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Ness Notes: Weekend Fallout

   by Larry Ness - 03/22/2010

Last year's NCAA tourney saw just four "upsets" (the official NCAA Record Book defines an upset as being a win by a team seeded five or more places lower that the team it defeated) out of 64 total games, the second-fewest total since seeding began back in 1979 (record-low came in the 2007 tourney with just three upsets). However, this year's tourney saw five upsets in the first round, four of which came on Thursday. The biggest of those five was Ohio's first NCAA victory since 1983, as the Bobcats (14-seed) beat Georgetown (3-seed) 97-83. The 14-point margin of victory was the largest for a 14-seed over a 3-seed in tourney history (previous high was eight points). Ohio's 97 points were the most the Hoyas have ever allowed in a NCAA tournament game.

By the time the weekend was over, this year's tourney had produced nine upsets in all, giving the 2010 tourney an opportunity to challenge the 1986 tourney which owns the record for most upsets in a single tourney. No. 11-seed LSU made its Final 4 run that year, pulling a single-tourney record of four upsets (over No. 6 Purdue, No. 3 Memphis, No. 2 Ga Tech and No. 1 Kentucky) before falling to No. 2 Louisville 88-77 in the national semifinals. Eleven double-digit seeds have won games this tourney and advancing to the Sweet 16 are three double-digit seeds.

No. 12 Cornell is the first Ivy school to do so since Penn in 1979 and No. 11 Washington comes from the much-maligned Pac 10. Still alive from the WCC is not Gonzaga, but rather No. 10 St Mary's. The Gaels last won an NCAA tourney game back in 1959 (in a 23-team field that year, the school's lone win advanced them to the Regional Final) and had lost five straight NCAA tourney games since that win, before beating Richmond (7) and Villanova (2) this weekend. Cornell had been winless in four previous NCAA appearances but the Big Red advanced with impressive wins of 78-65 over Temple (5) and 87-69 over Wisconsin (4). Washington was a preseason top-15 team but struggled into late January. However, the Huskies advance to the Sweet 16 on a nine-game winning streak and have won 14 of their last 16.

Joining the above double-digit seeds in this year's Sweet 16 are three No. 1 seeds, three No. 2 seeds but just a single No. 3 seed (Baylor) and No. 4 seed (Purdue). Two No. 5 seeds have advanced (Butler and Michigan State), as have two No. 6 seeds (Tennessee and Xavier). There are no 7-seeds remaining (a No. 7 seed has never won) nor a No. 8 seed. There is however, a No. 9 seed left and that's Northern Iowa. The Panthers beat UNLV 69-66 on Thursday and then pulled the tourney's most prominent upset so far, beating Kansas 69-67 on Saturday.

Kansas was the only No. 1 seed to lose this weekend and becomes the first No. 1 seed to lose before the Sweet 16 since Kentucky (to UAB) and Stanford (to Alabama) fell victim in 2004's second round. It marks the 13th time a No. 1 seed of any kind has lost in the second round and unfortunately for Kansas fans, it's the third time it has happened to the Jayhawks. The NCAA committee began assigning an overall No. 1 seed back in 2004 and with Kansas falling short this year, just one overall No. 1 seed has gone on to win the national championship these last seven years (Florida in 2007 being the exception).

Kansas entered the NCAA tournament as a unanimous No. 1 in the AP's final regular season poll and as I noted a couple of times in the previous weeks, schools entering the Big Dance with that No. 1 ranking have not fared well. The curse continues, as since Bob Knight’s 1975-76 team (he last to finish a season unbeaten at 32-0) entered that year’s tourney as No. 1 and won the title, just five schools have finished No. 1 in the AP’s final regular poll and gone on to win the title. The list includes Duke (2001), UCLA (1995), Duke (1992), North Carolina (1982) and Kentucky (1978). With Kansas' demise, that makes just five of the last 34 AP regular season No. 1 teams (just 14.7 percent) which have gone on to win the national championship that same season.

No. 1 seeds did keep up their perfect record vs No. 16 seeds, moving to 104-0 since 1985. They also went 3-1 ATS, giving them an 11-5 ATS mark the last four years. No. 2 seeds also swept the No. 15 seeds (now 100-4 all-time), going 2-2 ATS for a four-year mark of 9-6-1 ATS. Playing the "big chalk" in the first round has been a solid investment the last four years, as No. 1 and No. 2 seeds have a combined ATS record of 20-11-1. Cornell was the lone No. 12 seed to beat a No. 5 seed, as despite all the TV hype regarding 12-seeds, they are now just 33-71 (.317) all-time vs No. 5 seeds. The only lower seed with a winning record against a higher seed is No. 9 over No. 8, which should not come as much of a surprise and could hardly be considered much of an upset. Both No. 9 seeds won on Thursday but both No. 8 seeds on on Friday making the all-time mark 56-48 in favor of the No. 9 seeds.

There are 16 teams remaining and play begins again on Thursday. I'll return Wednesday afternoon with a closer look but let me note that while BYU ended its seven-game NCAA losing streak (dating back to 1993) with a double-OT win over Florida in the first round, the Cougars fell to Kansas St on Saturday. BYU has now made 25 NCAA appearances, the most of any school without a trip to the Final 4. Missouri ranks second (22) and Xavier third (21). Of course, the Musketeers could end their Final 4 drought this year with two more wins.

Missouri beat Clemson in the first round of this year's tourney, before losing to West Va. It marked the Tigers' 22nd NCAA win and moves them into a tie with Boston College for the most tourney wins without reaching a Final 4. Illinois (not part of this year's field) owns 38 NCAA wins, the most of any school with a championship. Oklahoma ranks second (35) and Purdue, with two wins this year, joins Texas with 33 NCAA wins but no title, for third on the all-time list. Kansas State has two wins this year and now owns 30 NCAA wins, tying them with Notre Dame for seventh on the list that no one wants to be on.

Closing thoughts: While Northern Iowa's upset of Kansas sent the biggest shockwaves through this year's tourney, Kansas is hardly this year's biggest flop. That title goes to either Texas or Villanova, in a toss-up. Texas earned the school's first-ever No. 1 ranking back on January 11 with a 15-0 record. Texas upped its record to 17-0 for the third time in school history and the first time since 1932-33 when it beat Texas A&M 72-67 in OT on January 16 (held its No. 1 ranking for a second straight week). However, Texas would go 7-10 the rest of the way (3-14 ATS!), ending its season with an 81-80 OT loss to Wake Forest in Thursday's first round.

As for Villanova, the Wildcats moved to No. 2 in the AP poll on February 1 for just the second time in school history (were No. 2 for two weeks in Feb of 2006). When they beat Seton Hall 81-71 on Feb 2, they were 20-1 (extending the best start in school history) and were 9-0 in the Big East, also the best conference start in school history. However, the Wildcats ended the season by going just 5-7 over their last 12 games (3-9 ATS), escaping with a 73-70 OT win against No. 15 Robert Morris in the first round but then losing to No. 10 St Mary's 75-68 in the second round. Star guard Scottie Reynolds made just 4-of-26 shots (15.4 percent) in 'Nova's two NCAA games this past weekend.

Oooops! The "last three teams in" on Selection Sunday were at-large schools UTEP and Utah State (both 12-seeds) plus Minnesota (11-seed). Butler used a 22-4 second-half run to blitz the Miners and beat them 77-59. Utah State was never in its game with Texas A&M, falling 69-53 and Minnesota lost 65-54 to Xavier, shooting 30.6 percent from the floor. Maybe, Va Tech, Miss St and Illinois would have been better choices?

Good luck, Larry

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