Drake senior forward Klayton Korver and his teammates might be new to the NCAA Tournament experience, but they are well aware of what makes March Madness so special.
It's the upsets, and one of the most common involves the No. 5 and No. 12 seeds.
"We've all picked brackets in the past," Korver said Thursday. "We all know about that. But last year there weren't any, so I guess we're hoping for that again this year."
You think? As luck would have it, the Bulldogs, in the NCAA field for the first time since 1971, just happen to be the No. 5 in the West Region and open against No. 12 Western Kentucky at the St. Pete Times Forum in today's opening round. The Times Forum also just happens to have another 5 vs. 12 matchup, Clemson and Villanova, in the Midwest Region.
While Mr. Korver is correct that not a single No. 12 won a game last year, that was the exception. Since the tournament field expanded in 1985, a No. 12 has advanced in 20 of the 23 years. Shoot, as recently as 2002, three of the four No. 12s won their openers, including Creighton over Florida.
You think there might be an upset here today? Hey, it gets better. The other games here pit No. 4s vs. No. 13s, Connecticut-San Diego and Vanderbilt-Siena, and a No. 13 has been an unlucky number at least once in 16 different years since 1985.
What's at play is parity.
That's particularly evident once you get beyond the No. 1-No. 16 and No. 2-No. 15 matchups. No top seed has lost its opener (94-0) and only four No. 2s haven't advanced.
"You may feel that you're superior (as a No. 4 or 5 seed), but you probably aren't," UConn coach Jim Calhoun said. "We're a very good basketball team. … We've had great wins. But we aren't a super team. We're a team that can catch fire in this tournament because I think we have the components to be very, very good at times. We've shown that. But we haven't achieved what a Carolina has. We haven't achieved what a UCLA has."
Kansas coach Bill Self can relate. As recently as 2006, his young, but talented Jayhawks were a No. 4 seed and supposed to handle Bradley and move on, perhaps to the Final Four. Didn't happen. They lost 77-73.
"To me, there's very, very little difference in those teams," Self said. "This is not an excuse, they beat us, but we're starting three freshmen and two sophomores and they're starting (Marcellus) Sommerville, a fifth-year senior, and they have a (NBA) lottery pick (center Patrick O'Bryant) and their guards were veterans and they were on a roll. As soon as I watched tape on them, I'm like 'Good gosh. These guys are good.' "
Of course, Bradley coach Jim Les made sure his players believed the pressure was squarely on Kansas. He knew that was the best way to help them stay relaxed.
"The closer we stayed and the longer the game went and we were in the game, the pressure mounted (on Kansas)," Les said. "The other thing we did was challenge our guys.
"They're watching games all the time and in their minds, they're comparing themselves to the programs that get a little more exposure on TV and those players that get more exposure. 'Hey, you always talk about matching up, maybe we're better than that team or you're better than that player, well, here's your opportunity on this stage to prove yourself.' That gives those 13s and 12s the opportunity they normally don't get during the season and they're fired up for it."
His bunch went on to beat No. 5-seeded Pittsburgh to advance to the Sweet 16.
"Maybe traditional names get more credit," said Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie, who as the coach at Texas A&M in 2006 entered the NCAA as a 12 and drew perennial power Syracuse. "People just look at names sometimes and advance them in the bracket or they look at the seeding and just say, 'Well, this is supposed to happen every time.' But there's a lot of great players in college basketball. There's a lot of great coaches and there's a lot of great teams.''
The Aggies pulled the upset, 66-58.
Florida coach Billy Donovan, for one, bristles at that particular term, upset, at least when it's applied to a No. 12 or 13 seed winning an NCAA Tournament game.
"Generally when you've got a team that maybe hasn't finished the season great and they move into that 12 seed, a lot of times you're dealing with a team that's got incredible focus, fire and passion to take advantage of an opportunity in front of them," he said. "And they are talented enough."
His Gators lost to a pair of No. 12s in recent years, Creighton in 2002 and then Manhattan in 2004.
"We pretty much know the history of the 12 seeds playing five seeds," Western Kentucky senior guard Courtney Lee said. "We're going to come out and play as hard as we can and, hopefully, duplicate that."
Brian Landman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3347.