Sucks to be a 4 seed!
It seems like every year, the most popular upset pick in the NCAA tournament comes in the 5-12 matchups of the first round. The 12 seed has won 33.3% of its first round games since the tournament switched to a 64 team field in 1985. That success rate equals that of 11 seeds against 6s, and far surpasses that of 13 seeds against 4s (21.3%).
That trend is about to change, and I believe it will become more evident than ever in just a few days, because 13 is the new 12. Four years in a row, a 13 seed has pulled off a first round upset, and I believe it will happen multiple times in this year’s tournament
There are two main reasons that I think 13s will not only succeed this year, but that trend will continue for years to come.
- The 68 team field: Adding four teams to the tournament doesn’t sound like an awful lot, but with two 16 seed play in games, you’re moving teams down half a rank. It’s almost a guarantee that every year, the SWAC champ and the MEAC champ will have to play their way into the tournament. This slides everybody else down so that you’re getting better teams with lower seeds. This doesn’t seem like a big deal, but the fact of the matter is that the worst 4-6 teams every year are considerably worse than the next 5 or so teams from the bottom. For evidence of this, I would simply point to the fact that a 16 seed has never beaten a 1 seed. Typically, the difference between 2s and 1s isn’t that great. It doesn’t sound like a huge difference, but 13s are stronger than they used to be simply because of the amount of teams in the dance
- The rise of the mid-major: More now than ever, not BCS teams are finding ways to compete and recruit with the big boys in college basketball. There is tons of talent out there, and with every VCU, George Mason, Davidson and Butler that goes deep into the tournament, kids are realizing they don’t have to go to Chapel Hill to get their face on a One Shining Moment montage.
I believe that as many as three 13 seeds could get the job done this year, because not only are the 13s better than ever…but the 4s kinda stink. ESPN.com has a formula for calculating “Giant Killers”. Truth be told, I don’t know the exact formula and I don’t know who they have as this year’s “Giant Killers”, but knowing what they look for, I can make a pretty good guess. All of the things they key in on makes a lot of sense. The teams that generally pull off these upsets are teams that do three things in particular…
- Three point shooting…do it often, do it well
- Ball protection. You can’t expect to beat Duke when you turn the ball over 20 times
- Rebounding, particularly on the offensive end of the floor
Captain Obvious says that “Giants” susceptible to upsets are teams who tend to struggle in those same areas. Let’s look at the 4-13 matchups…
SOUTH – Indiana vs New Mexico State
The Aggies ball protection isn’t as great as you’d like to see, but Indiana is playing without point guard Verdell Jones III because of a torn ACL. Indiana still has a lot of talent, and they shoot the three very well, but this might not be a bad gamble to take in your bracket, because even if they get past New Mexico State, I can’t see them surviving VCU or Wichita State.
WEST – Louisville vs Davidson
I know what you’re thinking…how can you argue against the Cardinals after they just finished four wins in four days to claim the Big East title? Take a closer look…I can’t deny that the Marquette win was a good one in the quarterfinals, but other than that, wasn’t it an unusually easy path to said Big East Championship? They beat Seton Hall in the first round, Notre Dame (a 7 seed) in the semis and Cincinnati, a team who was on the bubble until a recent hot streak, in the finals. Before the Big East Tournament, they had lost 4 out of 6, while BARELY taking wins from Pitt (at home) and at Depaul. They can’t shoot threes (31.1%) and their assist to turnover ratio is below 1.00. Davidson pops 23 threes per game, and they protect the ball with a 1.17 A/TO ratio. They’ve beaten Kansas earlier in the season, so they are experienced against BCS Conference teams, they have balance with five players averaging double figures, and they knock down free throws (76.4%).
EAST – Wisconsin vs Montana
This is the only one I really don’t like and Montana is a good team. I just think Wisconsin is too strong, and too disciplined. They have a great point guard in NBA prospect Jordan Taylor, they turn it over just 9 times per game as a team, they hit 36% of their threes and they grab 74% of the rebounds on opponents misses. Montana is a good team, but I just don’t think they have enough to get Bo Ryan’s Badgers.
SOUTHWEST – Michigan vs Ohio
Big Ten schools nearly had a monopoly on the 4 seeds, and I like the Big Ten, but I have my concerns about Michigan. They’re a mediocre rebounding team going up against an exciting Ohio Bobcats squad that puts up a ton of threes, and lately they’ve all been going in. In the last two games of the MAC Tournament, Ohio hit 21 of 46 threes in wins over Buffalo and Akron, the top two seeds in the conference. The MAC Conference was sort of a sleeper mid-major conference this year, but if you were paying attention, they were surprisingly strong at the top. Ohio grabs 35% of the rebounds on their own misses and I think they could give Michigan a lot of problems in round one.
If I’ve learned anything over the years about the NCAA tournament, it’s that this stuff is so hard to predict. So I could be wrong, but if I am…I’ll just blame that whole “unlucky 13” thing.