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16 over a 1? This may be the year
Some things just don’t happen in sports. The Chicago Cubs don’t win the World Series. Bill Belichick doesn't smile. The United States doesn’t excel in international soccer. Dennis Rodman doesn't solve the world's diplomacy problems. Nick Saban doesn't lose national championship games.
And 16-seeds don’t beat 1-seeds in the NCAA tournament.
Since the NCAA tournament was expanded to 64 teams in 1985, 16-seeds have played 1-seeds 112 times in the first round of the NCAA tournament. And 112 times, the 16-seeds have lost. There have been close calls: 16-seed Murray State taking 1-seed Michigan State to overtime in 1990; 16-seed Princeton losing by a point to 1-seed Georgetown in 1989; 16-seed East Tennessee State losing by a point to 1-seed Oklahoma that same year.
But if you’ve paid attention this season, it feels like the upset stars are aligned, and 2013 could be the year. TCU beat Kansas in the biggest RPI upset in decades. Perennial Big Ten doormat Penn State upset Michigan, which was ranked No. 1 in the nation a month before. Cal Poly beat UCLA, which had just brought in one of the nation’s best recruiting classes. Old Dominion, the worst team in the Colonial Athletic Association, beat Virginia in a game that probably cost the Cavaliers an NCAA bid.
If there’s ever been a season in which a Western Kentucky can beat a Kansas, or a North Carolina A&T can beat a Louisville, or a Long Island University-Brooklyn can beat an Indiana — well, you’re looking at it.
“Anything is possible in the NCAA tournament,” Gators coach Billy Donovan, who has been a 1-seed once at Florida, said Monday. “You go back to November and December and there were games like that, where there were significant upsets like that on teams’ home courts. But it’s never, ever magnified or talked about as much because it’s early in the season, not the NCAA tournament, and there’s another game to be played. Those things happen in November and December, but certainly they get magnified in March.”
Vegas sure doesn’t believe this’ll happen any time soon, and happily will take free money from any sucker who wants to wager on the longest of long shots. But at some point, it will happen. It has to. It must. Last year’s NCAA tournament was the first time two 2-seeds lost to 15-seeds in the first round in the same tournament, when Norfolk State beat Missouri and Lehigh toppled Duke.
A 1-seed laying that sort of colossal egg has got to happen at some point. Right?
Shaka Smart of VCU, one coach who knows a little bit about upsets — his team made the Final Four in 2011 after getting an 11-seed in a First Four play-in game — believes it will.
“It all depends on the game,” Smart said. “But those 1-seeds are really good. Last year you had a 15 beat a 2. It’s never happened, a 16 beating a 1, but when you think about it, it’s not really that big of a difference (from a 15-seed beating a 2-seed)… It’ll happen at some point.”
For it to happen, the stars will have to align. The blueblood will have to make an inordinate amount of mistakes. The 16-seed will have to come up with a confounding game plan. Yes, it would be one team catching lightning in a bottle for 40 minutes, but it also would reflect the growing parity in the sport. With each passing season, the difference keeps shrinking between the best and the rest, the high-majors and the mid-majors, the haves and the have-nots.
“It’s definitely coming to a time,” Donovan said, “where the parity in every college basketball season just keeps getting closer and closer.”
Follow Reid Forgrave on Twitter @ReidForgrave or email him at ReidForgrave@gmail.com.
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