March 25, 2012
Kentucky, Louisville, Kansas and Ohio State are headed to the Final Four in New Orleans next weekend. This will be the eighth trip to the Final Four for Kansas since the 1985 tournament expansion to 64 teams. Kentucky will be making their sixth trip since 1985 while Ohio State and Louisville will be making their third. Saturday will be a particularly big day for the State of Kentucky as Louisville and Kentucky will meet in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1984. Ohio State won their only national title in 1960. Louisville last won in 1986, Kentucky grabbed the last of their seven titles in 1998 and Kansas won it all in 2008.
This was a pretty good year for underdogs in the NCAA Tournament though there were no big surprises in the Final Four. Ohio nearly pulled off one of the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history on Friday. They were a missed free throw away from beating #1 North Carolina and becoming the first 13 seed in the Elite Eight. Number 11 seed NC State nearly knocked off #2 Kansas in the round of 16. #10 Xavier also put up a good fight. The average sum of the winning seeds through the Elite Eight round between 1985 and 2011 was 289. This year that total was 313, thanks in large part to Ohio and the two #15 seeds who won first round games. The team was the better seed is 43-17 in this year's tournament. The average number of wins by the better seed since 1985 is 43.3 so this year's tournament did not have more upsets than usual but the upsets were more notable (namely the two #15 seed winners).
Bad news for Louisville ... #4 seeds are 2-8 in the National Semifinals since 1985. I find it interesting that the Kansas-Ohio State Semifinal is only the second Final Four matchup between #2 seeds since 1985. #2 Arkansas and #2 North Carolina met in 1995.
Four different conferences will be represented in this year's Final Four: the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Big East. This is the third year in a row (and fifth year out of six) without two teams from the same conference in the Final Four. This year, the SEC is 8-3, Big Ten: 11-5, Big East: 14-8, Big 12: 8-5, ACC: 6-5.
March 18, 2012
Two rounds are in the books. The top four seeds are still alive but it wasn't easy for Syracuse or Michigan State. UNC-Asheville came very close to beating Syracuse and becoming the first #16 seed to win an NCAA Tournament game. After an easy win on Thursday, Michigan State beat St. Louis by just four points to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. #1 seeds Kentucky and North Carolina won both of their games fairly easily.
It was quite a different story for the #2 seeds. Norfolk State and Lehigh became only the fifth and sixth #15 seeds win in the NCAA Tournament since the expansion to 64 teams in 1985. Number 15 seeds had been 1-55 since 1998 so this was a big deal. Lehigh nearly beat Xavier to become the first 15 seed in the Sweet Sixteen. Lehigh missed a layup late in the game and several shots rimmed in and out in the last ten minutes of the game.
Between 1985 and 2011, 59 double-digit seeds have advanced to the round of 16. That's about two per year. This year, we'll have three. Two of those teams (Xavier and Ohio) beat other double-digit seeded teams in the round of 32. NC State beat a #6 and a #3. Ohio seventh team seeded 13 or higher to advance to the Sweet Sixteen since 1985. They are only the second team to accomplish that feat since 2000.
The most impressive team in the first weekend of action was, without a doubt, Florida. The Gators won their first two games by a combined 60 points. That's the highest number posted by a team not seeded #1 or #2. Of course, it helped that they played a 15 seed, not #2 Missouri in the round of 32. Still, 60 points is a lot no matter who you are playing in the NCAA Tournament.
The State of Ohio is surely excited to have four teams (Ohio State, Ohio, Cincinnati and Xavier) in the Sweet Sixteen. As for the conferences, every one of the six major conferences, with the exception of the horrible Pac 12, has at least two teams in the Sweet Sixteen. The Big Ten and Big East lead the way with four apiece. The Big Ten is 9-2, SEC: 5-2, Big East: 11-5, Big 12: 6-4, ACC: 5-3, Pac 12: 1-2.
If you've been following this site, you know that I have been in favor of expanding the tournament to 68 teams for a while. However, I figured that the play-in games (or First Round as the NCAA calls it) would pit only the bottom eight teams. In other words, the teams that were seeded 15 or 16 when the tournament was 64 teams. I'm not a big fan of at-large teams playing the extra game, not because it is unfair to the teams in the play-in game (they were the last in and that is their penalty) but because it's too much of an advantage for their opponent in the round of 64 and, more so, in the round of 32 if they advance. South Florida was playing their third game in five days today and they ran out of gas against Ohio. I'm not sure why the Ohio-Michigan winner ends up blessed with the opportunity to play a fatigued team while other teams do not.
On the plus side, the play-in games for the 16 seeds should make the 1 vs 16 and 2 vs 15 games more competitive. If this year is an any indication, that is already happening. Under the old system, UNC-Asheville would probably have been a #15 seed and Syracuse wouldn't have had as much to worry about. Lehigh may have been a 14 seed. I don't want to see the tournament get out of control (to a 96 or even a 128 team tournament) but I would support a further expansion to 70 or 72 teams. Expansion to 70 would hopefully mean that all four 16 seeds would have a play-in (aka. First Round) game. They could also expand to 72 and have four play-in games involving at-large teams.