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Matt Vautour: A No. 16 seed over a No. 1? This could be the year

In a little less than two weeks, almost every college basketball fan in the country will have a bracket in their hand, attempting to predict the results in what figures to be the most unpredictable tournament in years.

In most years, the safest way to start filling it out is to pick all four No. 1 seeds to advance out of the first round. A No. 16 has never beaten a top seed in the men’s tournament. Top dogs are 112-0 on the opening days since the field expanded to 64 in 1985. That will probably improve to 116-0 this year.

Probably.

But, unlike in most years, a mother of all March upsets seems possible.

Consider the following:

e_STnSThere is no truly great team this year. Some good teams have played great on certain nights, but most of the title contenders have a stinker on their resume. Teams that will be among the favorites to cut the nets down have losses to TCU (Kansas), Florida Gulf Coast (Miami) and Penn State (Michigan). They’ve lost by 27 points (Duke) or scored just 37 points (Georgetown). Everybody has flaws. The teams that will earn 1 seeds in 2013 might have been 2s or even 3s in most years. The 2011-12 Kentucky team would be heavily favored against any of these teams.

e_STnSNo. 16 teams are getting better. Before the field expanded to 68 in 2011, the worst four teams in the tournament were the four No. 16 seeds. Now the worst four teams are in two of the play-in games. Two advance to face No. 1s and two are eliminated. The other two No. 16s are teams that three years ago would have been No. 15 seeds.

e_STnSA No. 15 has beaten a No. 2 six times in NCAA tournament history. If half of the current No. 16s are more like the 15s of old and the likely No. 1 seeds are much weaker than in the past, the games are much more like No. 2 vs. 15 battles. Still not likely, but a lot more possible.

SEED THIS TEAM — Where should the NCAA selection committee seed a team with the following resume:

Record: 21-7

Wins vs. RPI 25: Georgetown (10), North Carolina (20), Michigan (9), Ohio State (21), Michigan State (8).

Losses: Butler (27), N.C. State (23), Syracuse (14), Miami (3), Indiana (6), Illinois (34), Minnesota (16).

Other wins: Bryant, North Dakota State, Sacred Heart, Georgia, Ball State, Coppin State, Central Connecticut, Mount St. Mary’s, Cornell, Elon, South Carolina, Davidson, Wake Forest, Clemson, Seton Hall, Maryland, Northwestern, Nebraska, Purdue and Iowa.

This isn’t the resume of an actual team. It’s the record and results of teams ranked No. 1 in the weeks they held the top spot. The seven wins over teams in the top 25 of the RPI would likely be enough to get a strong RPI itself as all of its losses are respectable. But seven losses would hurt.

In other words, a No. 1 seed would likely be a No. 2 or 3 seed.

MY TOP 10 — This was tougher than in most weeks. I’m someone who on numerous occasions has stayed up late to watch Gonzaga play and while I like them, I honestly have doubts whether the Zags can win a national championship. They have a tremendous record (29-2) and some good wins (Oklahoma State, Oklahoma), but can they win it? And can I vote a team that I have doubts about whether they can win it No. 1 two weeks before selection Sunday?

My other choice was Duke. Before Saturday’s win over Miami, I wondered just how effective Ryan Kelly could be the rest of the year after missing almost two months with a foot injury. When he was healthy earlier in the season the Blue Devils were the best team in the country. Without him they’ve been good, but not nearly as good.

So when he came back and scored 36 points against a very good Miami team, Duke looks like the best team in the country again.

But without Kelly, they lost to a mediocre Virginia team (which then lost to Boston College) earlier in the week. Can a team that lost to Virginia really be No. 1?

After wrestling with it for a while, I went with the Zags. They’ve won 12 straight mostly in blowout fashion and in this crazy year, who’s to say they can’t win it all?

Here’s the rest of my top 10: 1. Gonzaga, 2. Duke, 3. Kansas, 4. Indiana, 5. Georgetown, 6. Michigan, 7. Miami, 8. Louisville, 9. Michigan State, 10. Kansas State.

For the rest of my Top 25 visit the College Hoop Week Guide on the UMass Sports Blog at www.gazettenet.com/Blogs/UMassSports/.

GAMES OF THE WEEK: No. 2 Indiana at No. 7 Michigan, Sunday, 4 p.m. CBS — This is one of the last regular season games of the season and one of the best all year.

ATLANTIC 10 GAME OF THE WEEK: Saint Louis at Xavier, Wednesday, 9 p.m. — The Billikens can clinch the league title with a win. The Musketeers are trying to avoid losing three straight home games which would be unheard of.

TOUGHEST WEEK: Indiana — Usually any week that involves playing the Hoosiers is a challenging one, but IU will face Ohio State at home on Tuesday and will travel to Michigan on Sunday.

ON THE ROAD TO — The Atlantic 10 getting as many or more teams in the NCAA tournament than the ACC, Big 12, the Pac 12 and the SEC.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at @GazetteUMass. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.

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