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by Matt Fargo - 03/13/2007
It's that time of year again and everyone from the seasoned professional to the novice soccer mom with be filling out their brackets in search of the perfect ticket. Like last season, 2006-07 was an interesting regular year with no big name team holding the top spot for more than six consecutive weeks. Only five teams held down the number one ranking at one point this season, led by Florida who was number one for eight weeks over two different parts of the year. Next was UCLA for six weeks, Ohio St. for two weeks and finally North Carolina and Wisconsin holding it one week apiece. Kansas never held down the top spot.
The big question is who will be this yearâ€™s George Mason? Chances are there isnâ€™t going to be one that makes it back to the Final Four although many mid-major teams made cases throughout the year to get included in the field of 65 with many of those dreaming of a repeat of the Patriots. Nevada and Southern Illinois can make the strongest cases despite neither winning their respective conference tournaments. While mid-majors are sleepers to begin with, deep sleepers from the lower ranks are UNLV, winner of the MWC, Davidson, winner of the SoCon and Winthrop, winner of the Big South.
Taking a look at some prior years can tell us a lot heading into this postseason. 2006 was the second straight season that both a 13th and 14th seeds upset a 4th and 3rd seeds respectively. Northwestern St. took out Iowa while Bradley beat Kansas with the latter making it all the way to the Sweet 16. Overall, there were nine lower seeds that won in the first round but that was the most that we have seen over the last four tournaments. However, the most shocking aspect was that no number one seed made it to the Final Four, the first time that has happened since 1980.
2005 had its share of opening round upsets but it was not a bracket full of shockers. Of the 32 opening round games, only eight lower seeds won outright and three of those were nines over eights. 13th seeded Vermont and 14th seeded Bucknell were the two biggest upsets. Two top seeds, North Carolina and Illinois, made it to St. Louis but Louisville and Michigan St. also broke through as four and five seeds respectively. It was the first year since 2002 that teams lower than a 3rd seed made it to the Final Four.
In 2004, it was even more sided toward the favorite as only four lower seeds advanced with 12th seeds Manhattan and Pacific leading the way. UAB and Nevada took out Washington and Michigan St. respectively as the only other upsets. Those two teams actually made it to the final 16 and along with Alabama, were the only two teams seeded lower than 5th to advance that far. Of the final four teams, only one team, Georgia Tech, was seeded lower than a two and the Yellow Jackets were not far back with a three seed.
2003 saw only eight lower seeds advance past the first round with three of those being the nine seeds. Of the five other upsets, 13th seeded Tulsa and 12th seeded Butler were the two biggest shockers. The four top seeds, Kentucky, Arizona, Texas and Oklahoma, advanced to the final eight but Texas was the only team to make it to New Orleans. Third seeded Syracuse won the title by taking out two number one seeds and the Orange were the only non-number one or two seeds to win it all over the prior eight years.
One thing is clear and that is we have never seen all four top seeds making it to the semifinal round. The closest was back in 1999 when three number ones made it to Indianapolis as it was top seed Connecticut that won the whole thing. As mentioned earlier, last year was the first year since 1980 that no number one seed advanced but it was number two seed Louisville that held off a five, six and an eight seed back then. At least two number ones have made it to the semis in 16 of the last 28 years while three have made it only three times.
Since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, there have been plenty of major upsets but none involving a number one seed. It will happen some year but it's anyone's guess if it's this year or in 20 years. Since 1985, four number two seeds have fallen with the most recent being Iowa St. in 2001. The three seed has lost 15 times, Iowa being the victim last year while the four seed has gone down 19 times, that being Kansas last year. Five times we have seen at least three 13th or lower seeds advance past the first round, 2001 being the last year of that occurrence.
Past tournament history can tell you a lot but it can also tell you nothing. Upsets just happen and they can come out of nowhere but some can be seen coming. The higher seeds clearly advance more but the trick is finding the ones that won't. A lot of it is based on momentum heading into the tournament which I will touch on and a lot of it is based on just simple matchup advantages. Balance and depth are two important factors that are often overlooked but play a huge role as fresh legs can be a big part of winning or losing.
How a team finished the regular season and how it did in the conference tournaments can carry over into the big event. Conference champions bring in a lot of momentum, not only because of the title but also because of the winning streak that comes with it. For the lower rated conferences, winning the postseason tournament is a must and if there is a team that knows that, it is Davidson. The Wildcats own the dubious record of finishing undefeated twice during the regular conference season (1996 and 2005) and failing to make the NCAA Tournament.
Seven teams enter the 2007 tournament with winning streaks of 10 or more: Kansas (11), Ohio St. (17), Memphis (22), Winthrop (18), Pennsylvania (10), Niagara (11) and Davidson (13). The problem is that the latter four are from weak conferences and all have schedule strengths below 100. Even Memphis has a schedule strength below 100 as Conference-USA was in a down year. Of the top 50 in my power rankings, only six have schedules that are ranked worse that 100: Memphis, Notre Dame, Butler, Nevada, Winthrop and Xavier.
