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Sweet 16 by the numbers

   by Larry Ness - 03/22/2005

Ness Notes
(Sweet 16 by the numbers)

Filling out one's brackets is not as easy as it looks, as many found out this past weekend in the NCAA tournament's opening two rounds.

U Conn and Georgia Tech, last year's finalists, were both eliminated this year in the second round. While all four No. 1 seeds made it through the first round unscathed (now 84-0 in the first round since seeding began in 1985), the margin of victory by the four teams was just 15.5 PPG. That's the lowest since the top-four seeds won by an average of 15.3 PPG in 1996 (lowest margin of victory for No. 1 seeds all-time was 10.5 PPG in 1989).

Top seeds went just 1-3 ATS in the first round with North Carolina getting the lone point spread cover when the Tar Heels beat Oakland by 28 points, covering a closing line of 27 1/2-points! No. 1 seeds did better in the second round with Washington beating Pacific by 18 and North Carolina beating Iowa St by 27 (both covered easily). Illinois beat Nevada by 12, laying 11 1/2-points and Duke beat Mississippi St by eight, laying 8 1/2-points.

That gives No. 1 seeds a combined 4-4 ATS mark through two rounds as they all move on to the Sweet 16. In should be noted that since seeding began in 1979, all four No. 1 seeds have NEVER made it through to the Final 4. In fact, three No. 1 seeds have reached the Final 4 just three times, in 1993, 1997 and 1999!

Conversely, 1980 was the only year in which not a single No.1 seed reached the Final 4. Louisville, a No. 2 seed and the eventual national champion, was joined in that year's Final 4 by fifth-seed Iowa, sixth-seeded Purdue and eighth-seeded UCLA. Adding up the seeding of those four teams gives you a total of 21.

Surprisingly, that's NOT the highest total of any Final 4! That came in the Final 4 of 2000, when Michigan St (the lone No. 1 seed) was joined by Florida (a No. 5) and two No. 8 seeds, North Carolina and Wisconsin (for a total of 22). The lowest combined total of the seeds for a Final 4 came in 1993, when three No. 1 seeds (North Carolina, Kentucky and Michigan) were joined by Kansas (a No. 2 seed), adding up to five!

While all four No. 1 seeds made it through the first two rounds, teams seeded two through four fared VERY poorly!

Just two No. 2 seeds made it to the Sweet 16 (Okla St and Kentucky), as U Conn (defending champs) and Wake Forest (now an PATHETIC 3-16 ATS since 1995 in the NCAA tournament!) both lost in the second round. Only one No. 3 seed made it through last weekend (Arizona), as Kansas lost in the first round to Bucknell (first-ever win for a Patriot League school!), while Gonzaga and Oklahoma lost second round games.

Just ONE No.4 seed made it to the Sweet 16 and that was Louisville. Interestingly, the Cardinals finished the year ranked No. 4 in the AP poll, yet received just a No. 4 seeding. They became the first team to finish a regular season ranked in the AP's top-five and NOT receive either a No. 1 or a No. 2 seed in 25 years!

As for the other No. 4 seeds, Syracuse (a hot pick to reach the Final 4!) lost in the first round to Vermont, while Boston College and Florida lost second round games.

The other half of this year's Sweet 16 is comprised of two No. 5 seeds, three No. 6 seeds, a No. 7 seed, a No. 10 seed and a No. 12 seed. For the record, NO No. 5 seed has ever won the tournament, with only Iowa in 1980, Miss St in 1996, Florida in 2000 and Indiana in 2002 reaching the Final 4 as five-seeds. Florida (2000) and Indiana (2002) both made the title game but lost.

This year's No. 5 seeds are Villanova (celebrating the 20th anniversary of its remarkable upset of Georgetown in 1985!) and Michigan St. 'Nova however, just lost its best player (Curtis Sumpter) to an injury, and it's highly unlikely to be deja vu all over again as the Wildcats meet North Carolina next, a team that's leading the tournament with an average of 94 PPG. As for Mich St, the Spartans have no real stars but they are deep. Duke, 0-2 ATS in this year's tourney so far, has Redick, Ewing and Shelden Williams but little depth!

THREE No. 6 seeds have made it to the Sweet 16. Bob Knight's Texas Tech team, Wisconsin and Utah. A No. 6 seed hasn't reached the Final 4 since 1992 but two MEMORABLE No. 6 seeds have won national titles. In 1983, Jim Valvano's NC St Wolfpack were six-seeds when they upset Houston and in 1988, the Danny Manning-led Kansas Jayhawks (coached by Larry Brown), were a No. 6 seed when they won the title by beating Oklahoma.

