What makes this time of the year so special, why it is aptly named ‘March Madness’, is because truly anything can happen.
When people fill out their brackets, it’s for a myriad of reasons. Maybe it’s the eye test from watching nonstop hoops all season, or perhaps doing some research on a team and their history in the tournament. Or maybe it’s just dumb luck and shooting from the hip.
Regardless, there’s countless ways to approach every game on that piece of paper. This incredible sporting spectacle has presented us with loads of past evidence and facts that could help you make that tough pick. We have here 15 fun facts you should consider when making those picks final.
1. LOSSES DON’T MATTER
A team’s win-loss record can carry only so much weight when presented to the Selection Committee. A team can be virtually unblemished but knocked because of their schedule. Conversely, a team can be north of double-digits in the loss column, but partly due to a tough schedule played in the regular season.
This year, one school has set a new standard – Vanderbilt. The Commodores (19-15, 10-8 SEC) become the first ever at-large Tournament team to make the dance with 15 losses. Prior to that, the high mark was 14 losses, which there’s only been 11 such instances of in the last 60 years. This year, there are two teams in the field with at least 14 losses (the other being Michigan State).
Of those previous 11 instances, five of them occurred back in the 2011 Tournament (MSU was one of those five). All 11 of these teams were seed 8 or lower in the field and only two of them ever survived the first weekend (Marquette – 2011, Sweet 16; LSU – 1987, Elite 8).
2. FIRST FOUR IS A BIG DEAL
Met with skepticism early on, the ‘First Four’ stage of the NCAA Tournament has turned out to be not only an exciting one, but a successful one.
Introduced back in 2011, the quartet of Dayton-based play-in games has proved to be quite the vehicle for making deep runs as double-digit seeds. At least one First Four game winner each season has gone on to win at least their Round-of-64 game as well. The most successful team was VCU in 2011, an 11-seed who marched onto the Final Four.
This year’s non-16-seed teams are all 11-seeds once again: Kansas State, Providence, USC and Wake Forest. On Tuesday, Kansas State defeated Wake Forest to advance. Providence and USC play Wednesday night. The trick here is picking which of the three remaining has a run in them.
3. FRESH FACES OF COLLEGE BASKETBALL
The experience factor is a huge card to play come tournament time. But this year, the odds could be in our favor to have a coach of a big-name school make his first Final Four.
Of all the teams in the field with a 1-4 seed (so the top 16 teams hypothetically), nine of them are coached by guys who have never made a Final Four before.
- Steve Alford – UCLA
- Dana Altman – Oregon
- Scott Drew – Baylor
- Mark Few – Gonzaga
- Leonard Hamilton – Florida State
- Chris Holtmann – Butler
- Sean Miller – Arizona
- Mike White – Florida
- Matt Painter – Purdue
Now some of these guys deserve a pass more than others given their track record as a head coach (Hamilton, Holtmann, White). But there are some faces here that are regular staples in the tournament almost every year, whether it’s at their current school or a previous employer.
Mark Few in particular has been in the dance 18 straight seasons with Gonzaga. Not once has he made it to the Final Four. Guys like Sean Miller and Steve Alford have had great success at multiple schools (major and mid-major), yet no Final four trips. And Matt Painter has led Purdue to the Tournament in 8 of his 11 seasons – he’s 0 for 8.
Do you see any of those coaches getting off the schneid?
4. 1-SEED OVERRATED?
If you earn a 1-seed or at the worst flirt with getting one on Selection Sunday, you’ve done some truly remarkable things in the season and deserve to be on the top line. But when filling out brackets, don’t trust the top dogs (or at least all of them) to make deep runs.
We only have to go back to last year’s tournament for the last time all four 1-seeds advance through to the Elite 8. But before that, you’d have to go all the way back to 2009 the last time that happened. Usually one trips up somewhere, whether it be in the second round or the Sweet 16.
Additionally, only eight of the previous 28 Final Four representatives (since 2010) have been teams with a 1-seed. Not a super great ratio given the teams are put on a pedestal for being superior to others.
And lastly, if you’re feeling chalky, you might as well cash in now. Only one time has all four 1-seeds ever made it to the Final Four – 2009.
5. 6v11 AND 3v14 ARE THE NEW TREND
Move over, 5v12, you have some stiff competition when it comes to picking that juicy upset and potential Cinderella team in the tournament. Focus your attention on all the 3v14 and 6v11 match-ups this year.
In the last three seasons, the 11-seeds have collectively won more games head-to-head against 6-seeds (7-5) and have also done so going back to the 2010 Tournament (15-13). The only time the 6-seeds overall took down the lower-seed was in 2013.
The thing with 6v11 games is that they are fringe coin flip games, just a peg or two below the 7v10 match-ups. The 11-line in the field is often where the ‘Last 4 In’ bubble teams are slotted, presenting enticing match-ups. But it’s that same point that makes the 3v14 showdowns all that more stunning.
