Sixteen ‘sweet’ teams remain and 15 games from now, on April 4 from Reliant Stadium in Houston, the 2011 national champions will be crowned. The selection committee ranked the entire field from 1 to 68 with the last four at-large teams selected and the four lowest-ranked automatic qualifiers playing what was called the "First Four". The winners from the group of at-large teams saw Clemson get a No. 12 seed and VCU a No. 11 seed while NC-Ashville and Texas-San Antonio advanced from the group of automatic qualifiers as No. 16 seeds. Three of those four lost their first game in the field-of-64 while 11th-seed VCU has advanced to the Sweet 16 (more on the Rams and the other double digit seeds still remaining in a little bit).
A quick pointspread recap reveals favorites were 2-1-1 in the “First Four.” In an interesting quirk, note what’s happened in both the round of 64 and round of 32. Favorites went 9-6-1 ATS on Thursday (double-digit favorites were 4-1), then 3-10 ATS on Friday (double-digit favorites were 3-4) with three games closing at pick’em. The same trend held true in the next round, as Saturday favorites went 7-1 ATS (no double-digit ones) but just 2-6 ATS on Sunday (1-1 for double-digit ones). Overall, after 52 tourney games, favorites are 23-24-2 (plus those three pick’em games).
All No. 1 seeds won their first games (now 108-0 all-time vs 16-seeds) but Pittsburgh (3rd-ranked No. 1 seed) fell to 8th-seeded Butler (last year’s national runners-up). Ohio State is the overall No. 1 seed and the Buckeyes have “played the part,” ignoring some ‘ugly’ past history. The committee began selecting an overall No. 1 seed for the first time in the 2004 tournament. Kentucky claimed that honor but lost in the second round. The only overall No. 1 to win the title was Florida in 2007, the second of its back-to-back championships. Kansas was last year’s overall No. 1 and like Kentucky back in 2004, also lost in the second round.
Ohio State was also the AP’s No. 1 team in its final regular season poll, creating even more ‘ugly’ history for the Buckeyes to overcome. Since Bob Knight’s Indiana team (last school to finish a season unbeaten at 32-0) won it all back in 1976, just five schools entering the last 34 NCAA tourney’s as the AP’s No. 1 team have gone on the capture the national championship (just 14.7 percent). The short list includes Kentucky (1978), North Carolina (1982), Duke (1992), UCLA (1995) and Duke (2001). So far, Ohio State has shown no signs of vulnerability, averaging 86.5 PPG on 58.6 percent shooting (including making 28-of-50 three pointers) while allowing 56.0 PPG on 38.9 percent shooting. Sullinger has 29 points and 17 rebounds, starting guards Buford and Diebler have combined for 63 points plus swingman Lighty led the way in the team’s 98-66 destruction of George Mason on Sunday with 25 points, after scoring just eight points vs Texas-San Antonio.
Kansas (overall No. 2) and Duke (overall No. 4 plus the defending champs) also advanced to the Sweet 16 as No. 1 seeds. Seeding began in 1979 and just once (in 2008), have all four No. 1s advanced to the Final 4. Naturally, that set up a meeting between two No. 1s in that year’s championship game (Kansas beat Memphis in OT) but it should be pointed out that No. 1 seeds meeting in the title game is more of an exception than a rule. The 2008 title game was one of just six all-time (seeding began in 1979) to see two No 1 seeds square off in the championship game. The first came back in 1982 (North Carolina beat Georgetown) with the others being in 1993 (North Carolina beat Michigan), 1999 (UConn over Duke), 2005 (North Carolina over Illinois) and 2007 (Florida over Ohio St). Just two Final 4s have been contested without a single No. 1 seed, 1980 (Louisville was a No. 2 seed and beat 8th-seeded UCLA for the title with fifth-seeded Iowa and 6th-seeded Purdue joining them) and in 2006 (Florida won as a No. 3 seed over 2nd-seed UCLA with 4th-seeded LSU and 11th-seeded George Mason joining the ‘party’).
Three of four No. 2 seeds also remain (Notre Dame was the only loser) with two of four No. 3 and 4 seeds making the Sweet 16. BYU and UConn are still ‘alive’ as 3-seeds (Purdue and Syracuse are out) with 4-seeds Kentucky and Wisconsin still hanging around but Louisville and Texas headed back home. The 10 top-four (or higher) seeds are joined by Arizona (a 5-seed), No. 8 seed Butler plus a 10th-seeded Florida St team, two 11-seeds (Marquette and VCU) and No. 12 Richmond, the highest seed still ‘alive.’ Ten double-digit seeds have won games, six in the round of 64 and four more in the round of 32. At the same time last year, 11 double-digit seeds had won games but just three double-digit seeds (as opposed to the four this year) advanced to the Sweet 16. No. 12 Cornell became the first Ivy school to do so since Penn in 1979, No. 11 Washington advanced out of LY’s much-maligned Pac 10 and the third double digit seed was No. 10 St Mary's.