Knight tied Dean Smith this year by making his 27th all-time tournament appearance. It is however, just his first Sweet 16 appearance since 1994. Wisconsin is arguably the least impressive team to advance so far, edging No. Iowa 57-52 in the first round and Bucknell 71-62 (much closer!) in the second. The Badgers made a Final 4 appearance as recently as 2000 but prior to that, had not made a Final 4 since winning their only national title in 1941! Utah, with maybe the nation's best big in Andrew Bogut, is the third No. 6 to advance this far.

Tech meets the lone No. 7 seed remaining in the tournament, West Virginia. No seven-seed has ever won the title and in fact, just Virginia in 1984, has ever advanced as far as the Final 4 (lost in the semis). Wisconsin faces NC St (a 10-seed) and these two match-ups insure that at least two "Cinderella teams" will reach the Elite 8! Utah gets its nemesis Kentucky on Friday. In SIX of their last 11 NCAA appearances, the Utes have run into the Wildcats. In the previous five meetings they are 0-5, with the average margin of defeat being 18.8 PPG!

NC St, a No. 10 seed is trying to make some history. No 10-seed has ever won the tournament or for that matter, even gotten as far as the Final 4! NC St received an at-large bid despite its 7-9 regular season mark in the ACC. The Wolfpack joined Iowa (7-9 in the Big-10), as the 27th and 28th teams in NCAA history to receive at-large bids, despite losing records in their respective conferences. While Iowa lost in the opening round to Cincinnati, NC St has beaten Charlotte and the defending champs, U Conn.

NC St becomes just the FIFTH at-large team with a losing conference record to make it as far as the Sweet 16. In 1987 LSU (8-10 in the SEC that year) advanced to the Regional Final where the Tigers lost to Indiana 77-76 (remember Bobby Knight's attack on the telephone?) and in 1984, Virginia (7-9 in the ACC) made it to the Final 4 where the Cavs lost to Houston in the semis, 49-47 (OT).

The biggest surviving underdog (at least according to the seeds) is Wisconsin-Milwaukee. A No. 12 seed, the Panthers upset Alabama and then Boston College in just the school's second-ever NCAA appearance, to reach this year's Sweet 16. While the team's upset of No.5 seed Alabama was the 16th time in 17 years that a No. 12 seed has beaten a No. 5 seed, 12-seeds have not traditionally had great success after that initial upset.

The Panthers' win over Boston College gave No. 12 seeds a 14-13 record in second round games but a win over Illinois on Thursday, the nation's top-ranked team, would be quite a feat. Of the 13 previous No. 12 seeds that have reached the Sweet 16, ONLY Missouri in 2002 was able to advance! The Tigers beat UCLA 82-73 that year before losing in the Regional Finals to Oklahoma, 81-75.

COACHING NOTE...While much is being made of Coach K passing Dean Smith's record of all-time wins in the tournament (with good reason), it should also be noted that Rick Pitino is just two wins away from HISTORY. Pitino is already one of just four head coaches to lead four different schools into the tournament (in his case, Boston U, Providence, Kentucky and Louisville). He's also one of 11 coaches that have led two different schools to the Final 4 (Providence and Kentucky) and is the ONLY one with a chance to make it THREE different schools, if he can get Louisville past Washington and the winner of Texas Tech-West Va!

FINAL THOUGHT...Many felt that Illinois losing in its final regular season game at Ohio St was 'good' for the team. The theory being that NO team had won the national title with a perfect record since Bob Knight's 1976 Indiana team finished 32-0. While that may 'sound good', I'm not so sure?

In NCAA history, 17 teams have entered the tournament undefeated. While Knight's team was the last one to win it all, SEVEN of those undefeated 17 teams have gone on to capture the title (41.2 percent).

Illinois became the 54th team in NCAA history this year, to enter the tournament with one loss. The last time a one-loss team won the title was back in 1974. NC St won it all that year and 19 one-loss teams have tried since, including St Joe's and Stanford just last year. NONE have won the title, with just three (UNLV in 1987, U Mass in 1996 and Duke in 1999) even making the Final 4. Overall, SIX of the previous 53 one-loss teams have captured the title, or 11.3 percent!

I was NEVER too good in math but isn't 41.2 percent better than 11.3 percent?

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