Dallas. The Sweet 16 is usually the last stop for these sorts of teams -- so will we see it happen? Let's take a look.
No. 10 Stanford
Why it could happen: The Cardinal certainly won't be intimidated by anyone the rest of the way. They already beat Kansas in the Round of 32 after taking care of New Mexico in the Round of 64, and also own regular-season wins over UCLA and Connecticut. Moreover, Stanford will have a size advantage on most teams. Dwight Powell is a matchup nightmare up front, while Stefan Nastic and Josh Huestis are also solid. Chasson Randle is one of the most aggressive scoring guards left in the tournament, and Anthony Brown is a good two-way player. They can match up with most teams left in the dance. Stanford also defends effectively, as witnessed by the zone defense used to beat Kansas.
Why it couldn't happen: In the final minutes against Kansas, Stanford looked completely lost against the Jayhawks' pressure. Randle was turning it over, and the lack of a secondary ball-handler on the court really hindered the Cardinal. Randle is more of a scorer, and there are no other experienced guards in the rotation. Brown can knock down shots, but he's not going to break a press consistently. A team like Florida could have a field day if the Gators decide to utilize a press against the Cardinal in the Elite Eight. Moreover, Powell and especially Nastic have difficulties with foul trouble. They need to stay on the floor.
Chances: I think Stanford has the edge against Dayton, but the Cardinal would have a tough time with Florida. The Gators can match their size inside, and could also stifle Randle, both in the half-court and by forcing turnovers. Stanford should root for UCLA.
No. 11 Tennessee
Why it could happen: There are few teams in the NCAA Tournament playing better than the Volunteers right now. Their past seven wins have been by at least 13 points, with the lone loss during that stretch coming to Florida in the SEC tournament. Tennessee is one of the most physical teams remaining in the dance, with Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon dominating on the glass. When Stokes is aggressive, he's an intimidating force. Moreover, Jordan McRae is a terrific scorer and can carry the Vols on the perimeter. The key has been the play of Antonio Barton at point guard and Josh Richardson on the wing. Barton had 18 points against Mercer, and he needs to take care of the ball. Richardson has been fantastic in three tournament games, averaging 19.3 points so far. When the offense is clicking, Tennessee is tough to beat because of its rebounding and defense.
Why it couldn't happen: Tennessee has been prone to slipups this season. The Volunteers have losses to Texas A&M (twice), Vanderbilt and UTEP -- although they have completely turned it around the past month or so. But if the outside shots aren't falling and Barton isn't initiating offense effectively, the half-court sets can get stagnant. The Volunteers aren't going to change the game with their speed or by forcing turnovers, so they have to crash the offensive glass and have the perimeter guys knock down shots. A team that can hold its own on the boards and also stretch the Tennessee defense out on the other end could win.
Chances: Despite having a more difficult road than Stanford or Dayton, the Volunteers have the team best equipped to reach Dallas. They are hot at the right time. Against Michigan, the Vols' strength on the inside could be a major factor -- and then they would have a legitimate shot against Louisville or Kentucky.
No. 11 Dayton
Why it could happen: On paper, the Flyers don't have the talent to reach Dallas. But they weren't more talented than Ohio State or Syracuse, either, and ended up escaping those teams by a combined three points. They are playing fearless right now, and have only lost three games since Jan. 25 -- all to Saint Joseph's. And the Hawks are no longer in the tournament. It starts with Dayton's versatility and depth on the offensive end. The Flyers have the ability to put at least four guys on the court at the same time who can shoot, and Matt Kavanaugh also showed some face-up ability against Ohio State in the Round of 64. Devin Oliver, Dyshawn Pierre, Jordan Sibert and Vee Sanford are all capable 3-point shooters, and Khari Price can knock them down too. Scoochie Smith provides a chance of pace off the bench at the point.
Why it couldn't happen: The Flyers are the underdog of the Sweet 16. They were the sixth Atlantic 10 team in the field, but are the last one still in the NCAA Tournament. Can they keep the hot streak going? It could be tough. Dayton has to stretch out the opposing defense, meaning the Flyers have to be making shots from the perimeter. They have to take care of the ball and hold their own at the point of the attack, while also being disciplined at the other end of the floor. They have a tendency to foul too often.
Chances: Dayton likely has the lowest probability of reaching Dallas. The Flyers could have trouble dealing with Stanford's frontcourt group, while Khari Price will have to step up defensively on Chasson Randle. If they do get past the Cardinal, either Florida or UCLA is waiting in the Elite Eight. Those teams can create issues for Archie Miller and Dayton.