"It's because of the 3-point shot," Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. "If you make a lot of 3s and you defend the 3, you're going to have a chance to win. It doesn't matter how much more or less talent you have. People ask me all the time for a more sophisticated answer, but that's it. If you make 3s, you have a better chance of winning."
Count Ken Pomeroy among the skeptics who think we're not as close to the big upset as everyone else does. The stats guru thinks there is actually less parity than people think and that the committee is doing a better job than ever seeding the tournament. In his eyes, Princeton in 1989 -- with its 19-8 overall record and 11-3 conference mark -- was a decent 16-seed, maybe better than you would see today.
But if there is a gap closer, he does agree it could be the 3. Look at the three near-misses in the past two years: Southern went 10-for-23 against Gonzaga from beyond the arc, UNC Asheville sunk nine 3s against Syracuse. The outlier, Western Kentucky, hit only three, but that was still three more than Kansas.
"There's no doubt that can be an equalizer," Pomeroy said. "Look in the Patriot League at a team like Colgate that shoots 40 percent from 3, a team like that, anything can happen if they get hot."
Hot, of course, can take on many forms in a one-and-done basketball tournament. Self wonders if the change in the tournament structure might give a team an advantage.
Three years ago, the NCAA introduced the First Four. Two of those winners slide into a 1-16 game.
"It may sound like a minor thing," Self said, "but it could be an advantage from a nerve standpoint."
That hasn't happened yet. All 16 opening-round winners that were 16-seeds have been pretty well handled in their next game. But VCU and La Salle rode that momentum to a Final Four and an Elite Eight, respectively. So it's not out of the question to think a 16-seed could do it.
Maybe the biggest thing the underdogs have in their favor, though, is that which you can't quantify.
Not too long ago, No. 16 seeds were happy to be in the field, their season reaching its apex on Selection Sunday.
In 1993, Rider needed a game-winning buzzer-beater to win its conference tournament. The Broncs played Jamal Mashburn-led Kentucky that year.
There was no real expectation of winning, just a hope of not being treated, as one fan memorably yelled from the stands, like lambs to the slaughter. For the record, they were. Kentucky won 96-52.
Rick Byrd once felt the same way. He first took Belmont to the NCAA tournament in 2006. The Bruins played UCLA, and Byrd remembers thinking, "I don't know if I'll ever get back here, so I am really just happy to be here."
But as the years have worn on and the appearances have piled up, his attitude has changed. In 2008, the Bruins were a No. 15 seed against heavily favored Duke in Washington, D.C.
Forget that the Bruins had never won an NCAA game or that the Blue Devils owned three titles. Belmont was leading by one with two minutes to play. Not until Gerald Henderson hit a driving layup with 11.9 seconds left could Duke exhale.
"Inside of eight minutes, we were always within striking distance," Byrd said. "We felt like we belonged in the game on that day. Two days later, they might have beaten us by 30. But at some point a team starts to believe. We felt like we belonged."
That feeling, at least a little, dovetails into the last part, the at least pseudo-sociological portion of things.