After the selections, some early thoughts come to mind. There are going to be debates on who should have gotten in and who should not have gotten in that did. This year was unlike any other as 89 teams in the country won 20 games, the most ever in college basketball. At the top of the list of teams that did not get in is Florida St. The Seminoles finished in the top 40 in the RPI, played the 13th ranked schedule, had four wins against the top 25 including Florida and had five wins against the top 50.
Another team that was left that should have gotten in was Syracuse. The Orange had a rather low RPI of 45 and did not play a terribly strong schedule but they finished the way they were supposed to as Syracuse won 10 games in the rugged Big East including wins in six of its final eight games. That included a huge victory over Georgetown, the Hoyas only loss in its last 16 games. A third team that has a big beef is Drexel who went 13-4 on the road including wins at Villanova, Syracuse and Creighton.
Looking at the flip side, the team that sticks out who should not have gotten in is Illinois. The Illini did go 9-7 in the Big Ten but it had the luxury of playing Wisconsin and Ohio St. just one time each. They were also a disappointing 1-6 against the top 25 and 3-9 against the top 50. They are the only major conference team that is in the tournament besides Texas with that few number of wins against the top 50. Texas obviously deserves to be where it is but went just 2-8 against the top 50 including 1-6 against the top 25.
This looks to be the strongest field of number one seeds we have seen in quite some time. Three top seeds last made it to the Final Four in 1999 and this looks like it could be the first year ever that all four make it to Atlanta. Will it happen? Probably not due to the fact of the strength of the teams that are two and three seeds but I like the overall strength especially with the way that these teams finished this season. All four number one seeds won their conference tournaments but Florida and Kansas look to have the best roads to get to Atlanta.
Upsets are always what people look for in the first round but it isnâ€™t as common as itâ€™s made out to be as mentioned earlier. There have been only 29 lower seeded teams to win over the last four years covering 128 games. 22.7 percent is not anything special so when filling out brackets, donâ€™t go crazy with them. Since 1985, there have been 38 top four seeds that have gone down in the first round which equates to fewer than two per year so letâ€™s take a look at what those two potentials could be.
We have not seen a number two seed lose since 2001 when Hampton took down Iowa and there have been just four upsets of the since 1985 so we arenâ€™t going to likely see that this year. The number three seed that can go down is Pittsburgh who takes on Wright St. The Panthers looked horrendous against Georgetown as itâ€™s pretty obvious they go as far as Aaron Gray takes them. Pittsburgh went 5-4 over its last nine games so momentum is not there. Wright St. finished 11-1 in its last 12 and has one of the most underrated guards in the nation in Dashaun Wood.
The number four seed that should be most weary is Virginia. The Cavaliers are one of only three teams in the entire tournament that have fewer than 20 wins and despite going 11-5 in the ACC, there are some bad losses on their resume. Of Virginiaâ€™s 10 losses, four came against teams not even in the tournament including horrible losses against Appalachian St. and Utah. We all remember what Albany did as a 16th seed last season against Connecticut and the Great Danes and an extremely balanced squad. Vermont won from the America East two years ago.
Looking at which teams are going to make it to Atlanta all starts with defending National Champion Florida. The Gators have the easiest road of the four top seeds and rightfully so since the Gators were given the overall #1 seed. Facing Arizona in a potential second round game will be tough but after that, only Oregon is playing good enough at the time to have a shot at knocking them out. Wisconsin has lost its offense and has no chance to keep up with Florida or the Ducks in the Sweet 16.
Looking at the West, the Jayhawks look like they should be able to make it through the region especially knowing that they are virtually guaranteed of a first round victory. Kansas last made the Final Four in 2003 and while this is a very young team, expect this team to be one of the most focused in the tournament. The Jayhawks have been ousted in the first round in each of the last two years against teams seeded 14th and 13th. They come in with 11 straight wins and a Big XII Tournament Championship so momentum is on their side as well.
In the East region, after watching Georgetown in person over the weekend, the Hoyas are going to be a tough team to eliminate. The road isnâ€™t easy but they match up well with every potential opponent. Georgetown will likely face North Carolina or Texas in the regional final and even then it has strong edges down low. They come in with great momentum with wins in 15 of 16 and a Big East title and that is huge this time of year. The Hoyas had a great late season run last year and another is expected.
Ohio St. is the top seed in the South but like the second seed in the Midwest, Wisconsin, the offense has struggled down the stretch and this bracket is loaded with offense. Memphis is the second seed in this region but playing a soft schedule will hurt. Texas A&M will get to face the Buckeyes and with both a strong offense and defense, it can take out Ohio St., an extremely young team. So while all four top seeds do look strong, all four getting to the Final Four wonâ€™t happen yet again.