As people watched their men's brackets go up in flames Thursday, it reminded us all how unpredictable things become in March. But what if I told you I could predict the outcome of the women's tournament a day before the darn thing even started? Impressive, right?
Some say the women's tourney is devoid of drama -- that only a few elite teams compete and chalk reigns supreme. Those people were clearly asleep last season, when the women featured more parity than the men. Half of the women's Sweet 16 was made up of teams outside the top three seeds; only four such team's made the men's regional semis. We witnessed a 12-seeded Ball State topple all-mighty Tennessee in the opening round, eighth-seeded Michigan State upset top-seeded Duke in the second round and a pair of 6-seeds (Arizona State and Purdue) come within a win of the Final Four. And yet people still make their pithy jokes. In reality, nothing short of science can determine which team will celebrate in San Antonio with a championship Álamo-de.
Using the precedents set by 28 previous tournaments, it takes just 11 steps to find our national champion. The 12th step is "making amends" for your previous bracket ignorance.
Without further ado
1. No team has completed back-to-back perfect seasons
Let's get rid of the riff-raff right away. Perfection is tough enough to do once, but consecutive unblemished campaigns? Forget about it. Sure, the Huskies have yet to win a game by fewer than 10 points. And that will still technically be true when they're ousted in the first round by SWAC power Southern. When UConn crosses the Mason Dixon line on its way to Norfolk, they enter Jags territory. Game over.
2. No team has won the title with more than 10 losses
Now things get difficult. We've whittled it down to the real contenders, the crème de le crème, the "Sick 63." Tennessee won the title in 1997 with a 29-10 mark, but no champion has had more than 10 losses.
Eliminates: Austin Peay, Cleveland State, DePaul, Hampton, Iowa, Mississippi State, NC State, North Carolina, Northern Iowa, Portland State, Rutgers, St. Francis (PA), UC Riverside
3. No team or coach has won the title in their first tourney appearance
Welcome to the party. Now get out. It's all about experience when we get it down to the "Fabulous 50."
4. No "States" or "Saints" have won it all
If your school's name begins with "Saint" or ends with "State," you might as well stay home. No Saint has ever reached the Final Four, and States have come up empty in eight Final Four trips.
Eliminates: East Tennessee State, Florida State, Fresno State, Iowa State, Michigan State, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, St. John's, San Diego State, South Dakota State
5. Only nine states can claim national titles: California, Connecticut, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia
The 28 NCAA titles reside in just nine different states. If you throw out the mid-Atlantic trio of Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina, that reduces it to 25 titles from just six states. But we'll give all nine a shot for now.
Eliminates: Bowling Green, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Gonzaga, Green Bay, Lehigh, Marist, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Temple, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Xavier
Still alive: Baylor, Chattanooga, Duke, Hartford, James Madison, Liberty, LSU, Middle Tennessee, Notre Dame, Southern, Stanford, TCU, Tennessee, Texas, Texas A&M, Tulane, Vanderbilt, Virginia
6. No Tennessee school outside of Knoxville has won the title
There are an incredible six Tennessee schools in the field of 64. But do you really expect Pat Summitt to allow the national title to enter the Volunteer State without stopping in Knoxville?
Eliminates: Chattanooga, Middle Tennessee, Vanderbilt
Still alive: Baylor, Duke, Hartford, James Madison, Liberty, LSU, Notre Dame, Southern, Stanford, TCU, Tennessee, Texas, Texas A&M, Tulane, Virginia
7. No team has won the title with more than four conference losses
If you can't exhibit some measure of dominance in your conference, what chance do you have to win six straight games against the nation's elite?
Eliminates: Baylor, James Madison, LSU, Texas, Texas A&M, Virginia
Still alive: Duke, Hartford, Liberty, Notre Dame, Southern, Stanford, TCU, Tennessee, Tulane
8. No coach has waited more than five years for his\her second or third title
Thanks for playing, Muffet McGraw (first title in 2001) and Tara VanDerveer (second title in 1992).
Eliminates: Notre Dame, Stanford
Still alive: Duke, Hartford, Liberty, Southern, TCU, Tennessee, Tulane
9. No team from Tennessee's region has won the national title, aside from the Lady Vols
Tennessee's tournament dominance is well-documented. Eight national titles and 18 Final Fours speak for themselves. But perhaps most impressive is this: In 28 years, no team coming from Tennessee's region has won the national title -- except for the Lady Vols.
Eliminates: Duke, Hartford
Still alive: Liberty, Southern, TCU, Tennessee, Tulane
10. No non-living mascot has won the national title
At this point, we use only the most rational criteria. How can you win the title if your mascot isn't breathing? Green Waves and Flames belong in a "Captain Planet" episode. Not San Antonio.
Eliminates: Liberty, Tulane
Still alive: Southern, TCU, Tennessee
11. No team has won the title the season after a first-round exit
Tennessee's first-ever first-round exit comes back to haunt the Lady Vols once again. No team has rebounded from a first-round loss to win the title the following season. TCU also lost in the first round last year, meaning we have ourselves a national champion.
Eliminates: TCU, Tennessee
Still alive: Southern
That's right -- the Southern Jaguars will celebrate in San Antonio. Sure, the SWAC may be 0-18 all-time in the tournament, but if this exercise has taught us anything, it's that there's a first time for everything. Aside from the previous 11 steps. The Jags will use the momentum from their mild upset of Connecticut to run the table and bring the national title back to Louisiana for the first time since 1988. Mark it down.
Gregory Dohmann is a researcher for ESPN Productions.