By Matt Norlander
Made those picks yet? Do you like to wait a bit longer? Or are you one of those counter-culture cool kids that now refuses to make a bracket in order to better experience the NCAA tournament? Hey, I won't disparage. We all love this thing for many different reasons.
But you might need a navigator for knowing which teams are truly worth pulling for. The lower-seeded teams will instinctively draw you and make you a temporary alumnus the second you see a 55-53 score with eight minutes to go in a 4/13 matchup. But in case you want a little background on who's worth pulling for and why, here's the 1-68 order of rooting interest.
The lower the ranking, the more I hate your team. Obviously.
1. Creighton. The Bluejays have a tremendously kind and devoted fan base. The father-son angle of Greg and Doug McDermott has been told a bit too much over the past three years, but how often do we see something this great? Plus, McDermott's the national player of the year and a guy who doesn't take himself seriously. And the team is incredibly fun to watch, too. Go, Jays.
2. North Dakota State. Come on. It's a team from North Dakota and its nickname is the Bison. It's in the favorable 5-12 matchup, so that only adds to it. And Taylor Braun is a do-it-all guy for NDSU. Remember how fun that 2005 Vermont team that beat Syracuse was? North Dakota State is capable of the same.
3. Iowa State. Fred Hoiberg comes back to his alma mater, with zero coaching experience, and has transformed the program. He takes in transfers and turns them into All-America caliber players (see DeAndre Kane this year and Royce White previously). The Cyclones are a good watch and a chic Final Four pick.
4. Arizona. The Wildcats have a stud in Aaron Gordon, and the program long ago shed the label of March underachievers. (Seriously, that feels like a different lifetime.) We've already told you how and why Sean Miller is building an empire out there.
5. Virginia. Because nobody else is rooting for them! Tony Bennett is a humble, faith-based man who's got a No. 1 seed that few people are taking seriously. It's much more, "Oh, you're a 1? Isn't that cute." How many people do you know taking Virginia to reach the Final Four? I'm not saying it's the pick; I'm saying Virginia's extremely easy to root for after making just four tournaments in the past 13 years.
6. Nebraska. Hasn't been to the NCAA tournament in 16 years and employs arguably the most likable coach in the game, Tim Miles. Nebrasketball is now a thing, so be prepared.
7. Wichita State. Should be the best thing about this tournament, but too many people want to see the Shockers fall. I can't put them higher than here. Also, Gregg Marshall rubs some the wrong way. What I love about Marshall: He knows that and doesn't give a damn. Bonus points for Ron Baker's hair. And Fred VanVleet has a terrific name and game.
8. Michigan State. Tom Izzo is close to impossible to root against, so long as you're not a Michigan fan. I get the feeling some want to see MSU not make the Final Four this year for two reasons, though. The first being that Sparty has become ridiculously trendy to slot into the final weekend. Never has a four seed been this loved, well, outside of this year's Louisville team. The other reason is the factoid attached to Izzo's legacy, that every player that's ever stayed four years with Izzo has reached a Final Four. This year's senior class has yet to do it, so don't you feel like the sourpusses of the world want to see him fail?
9. Florida. The Gators are the No. 1 overall seed, which is seldom reason to root. But Billy Donovan's a pretty great guy and this team has public enemies. Plus, wouldn't it be great to see another coach get a third national title? Jim Calhoun did it three years back, but he wasn't as publicly likable as Donovan's become.
10. Providence. The Friars are in the NCAAs for the first time in 10 years, coached by a man who grew up in the area, just made his first Big Dance as a coach -- and is homeless right now. Ed Cooley, who by the way has lost 125 pounds in less than a year, had a portion of his house burn back in January. He's lived in a hotel for more than two months. There is no other option for No. 1 here. (Update: Late Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal first reported one former Providence player and another that's been suspended for the entire season are under investigation amid recent claims from a female that she was sexually assaulted by both last November. This column was posted prior to the report.)
11. Tennessee. Head coach Cuonzo Martin has gone 60-40 in his first three seasons with the Vols, yet more than half the fan base wants the school to fire him and bring back Bruce Pearl. Root for Cuonzo Martin.
