Monday, March 11, 2013
Is This the Year a 16 Beats a 1?
One of my favorite aspects of the NCAA men's basketball tournament to predict is what will be the biggest upset in the first (well, I guess now we call it the second) round of the tournament. I usually go with a three- or a four-seed losing, but still rejoice every time a two-seed loses (I love upsets!). But 2013 is shaping up to be a potentially crazy tournament. Every single team in the country (except Gonzaga and Stephen F. Austin) has four or more losses.
It seems like each time we have a new number one, they lose. There have been weeks where nearly half of the teams ranked in the top 25 have lost. It's been unpredictable to say the least, and that makes me wonder: could this be the year a number one seed finally loses in their first game?
The answer of course is probably not, but I would say the odds are better this year than any other year in my lifetime. So let's take a look at teams that could potentially be ranked No. 1 and look at how vulnerable they are. Below are the top 15 teams from the AP poll, as of March 4. Obviously some of these teams don't have much of a chance to be ranked No. 1, but winning a conference tournament could mean a lot of clout this season and the vast majority of these teams are in conferences with such clout.
For assessment, I'll use the following ranking system — vulnerability level will be by code colors as follows:
Red — High: Higher than 10% chance they'll lose in their first game.
Orange — Medium: 5-10% chance they'll lose in their first game.
Yellow — Low: 1-5% chance they'll lose in their first game.
Blue — Very Low: Less than 1% chance they'll lose in their first game.
So let's start with No. 15 from last week.
Marquette — Code Orange
I'm probably being too hard on the Golden Eagles, but I see one game on their schedule that makes me a bit concerned — a 49-47 away loss to the Green Bay Phoenix. While an in-state game in an undoubtedly hostile environment, it is a loss to an inferior team; moreover, it is a loss in a close game to an inferior team: exactly what the tournament could be in Marquette's first game. Be wary, Golden Eagles!
Ohio State — Code Blue
Ohio State has not lost to a non-ranked opponent this season. While they do have two laughable losses at Illinois and at Wisconsin by 19 and 21 points, respectively, those were both in hostile, conference rival arenas. Don't count on the Buckeyes suffering any difficulties in their first game of the tournament.
Oklahoma State — Code Orange
I wasn't entirely sure what warning to put on the Cowboys, but they have had four overtime games this year. Only one of those (Kansas in 2OT) was a loss, but allowing a game against Akron to go to overtime makes me a little twitchy — though Akron was having a pretty good season until Alex Abreu was suspended. There are a few other games in their schedule where they let teams hang around and that could easily bite them in the tournament.
New Mexico — Code Red
The Lobos are probably the least likely team on this list to get a No. 1 seed. It's far more likely they'll land in the 3-6 range where they are potentially vulnerable. As a three or four seed, they'll most likely play a conference champion from a weak conference, but as a five- or six-seed, they could play a lower seeded team from the Big East or Big Ten and those would not be good matchups for the Lobos. Finishing the season with only four losses will help to ensure a more easily beatable first round foe.
Florida — Code Yellow
The Gators have not lost at home this year. They have five road losses and one neutral site loss. Their loss at Kentucky will likely mean no No. 1 seed for them, but the selection committee seems to love Florida and they'll probably manage a three seed and teams in the running for 14 seeds are unlikely to be able to matchup against this balanced lineup.
Michigan State — Code Yellow
The Spartans probably have nothing to worry about, but a couple nail-biters early on in the season (74-70 over Boise State and 63-60 over Louisiana-Lafayette), along with a rough schedule the past three weeks, makes me take out the yellow label for the Spartans.
Kansas State — Code Yellow
There's only one worrying result from the Wildcats this season — a 3-point win over Delaware on a neutral court. It is not much to be concerned over. Generally K-State takes care of business.
Louisville — Code Yellow
The Cardinals certainly have some character, I'll give them that. I should probably give them the benefit of the doubt with a Code Blue, but I remember 2011 when they lost to Morehead State and Louisville is a team that has been worn down by a difficult schedule (much like everybody in the Big East and Big Ten). An energy-consuming Big East Tournament could be bad for Louisville, but winning that tournament could bolster them into No. 1 seed territory. We'll see what happens.
Michigan — Code Blue
Other than a loss at Penn St., you can't really say anything bad about the Wolverines. They have star power and can shoot the lights out. They are a team that will garner numerous picks to win it all. No worries in their first game.
Miami — Code Red
I think Miami has some potential to make some noise in this tournament, but they have some seriously bad losses this season. They lost at Florida Gulf Coast (who in the world is that?); at home vs. Indiana State, they got blown out by a bad Wake Forest team; and they lost a close one to a weak Georgia Tech team at home. Losing three of their last five is not a good sign for Miami. I can see them in the Final Four or out in their first game. This I know: I'm not taking any chances on them.
Georgetown — Code Yellow
Georgetown looks like they are a team that could do some real damage in the tournament, but they have two games on their schedule that just make me shake my head. They beat Tennessee at home by a score of 37-36. Some of my games in fifth grade had higher scoring than that. Also, a 46-40 win over Townson — again at home. The Hoyas seem to have a propensity to underwhelm at times. Those games were both early in the season, but they happened and the tournament can bring out the worst in some teams.
Kansas — Code Blue
The Jayhawks had a rough patch in early February where they lost three in a row to conference opponents, but I'd say they are largely over those troubles. I'm just not worried about Kansas. They shoot well. They pass well. They rebound well. They have depth. They're solid.
Duke — Code Orange
Duke laid a few eggs this year, but their four losses were all on the road to conference foes. Duke is likely to find themselves with a one or two seed where I doubt they'll have much trouble. Every game against a weak team has been a blowout. But I have one word for Duke: Lehigh.
Indiana — Code Blue
The Hoosiers have had an interesting year. They've lost some games that perhaps they should not have, games we wanted them to win so we could have an obvious favorite for the NCAA tournament, but I don't think they are in any real danger of being eliminated before the first weekend is over.
Gonzaga — Code Red
I love Gonzaga. I am thrilled they are the number one team in the country and that they will likely receive a number one seed, but no number one seed will be more vulnerable than the Bulldogs. Gonzaga has three ranked teams on their schedule. They lost to Butler and Illinois, and they beat Oklahoma State. But they have not had a stern level of competition in quite some time. Think about this: they have not beaten a ranked opponent in 2013.
If ever a 16-seed will beat a 1-seed, this is the matchup where it could happen. The power conferences have beaten the crap out of each other, leaving a very muddy field of very good teams, but no clear favorites. Gonzaga has won the games they should without terrible difficulty and has been rewarded. But a matchup against a potential 16-seed such as Charleston Southern — a team that scores a lot and rebounds well, despite having no size at all — could spell upset city for Gonzaga. Now I'm not so worried that I will actually pick Gonzaga to lose in the first round, but if the odds were right, I might put some money down, just to see.