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2024 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Preview: Trends Indicate Path is Clear for Cinderella Runs and Potentially Unexpected Outcomes

The 2024 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament is shaping up to be another wide open field full of surprises. While the top seeds normally have historical advantages based on stats and metrics, in recent years we have seen an increasing number of upsets significantly change the landscape of the bracket earlier than expected.

One of the most noticeable trends is the success of double digit seeds making deep runs. At least one team seeded 10th or lower has advanced to the Sweet Sixteen in 15 straight tournaments. Last year saw a record four such teams reach the second weekend, including a Cinderella story from 15th seeded Princeton all the way to the Elite Eight. Lower seeded teams are clearly gaining more and more upsets as even double digit seeds now routinely win multiple games.

Looking closer at specific seeds, the 15th seeds have been particularly formidable. Teams from the 15 line have won their opening game in three straight tournaments, also a first, while making the Sweet Sixteen each time. Oral Roberts in 2021 was the most recent example prior to last year's run by Princeton. There appears to be little difference historically between 12th and 15th seeds making the second round lately as well.

Upsets have not been limited to double digit seeds either. At least one top 4 seed has fallen in the first round in 14 of the past 15 tournaments. Just last year saw the highly unusual event of three 1 seeds losing their opener, including reigning champ Purdue falling to First Four squad FDU. Top seeds have struggled in recent times to live up to their billing beyond the first weekend.

Conference performances vary greatly tournament to tournament as well. The ACC continues to churn out consistent success landing multiple Sweet 16 teams nearly every year. On the other hand, the struggling Big Ten has not seen a national champion since 2000 and had nobody past the first weekend only three years ago. Mid-Majors like the Mountain West finally broke through last year but still seek more consistent runs.

Looking ahead to this year's event, defending champ UConn draws the coveted 1 seed as they attempt to do what no other team has since Florida in 2007—repeat as champions. But recent history shows defending title holders routinely fail to make it out of the first weekend, let alone defend their crown. Tennessee, another 1 seed, owns the 4th most tournament appearances all-time without reaching a Final Four. Others like Iowa State and Duke carry the burden of high expectations with lofty seeds but tough paths.

While a few blue bloods sit near the top of the bracket, the wide open nature of the tournament suggests we could see some surprising teams make deep pushes none predict. Lower seeds like San Diego State and Tennessee will try to continue trends, while mid-majors like Gonzaga and Saint Mary's could surprise. After a season of upsets, the chances clearly exist for more shocking runs to unfold starting this week in the 2024 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. History says nothing is guaranteed, and an unexpected champion may emerge when the confetti falls.

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