12. Stephen F. Austin. Because how can you not root for a team that enters the NCAA tournament with a 28-game winning streak and also forces you to say "eff" when pronouncing its name?
14. VCU. The Rams play fast and hard and swarm the ball. When you've got a scheme with a name (HAVOC), then you've got a good thing going. Shaka Smart also helps in this regard a lot.
15. Villanova. Jay Wright's one of the nicest guys in the profession, and the best-dressed. While Villanova's not really all that interesting this year, the NCAA tournament can turn around things like that in a hurry. What might hurt the cause: Nova has a white guard who can take a big shot. This has unfortunately become reason to dislike a team in many instances.
16. Kansas. The Jayhawks have one of the best athletes in the game and are again a popular Final Four pick. And one of the great teams, visually, to take in. Unfortunately all that success under Bill Self, and way before him, prevents Kansas from being totally embraceable. And the end-of-game "roooooock / chaaaaaaalk / jaaaa-haaawwwwk / kaaaayyyy-yooooou" greek chorus could be seen as patronizing. (It's chillingly cool, if you ask me.)
17. New Mexico. Horribly under-seeded, and the head coach's nickname is "Noodles." And it has an Aussie in the starting lineup. And the team's nickname is "Lobos."
18. Xavier. Classic March team. Xavier usually shows pretty well in the Big Dance. Chris Mack is maybe the best follow of any college basketball coach on Twitter, too.
19. Massachusetts. The dream of the 1990s is alive in Amherst. UMass is back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998. It's led by a 5-foot-7 point guard named Chaz Williams, who is a dynamo. It'd be great to see this team win a couple of games. Head coach Derek Kellogg played for John Calipari during his UMass days, which might dock the team ever so slightly here.
20. Louisville. There's plenty of anti-Pitino sentiment out there, but the Cardinals fight that off by having Russ Smith, a character this sport will miss dearly a month from now. Also, teams trying for back-to-back titles is a really cool thing. You don't want to see Louisville flirt with history?
21. Gonzaga. As long as Mark Few is running things, Gonzaga will always be in the top 25 as far as I'm concerned. But the Bulldogs don't perform well in March, and the secret's out far as this goes. They're now becoming attached to the notion of doing well from November to February, then underwhelming when it means most. Still, the Zags would've been in the top 15 a year ago and the top five a decade ago.
22. Manhattan. Coach Steve Masiello is the fastest talker in the game. I have to dock him points for making transcribing a living hell. And there's still a fading connection to Bobby Gonzalez, the last coach to bring the Jaspers to the NCAAs.
23. Louisiana-Lafayette. Because it's fun to say Ragin' Cajuns. And because it's cool to see really small schools with legitimate NBA prospects. Elfrid Payton is just that for this team.
24. Dayton. Just seems like the right fit here. A lot of people will want to see the Flyers beat bigger in-state foe Ohio State, which refuses to schedule Archie Miller's team.
25. Tulsa. Used to occupy the NCAA tournament with regularity for more than a decade. Then a drop-off came. Not nearly as compelling, but is coached by Danny Manning, so that's pretty cool.
26. Texas. Pretty boring team this year, but at least it's here. Rick Barnes had to hear hot-seat talk entering this season. One of the nicest guys in the profession was in danger of losing his job after failing to make last year's NCAA tournament, the first time in 14 years that had happened.
27. Michigan. Terrific offensive-minded coach with a team that reached the national championship game last year, but ultimately isn't that good on defense. Take 'em or leave 'em. The Wolverines' most exciting aspect is Nik Stauskas' penchant to shoot it from anywhere -- or dare a defender and aggressively attack the paint.
28. Oregon. Pretty fun. The Ducks have the fastest offense in the game. They've got those uniforms. Some hate their home floor, though, so they get docked a few spots for that. Oregon made the Sweet 16 last year, and could do it again, but I don't hear much noise for that right now.
29. Memphis. Josh Pastner doesn't ever swear and has never had a soda in his life. But his basketball teams have yet to reach a second weekend, often making the people of Memphis get crazy and call into radio shows.
