16 Seeds Put the ‘Madness’ in March Madness

By Danny Emerman (Sports Correspondent).

No, you’re not filling out a perfect bracket. The odds of picking all 63 games correctly is a staggering 1 in 2.4 trillion after adjusting for probability based on seeding. It’s impossible.

Another feat that seems impossible is a 16 seed upsetting a 1 seed in the first round. It has never happened. Since 1985, when the field expanded to 64 teams, 1 seeds are 124-0 against 16 seeds.

It is more likely that Kanye West will defeat Betty White in the 2016 presidential election than a 16 seed advances and you fill out a perfect bracket.

At the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, Nate Silver, editor of FiveThirtyEight, says that a historic “16 on 1” upset is improbable but inevitable.

“I think it is a fluke that it hasn’t happened,” Silver said. “Typically a 16 seed has somewhere between a .5 and 1% chance and parity is making it so the 1 seeds aren’t as dominant. We’ll see it sooner or later.”

Pundits have claimed all season that there is no clear favorite, with a top tier cluttered with good, but not great teams. Over the course of the regular season, six different teams have been in “pole position.”

The four top teams in the tournament: Kansas, Oregon, Virginia, and North Carolina, will be matched up with Austin Peay, Hampton, the winner of Florida Gulf Coast and Farleigh Dickinson, and Worcester’s Holy Cross.

Austin Peay’s season will soon end at the hands of Kansas. The Jayhawks are the best overall team in the bracket and their combination of talent and experience will be tough for anyone to match up with, let alone a 16 seed. With that said, there is a precedent for close games with highly favored 1 seeds.

In 1989, Alonzo Mourning’s Georgetown Hoyas squeaked past Princeton by just 1 point despite being favored by 23. They were a powerhouse, like Kansas, who let their guard down and nearly paid for it.

Florida Gulf Coast nearly hung 100 points on Farleigh Dickinson in their play-in game, but UNC will soon prove that “Dunk City” is so 2013. Hampton played one ranked team all season, SMU, and lost by 33. Needless to say they don’t have a shot at Virginia.

Holy Cross (15-19) is the 16 seed to watch as they are matched up with possibly the weakest 1 seed, Oregon. The Holy Cross Crusaders, who have not won a game in the NCAA tournament since 1953, punched their ticket last week with an incredible run in the Patriot League tournament. They earned a shot at the Oregon Ducks with a nailbiting win in the play-in game over Southern University.

Before their miraculous run, I was ready to proclaim the death of college basketball in Massachusetts. But led by junior Malachi Alexander and coach Bill Carmody, the boys from Worcester are one of the most improbable tournament teams ever as their 19 losses is a tie for most ever for a tournament team.

In the regular season, the Crusaders were the second worst team in the Patriot League, one of the worst conferences in the country. But they somehow flipped the script in the conference playoffs and are now riding a five game winning streak into the first round.

The Crusaders’ athleticism on the wing in their stingy 1-3-1 zone can disrupt any offense. Offensively, they grind teams down with a lethargic, yet effective  approach; sometimes they don’t even look at the hoop until there’s 15 seconds on the shot clock. They have never played a team of Oregon’s caliber, but if they can dictate the pace of the game and nail some threes, they will have a chance to make history.

Even though the Crusaders might have the most mojo and the most favorable matchup, history still says they will fall short. So if Holy Cross, FGCU, Austin Peay, or Hampton complete the impossible, you might as well move to Canada before President Kanye West changes our National Anthem to Gold Digger.

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