The 2009 NCAA tourney saw just four "upsets" (the official NCAA Record Book defines an upset as being a win by a team seeded five or more places lower that the team it defeated) out of 64 total games, the second-fewest total since seeding began back in 1979 (record-low came in the 2007 tourney with just three upsets). However, last year’s tourney saw five upsets in the first round and four more in the second round, giving the 2010 tourney an opportunity to challenge the 1986 tourney which owns the record for most upsets in a single tourney. LSU, a No. 11-seed, made its Final 4 run that year, pulling a single-tourney record of four upsets (over No. 6 Purdue, No. 3 Memphis, No. 2 Ga Tech and No. 1 Kentucky) before falling to No. 2 Louisville 88-77 in the national semifinals. That 1986 tourney would produce 12 “upsets,” in all.
While last year’s tourney produced nine upsets in the first two rounds, there was not a single upset (as defined by a team being seeded five or more places lower that the team it defeated), the remainder of the tourney. Butler was perceived as being a major Cinderella team last year but let me remind all that the Bulldogs were ranked 11th in the nation in the final AP regular season poll just prior to the tourney beginning. Butler got a No. 5 seed, very low considering its national ranking, which should have translated into a No. 3 or at worst, a No. 4 seed. No. 12 Cornell lost its Sweet 16 game to No. 1 Kentucky 62-45, No. 11 Washington lost 69-56 to No. 2 West Va and No. 10 St Mary’s lost 72-49 to No. 3 Baylor, as the double digit seeds got beat by a combined score of 203-150 while going 0-3 ATS.
There have been eight “upsets” this year (remember, nine at this time last year and not a single after the round of 32) but reaching the 12 we saw in the 1986 tourney figures to be a long shot. One thing is for sure during this year’s Sweet 16, unlike last year, all four double digit seeds can’t lose. That’s because one Sweet 16 matchup features No. 10 Florida State taking on No. 11 VCU (FSU opened as a 3 1/2-point favorite). The winner of that game will be just one win away from becoming just the third double digit seed to reach a Final 4 with the only previous being LSU in 1986 and George Mason in 2005 (both as 11-seeds). Of course, if 12th-seeded Richmond upsets Kansas (a No. 1 seed), then Richmond would be the opponent of the FSU/VCU winner, guaranteeing that a double seed would be advancing to Houston.
Now here’s the rub considering that scenario. It’s not unusual for a 12-seed to make the Sweet 16, as it has now happened in each of the last four years and for the 19th time since seeding began back in 1979. However, just one 12-seed has ever advanced to a Regional Final, better known now as the Elite 8. That was Missouri back in 2002, which was able to meet UCLA (just an 8-seed) it its Sweet 16 matchup. However, in the other 16 previous trips to the Sweet 16 by a 12-seed, that team has met a No. 1 seed, going 0-16. Richmond, meet No. 1 seed Kansas in this year’s Sweet 16. Of course, from a betting perspective, we’ll note that the Spiders opened as 10 1/2-point underdogs. The fourth double digit seed in this year’s Sweet 16 is Marquette and this No. 11 seed will meet North Carolina (a 2-seed). The Tar Heels are favored by a modest 4 1/2-points due to the fact that they don’t own a single ATS win in five tourney games this year (three in the ACC tourney and two in the NCAAs), going 0-4-1 ATS.
The Big East sent a record 11 teams to this year’s tourney but just two remain, No. 3 UConn and No. 11 Marquette. Wouldn’t it be something if the Golden Eagles were the team representing that league in Houston? For that to happen, Marquette (which already owns “upsets” over No. 6 Xavier and No. 3 Syracuse) would have to beat North Carolina and then either No. 1 Ohio St or No. 4 Kentucky. That accomplishment would allow them to tie the 1986 LSU team which produced four upsets on its way to a Final 4 appearance in 1986 (see above). As a conference, the Big East has been a major disappointment, as excluding UConn and Marquette (4-0 SU & ATS), the other nine schools went a combined 5-9 SU & 4-10 ATS (note: Cincy lost to UConn and Syracuse to Marquette in the round of 32, both games being matchups of Big East opponents). The ACC, with Duke (1-seed), North Carolina (2-seed) and Florida St (10-seed), is the only conference which advanced more than two teams to this year’s Sweet 16. However, while FSU is 2-0 ATS, Duke and Carolina have gone just 1-3 ATS in this year’s tourney.
Sweet 16 and Elite 8 ATS: Sweet 16 favorites have gone 6-2 ATS in each of the last two NCAA tourneys and 17-7 the last three years. However, how much does that really mean? A check of the previous three NCAA tourneys (2005-07) reveals that favorites were a money-burning 8-15-1 ATS. Go back another four years (2001-04) and it was the favorites again on top, going 19-12-1 ATS. Favorites have not been “the way to go” during the Regional Finals (Elite 8) for quite awhile now. Favorites are a woeful 19-31 (38.0 percent) ATS over the last 13 seasons (two games closed pick’em) with the most interesting breakdown showing that favorites of between one and three points were just 4-12! Then again, maybe this is the year that begins a 13-year stretch in which the favorites become “the way to go.”