30. Saint Louis. A team with no star power boasts the name with the best name in college basketball: Jordair Jett. And Saint Louis has gone through two seasons of a lot of winning after the death of Rick Majerus. It's a touching story that still carries emotional weight.
31. Harvard. Ehhh. Ivy League teams usually get good public backing, but Harvard had its huge moment a year ago when it beat New Mexico. And it's coached by a Duke guy in Tommy Amaker, who's done a ridiculously awesome job there. But it's Harvard, home to the nation's most intellectual elite. We've all got some inferiority issues with that. Can't put the Crimson higher, I'm afraid.
32. Oklahoma. Quite possibly the most neutral team in this entire field, so the Sooners are getting placed right near the middle where they belong. You probably can't name one Oklahoma Sooner, and that's OK. Just know they've got a pretty good player named "Buddy Hield." Buddy!
33. Colorado. The Buffaloes aren't well known, but they've got a great guy and truly tremendous leader -- his rep is great among coaches -- in Tad Boyle. And this team's played itself to a No. 8 seed despite losing its star player, Spencer Dinwiddie, midway through the season. Easy to root for.
34. North Carolina Central. The best MEAC team in years and years. Remember how fun Norfolk State was? Let's root for that again.
35. Saint Joseph's. This one's tricky. Phil Martelli is a big-time part of Philadelphia basketball. But not everyone's a Martelli fan, including SJU fans. Until a few days ago, philmustgo.com had quite the dossier on why a section of the base wanted to have the Hawks start anew. The grandson saves the whole thing, though.
36. BYU. Many think the Cougars shouldn't be in. They got in, and the coach is a cancer survivor. Dave Rose is a terrific man. You could do a lot worse than pull for BYU to win a game or two, even if you think it should be in that other bracket.
37. Kansas State. Not too pro or con here. Just don't know where to place a team that's got a really good fan base but doesn't draw any interest outside of the state of Kansas. Bruce Weber is certainly worthy of some support.
38. American. Makes me think want to sing the theme song from Team America: World Police, so that's a plus.
39. Delaware. The Blue Hens are hurt badly by the fact that they're playing against Michigan State. And nobody's ever seen a blue hen before.
40. UConn. Q rating is climbing after Jim Calhoun retired. Kevin Ollie is considered a bright young basketball mind with a possible future in the NBA. Ollie was a beloved teammate throughout his college and pro career. Shabazz Napier is terrific to watch, but the rest of the team can often let him down.
41. North Carolina State. Team gets in with a tremendous player in T.J. Warren, who could be a stud in getting the Wolfpack out of Dayton and into play in the field of 64. But "State Fan" is a nuisance and prides himself on being such.
42. Texas Southern. Coached by Mike Davis, who got a, as Dickie V would say, RAW DEAL at Indiana back in the day. Have it in your heart to root for the SWAC in the First Four.
43. Albany. The Great Danes is a great nickname, but consider this: Vermont was the best team in Albany's league, and had it won, it probably would've been the best 16 seed in the past decade. If you're the type that wants to see a 16 beat a 1, then look at what Albany just RUINED.
44. UCLA. Leftover stench from the Ben Howland fallout still lingers, and a lot of people don't like Steve Alford. The Bruins are actually a lot of fun to watch, but the mystique around this program has a long way to go before getting back to being nationally among the best.
45. Western Michigan. Will have a few bandwagon fans when people tune in to see the Broncos play Syracuse.
46. Baylor. A LOT of people don't like Baylor. It's fascinating how polarizing this team is. Scott Drew's taken a program that was buried and gotten it to two Elite Eights, sending a few kids to the pros in the process. But in spite of that, Baylor remains a team that just can't get its Q rating up, even if it has flashes of amazing play. Bonus points for Bears center Isaiah Austin playing while blind in one eye.
