Bound to happen: 1 vs 16 matchup inches closer to an upset
SALT LAKE CITY — It’s going to happen. Maybe not Friday, when Kansas and North Carolina take their turn at trying to avoid history. But if not then, well, some year soon.
A No. 1 seed is going to lose to a No. 16, and with the direction college basketball is going of late, it may not even be considered that big of an upset.
“The extremes are scooting closer to the (middle), year in and year out,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said after his top-seeded Bulldogs slowly inched away for a 66-46 victory over South Dakota State on Thursday.
“When you look, statistically, at all these things, and say, ‘The 1 seed did this or that,’ that might have been back in the day. When you look at how close these games have been” lately, it’s a different story, he said.
Well, technically, Few isn’t right. In the first five years of the 64-team bracket, there were six games between 1s and 16s decided by single digits — none more excruciatingly memorable than Georgetown’s 50-49 squeaker over Pete Carril’s Princeton team back in 1989.
In the last five years, only four games have come down to single digits, including Gonzaga’s too-close-for-comfort 64-58 win over Southern in 2013, the last time the Bulldogs were a 1 seed.
But there’s more to these games than the final score, and Thursday’s action — a pair of 20-point wins for the 1s — might have been Exhibits 1 and 1A.
Mount St. Mary’s, fresh off a First Four win two nights earlier, looked more in sync and better prepared for one half against Villanova. Sparked by the guard play of Miles Wilson and Elijah Long, the Mountaineers had an 8-point lead early, and trailed by only 1 at the half before falling 76-56 .
“I do think some of it was Mount St. Mary’s. I really do,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said about his team’s slow start. “I think those guards are smaller and quicker than any guards we played against. It gave us trouble.”
Every bit as telling was Gonzaga’s win over South Dakota State, a team that, by almost any measure, had the wrong number next to its name coming into this tournament. Yes, the Jackrabbits were only 18-16, a fourth-place finisher in their less-than-powerhouse conference. But they had the nation’s second-leading scorer in Mike Daum and had won nine of 11 coming into the tournament.
Few said they looked better in person than they did on film — and after a grinder of a win, he’s certainly more familiar with Daum and the Jackrabbits than members of the NCAA selection committee whose job it was to seed them.
“Really organized,” Few said of the Jackrabbits. “They have an elite-level player that can get 30 on anybody in this tournament. And then their toughness. We got to the first timeout, I was like, ‘All right, this is going to be a war.’”
There figure to be more like this.
Parity is, quite simply, as much a part of college hoops these days as brackets and one-and-dones. It helps get the George Masons and VCUs of the world to the Final Four; eventually it figures to play into a 16 finally knocking off a 1.
Asked to explain it all a few years ago, when Wichita State made a surprise run to the Final Four, Bill Raftery of CBS said AAU and summer leagues have leveled the playing field by making everyone familiar to everyone.
“The kids all know one another, so they’re not in the least bit in awe of an opponent,” he said. “You get Wichita State playing Louisville and they don’t really give a damn. It’s just another team to them.”
On Friday, two more 16 seeds get a chance to bust the bracket, even if it might not shock the world.
Coming off a First-Four victory Wednesday over North Carolina Central, UC Davis plays its second-ever NCAA Tournament game, this time against Kansas.
Texas Southern brings the worst 3-point-shooting and defensive-rebounding stats in the 64-team field into a game against North Carolina.
If things go to form, No. 1s will move to 132-0 lifetime in the 1-16 matchup.
If they don’t — well, nobody will say they didn’t see it coming.
“Someone can have that from here on out,” Few said of the top seeding. “I’ve served my time. I’ll go ahead and land somewhere else.”
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