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10 NCAA Tournament Facts That Might Surprise You

After all the action from the past weekend, what facts remain in place, and what new facts have emerged? Plenty, of course… but let’s start with 10.

10 – GONZAGA’S RELENTLESS, MODEST CONSISTENCY

Given Gonzaga’s national brand, you would think that the Zags have made the Sweet 16 more than twice over the past 13 seasons.

You would be wrong.

Beginning with the 2001-2002 season, Gonzaga has reached the Sweet 16 only twice over the past 13 seasons, in 2006 and 2009. A program with national name recognition has left quite a bit of (NCAA tournament win-share) money on the table.

Yet, let’s give Gonzaga coach Mark Few this: He also wins his round-of-64 games. Gonzaga has failed to get out of the round of 64 only three times in that same span (2002, 2007, 2008).

The Bulldogs have a program that is relentlessly decent. There are many things worse to be than decent, and yet, if Gonzaga gained a No. 7 seed and lost in the round of 32 for each of the next 10 seasons, would that strike you as impressive or not, given the splash the Zags made from 1999 through 2001 (Sweet 16s or better as a double-digit seed)?

It’s a fascinating debate, regardless of your stance on the matter.

9 – GREAT EIGHTS

The nature of a bracket is such that being an 8 seed is supposed to be more burdensome than being a 10 seed. Being an 8 puts a team in the path of the 1 seed in the round of 32. However, you might be surprised to learn that when the 8 gets past the 1, it does really well in the Sweet 16.

How well? 10-3 overall, and 6-2 against No. 4 seeds.

Nervous, Louisville fans, as Kentucky meets you in Indianapolis this Friday night?

We could see Rick Pitino move to 12-0 in the Sweet 16, but we could also see 8 seeds move to 11-3 in this round of the NCAA tournament.

Postscript: You might be surprised to learn that 8 seeds do not have a losing record in their 10 subsequent Elite Eight games (5-5).

8 – UPSETS HAVE THEIR LIMITS

You might reasonably think that in light of the NCAA tournament’s penchant for creating bracket chaos, the Sweet 16 would have pitted a 10 seed against an 11 seed on several previous occasions. Surely, this Thursday’s South Regional semifinal between Stanford and Dayton is not all that new, right?

It’s only the second time a 10 and an 11 have met in the Sweet 16. The only prior occasion was Florida State-VCU in 2011.

For additional perspective on the limited nature of upsets, consider that last year’s Wichita State-La Salle regional semifinal marked the first time that a 9 and a 13 have played in the Sweet 16. Similarly, there’s been only one instance in which an 8 and a 12 have played in the Sweet 16.

You might see one surprise seed on one side of a Sweet 16 bracket, but it’s still conspicuously rare to see two underdog seeds in the same Sweet 16 game. Stanford-Dayton is a very rare event in the history of the Big Dance since seeding was introduced in 1979.

7 – TOP SEEDS PUT THE FOOT DOWN AGAINST THE FOURS… BUT NOT RECENTLY

You would expect No. 1 seeds to have a winning record against No. 4 seeds, but it might seem surprising to realize that in 35 seeded NCAA tournaments, creating 140 potential 1-versus-4 matchups in the Sweet 16, there have been only 19 instances in which the 4 has beaten the 1. Here’s the bigger surprise: Over the past 22 NCAA tournaments (88 potential chances for a 4 to play a 1 in a regional semifinal), a 4 has beaten a 1 only 10 times.

Wasn’t parity supposed to be a much bigger part of college basketball?

Here’s the explanation for the above stats: 4s don’t always meet 1s in the Sweet 16. Of those 140 potential meetings between 4s and 1s, only 55 have materialized. On 42 other occasions, a 5 seed played a 1. The other 43 remaining occasions? A 4 has played an 8 or 9. A 1 has played a 12 or 13. A few other odd combinations have emerged as well.

Another surprise-within-the-surprise, though, is that a 4 has beaten a 1 in each of the last three NCAA tournaments. The last (and only) time a 4 beat a 1 in four straight Big Dances? 1988 through 1991.

A bonus fact: Three times, a 4 has beaten a 1 twice in the same NCAA tournament: 1984, 1995, and last season, with Syracuse and Michigan beating Indiana and Kansas, respectively.

6 – JUST AS HE DREW IT UP

The hardcore college basketball fan won’t be surprised by this, but the casual fan will be:

Baylor has made the Elite Eight twice in the past four seasons and will play for a third Elite Eight this Thursday against Wisconsin in the West Regional’s first semifinal. Believe it or not, but Sunday’s win over third-seeded Creighton marked the first time Baylor coach Scott Drew has beaten a single-digit seed in the NCAA tournament.