The 3-seeds have been among the weaker ‘giants’ in the tournament in recent history. At least one 3-seed has lost to a 14-seed in the last four seasons (five total instances). This comes after losing just three times to 14-seed teams in the 13 years prior. Among those instances in the last four seasons was Baylor in 2015, losing to Georgia State. The Bears are a 3-seed again, playing 14-seed New Mexico State, and are hoping to avoid being bounced in the first round for a third straight season.
6. WHERE IS CINDERELLA RESIDING?
We’re almost always going to see at least one double-digit seed make it through the first weekend and play in the Sweet 16.
Since 1985 (when the field expanded to 64 teams), only twice has double-digit seeds been shut out of the second weekend. Strangely enough, seeing three double-digit seeds in the Sweet 16 has occurred the most (12 times, most recently in 2014). Last season we saw two such teams — (11) Gonzaga and (10) Syracuse — who ended up playing each other no less.
The lowest double-digit seed to ever make a run to the Sweet 16 was back in 2013 when Florida Gulf Coast, aka ‘Dunk City’, stole the hearts of some and crushed the hearts of others.
We already documented the success of First Four teams. Half of the previous six who won their Round of 64 game, eventually made it through to the Sweet 16.
7. CONFERENCE CHAMP = NCAA CHAMP?
Does winning a conference tournament translate to major success in the NCAA Tournament. Only about half of the time.
Over the last 19 tournaments, 11 of the national champions also won their conference tournament beforehand. That’s textbook momentum. However, last year’s winner Villanova nearly completed the trifecta. They won the regular season crown but came up short to Seton Hall in their conference title game.
Now on the other hand, teams who were one-and-done in their conference tournament have never won the national title. This does not bode well for teams like (1) Kansas, (2) Louisville, (3) Baylor, (4) Butler and (4) Florida, who were all early exits in their conference tournaments last week.
8. CAN VILLANOVA REPEAT? HISTORY SAYS NOT LIKELY
The Wildcats went on a truly spectacular run in 2016 as a 2-seed, shooting the lights out and in fitting fashion, winning at the buzzer against North Carolina. Can they find their way back to the podium?
Over the last 40 years, only seven defending national champions have returned to the Final Four the next season. And of those seven, only Florida in 2007 completed the back-to-back titles. And Villanova is also the second defending champion to earn the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament after winning it all, also since Florida in ’07 (Committee began awarding No. 1 overall seeds in 2004).
But in recent history, defending champions have not fared well at all the next season. Since Florida hoisted the trophy in 2007, none of the nine defending champions have even made it to the Sweet 16. Four of the nine missed the tournament entirely.
Obviously that won’t be the case for ‘Nova, but it will be intriguing to see if they can break the decade-long drought of going back-to-back.
9. IF MSU WINS THEIR FIRST GAME, WATCH OUT
A 20th consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament has earned Michigan State a chance to play a stingy Miami team in the first round. No doubt it will be a tough game. Last year’s stunning loss to Middle Tennessee was only the fifth time in the Tom Izzo era that MSU was out after one game in the tournament.
As if that was not remarkable enough, it’s what he does in two-day turnarounds that has helped establish his reputation as a Hall of Fame head coach. Under the direction of Izzo, MSU is 21-4 (.840 win percentage) in games played in the second round (Round of 32) or Elite 8. The most recent L came in 2014, losing in the Elite 8 to eventual champion Connecticut.
And should Michigan State survive against Miami, they will play Kansas. The bad news is that Kansas is a 1-seed. The good news is that Kansas has been one of the more disappointing 1-seeds in recent tournament history.
Jayhawks head coach Bill Self has been a top-4 seed in 17 straight seasons. It’s seven straight years as a No. 1 or 2 seed for Self and KU, six total instances as a 1-seed. Not only has Kansas made the Final Four only once out of those six times, but they’ve been ousted in the second round as a 1- or 2-seed six times in their 28 straight years dancing, most recently in 2015.
10. WICHITA, VCU CAN ADD TO MID-MAJOR PEDIGREE
Anybody who follows college basketball closely knows that Wichita State and Virginia Commonwealth are two of the premier ‘mid-major’ Division I programs in the country. This is now six straight seasons for Wichita in the dance, seven straight and 10 of 14 for VCU.
Both teams, along with Middle Tennessee State, have a chance to add to the record books for mid-majors in the tournament. Only four times in the last ten years has a program won at least one Round of 64 game in the field as a double-digit seed in consecutive seasons. The most recent was Dayton, when they did so as an 11-seed in both 2014 and ’15.
Last year, Wichita was an 11-seed and won a First Four and Round of 64 game. VCU was a 10-seed and took down 7-seed Oregon State. And of course Middle Tennessee became only the eighth 15-seed ever to take down a 2-seed in the first round.
This year, all three have a chance to make it consecutive seasons with a tournament win. Wichita State and VCU are both 10-seeds this year, and Middle Tennessee made a big jump from a year ago, earning a 12-seed and date with Minnesota in the first round.
It’d be the second such instance for the Rams of VCU. They won games as a double-digit seed in consecutive tournaments in 2011-12, the former year being a run to the Final Four.