47. Weber State. No, it's not in Idaho. Not in Colorado either. Nope, not Wyoming. Montana is also wrong. Yes: Utah.
48. Wofford. The Wofford Terriers. Just say those three words randomly a few times later today and see how things go.
49. Mount St. Mary's. I can't find the passion to drum up a reason to like or not like the Mount.
50. Coastal Carolina. Because it's coastal. And it's unclear about which Carolina.
51. Ohio State. Aaron Craft drags this team way down the list. The Aaron Craft hate is, in my opinion, mostly shallow hate. I don't know of many people with a real reason to hate a player that never smack talks, is studying to be a doctor and has never had one off-the-court issue. You got a problem with a guy who can recite the first 50 or so digits of Pi? Actually, because people are weird, this will probably make them detest the kid even more.
52. Stanford. Johnny Dawkins has Duke ties, which hurts, and Stanford's not nearly as captivating as it was when Mike Montgomery got the program to be the third-best in the Pac-10.
53. Mercer. By nature of beating Dunk City this year, prevented Dunk City from getting back to the NCAA tournament. Only thing keeping it out of the 60s is the fact it goes up against Duke on Friday.
54. Cincinnati. Mick Cronin is often angry and his team plays an ugly style of basketball. Few people get fired up about the Bearcats, and they're a popular pick to lose to Harvard this year.
56. Wisconsin. Bo Ryan once tried to prevent a player of his from transferring to Iowa, only to see it happen anyway. And a lot of people don't like the way Wisconsin plays basketball, which is based in a lot of phony misinformation. The team scores and is efficient. The Badgers have only made one Elite Eight under Ryan, though.
57. George Washington. Just not that well-known. And though the practice has helped the team, some might pause at the fact the coaches take away the players' cell phones the night before games.
58. Pittsburgh. Slog of a team that didn't win a lot of good games this year and is in the least compelling 8/9 tilt I can remember in the past five years.
59. North Carolina. Roy Williams' aww-shucks thing doesn't fly with a lot of folks, but daggummit he don't give much of a whip about your opinion on that anyway either, you know. Also: The Uuiversity's football and basketball programs are tied to alleged academic fraud/phony courses. And it's Carolina. They've won a national title twice in the past nine years. Easy for people to hate you when you do that.
60. Eastern Kentucky. Prevented Belmont from making the NCAAs, and it just doesn't feel right this time of year without Belmont.
61. Milwaukee. Green Bay was the mid-major du jour that had big public backing leading up to Selection Sunday. To no avail. The Phoenix are in the NIT because Milwaukee got the job done in the Horizon tournament. Damn you, Panthers!
62. Syracuse. Orange fans are diehard -- and everywhere. Due to Syracuse alumni being prominent in the media, SU gets a big push in the press, and so that creates backlash. And Jim Boeheim, though entertaining, has not endeared himself in recent years. The Bernie Fine scandal remains odd and still exists in a thin haze around this program.
63. New Mexico State. Had players involved in an on-court fight with Utah Valley and its fans, an incident that was started when an NMSU guard threw a ball at a Utah Valley player. Not good.
64. Iowa. Is in a tailspin, having lost six of seven. And the head coach slams chairs and has temper issues. Also, the team plays almost no defense. But for Fran McCaffery's public displays of anger, the man is also going through a tough time now. His son will have surgery to remove a tumor on Wednesday, just hours before Iowa plays Tennessee. Thoughts and prayers with that family.
65. Oklahoma State. Really entertaining team, but Marcus Smart (the fight with the fan and the flopping) will force a lot of people to pull for Gonzaga to beat the Cowboys. Travis Ford -- while not a bad guy -- also isn't the most media-friendly persona out there.
66. Cal Poly. A sub-.500 team in the NCAA tournament. Gotta hate it.
67. Kentucky. The fan base is the most smothering thing in social media of any fan base at any level, college or pro, no matter the sport. John Calipari is a tremendous coach for this program. I hope he stays there another decade. It's not going to happen, but he makes Kentucky interesting no matter the time of year. It's easy to hate Kentucky for all too many reasons. But it'd be a poorer sport if Kentucky somehow became, say, Georgia.
68. Duke. Always Duke.
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Matt Norlander is a contributor to Sports on Earth and a writer at CBSSports.com. He lives in Connecticut and is equal parts obsessed with sports and music. Follow him on Twitter @MattNorlander.