That’s right: Baylor’s seed path in each of its Elite Eight appearances (2010 and 2012) went 14-11-10. Drew lost an opening-round game in 2008, and he beat 11th-seeded Nebraska in this year’s tournament before taking down Creighton.

5 – FOUR SECONDS

The 4 seeds were supposed to be strong in this year’s tournament, and they’ve affirmed the conventional wisdom going into this Dance by all surviving into the Sweet 16. The 4 line is the only seed line to remain fully intact after the first weekend; that’s more than any other seed line, including the 1 seeds.

Yet, you might be surprised to realize that this is only the second time in 36 seeded NCAA tournaments that all of the 4 seeds have made the Sweet 16. The only other time was 1983, when the tournament field was 52 teams. Under that format (before the expansion to 64 teams in 1985), the 4 seeds got a bye into the round of 32, meaning that they had to win only one game, not two, to reach the Sweet 16.

Therefore, 2014 marks the first year in which all of the 4 seeds have won two games to advance to the Sweet 16. Pretty four-midable, eh?

4 – UN-PAIR-ALLELED: THE 2014 MIDWEST REGIONAL

There have been only two prior NCAA tournaments in which there was both an 11-2 seed matchup and an 8-4 matchup in the Sweet 16: 1986 and 2011. However, in those two Dances, the pairings occurred in separate regionals.

This year marks the first time that one regional — the Midwest — will have an 11-2 and an 8-4 in the same building.

3 – THAD MATTA, THE XAVIER BRAND, AND THE MILLER FAMILY: THE ATLANTIC 10 ANGLE

When Archie Miller and Dayton defeated Ohio State, Thad Matta suffered a blow. However, when Dayton then defeated Syracuse, Archie Miller strengthened a legacy Matta helped to build.

Dayton’s entry into the Sweet 16 marks the seventh straight season in which the Atlantic 10 has placed at least one team in the second weekend of the Big Dance. That’s an impressive run for a league that doesn’t have the national stature or heft of, say, the Big Ten or ACC. Temple is no longer a member of the league, and neither is Butler after a brief stay. Most of all, Xavier itself is no longer in the conference. Yet, the A-10 somehow keeps on truckin’. It’s rather remarkable.

For background on this, it was Matta who propelled Xavier to the Elite Eight in 2004, taking what Pete Gillen and Skip Prosser did at “X” a decade earlier and lifting it to another level. When Matta went to Ohio State, a fellow named Sean Miller — yep, Archie’s brother — went to Xavier and kept the Musketeers strong, leading them to multiple Sweet 16s and, in 2008, another Elite Eight. Unlike Gonzaga (mentioned above), Xavier has turned over its coaches, who have gone on to bigger jobs and succeeded. Unlike Gonzaga, Xavier has been more of a second-weekend tournament team and national threat over the past eight seasons.

This leads into the next fact:

2 – THAD MATTA, THE XAVIER BRAND, AND THE MILLER FAMILY: THE PERSONAL ANGLE

The presence of Archie Miller in the Sweet 16 has relevance with respect to the Atlantic 10, but not this next fact: Sean Miller’s presence in the Sweet 16 means that either he or Matta, his predecessor at Xavier, has made the Sweet 16 in eight straight NCAA tournaments. Sean Miller has cracked the Sweet 16 in 2008, 2009, 2011, 2013, and 2014. Matta filled in the gaps in 2007, 2010 and 2012 while making the Sweet 16 or better in other seasons as well over the past eight years.

1 – BE ON GUARD FOR A DEVIL WITH A DOUBLE-DIGIT SEED, OR: THE COACH K BACKCOURT PROTEGE WAY

This stat is just plain nutty. You couldn’t have made it up if you tried.

Three coaches who once played in the backcourt for a Mike Krzyzewski Duke team have now made one but only one Sweet 16, with Johnny Dawkins of Stanford joining Quin Snyder (Missouri, 2002) and Tommy Amaker (Seton Hall, 2000). In all three instances, these Coach K Duke-guards-turned-coaches made the Sweet 16 as a double-digit seed. Dawkins is a 10, as was Amaker with Seton Hall. Snyder was a 12 with Missouri.

The Devil — Blue or otherwise — is truly in the details.

The information in this report was gleaned from the subscription-based website Basketball State, found at bbstate.com.

 

 

Matt Zemek

About Matt Zemek

Matt Zemek is the managing editor of The Student Section, covering college football and basketball with associate editors Terry Johnson and Bart Doan. Mr. Zemek is also Bloguin's lead tennis writer, covering the major tournaments in 2014. He contributes to Crossover Chronicles and other Bloguin sites.

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