Making Sense of the Sweet 16

Photo Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Loyola-Chicago is in.

Virginia is out.

Just like we all drew it up, right? No lack of excitement on the first weekend of March Madness.

We witnessed history when UMBC became the first 16-seed to dispatch a one seed. We had a pair of 11/3 upsets and the defending champions were clobbered by 21 points. The only true letdown was that Grayson Allen and Duke found a way to advance.

If your alma mater didn’t get thumped, then you probably enjoyed the hell out of this weekend. Great games, great storylines, and some interesting talking points heading into the second week.

1. Parity and conference strength

Here’s how the conferences are represented in the Sweet 16:

  • Big 12 – 4 teams
  • ACC – 4 teams
  • Big Ten – 2 teams
  • SEC – 2 teams
  • Missouri Valley, Mountain West, West Coast, Big East – 1 each

Those numbers don’t mean much in a one-and-done tournament format, but you add a little bit of context by looking at the percentage of schools delivered to the second weekend:

The smaller conferences don’t have enough of a representation to put too much stock into any of their numbers, but you see the Pac-12 bottom out there with the 0-3 mark. Arizona’s loss to Buffalo was a killer while UCLA and ASU went out in the play-in games. That’s not totally surprising, since the Pac had a lackluster out of conference winning percentage in the regular season, going 104-44 and ranking last among the “power conferences.”

Take a look at the OOC numbers each conference posted this year:

Run those rankings against the first weekend numbers.

The Big 12 held court, putting four of seven teams into the Sweet 16. The Virginia and North Carolina upsets hurt the ACC, which got a needed boost from Clemson and Syracuse instead.

You’d have to say the Big East was probably the biggest disappointment of the first weekend, sending only Villanova to the next round. The conference was excellent in the OOC schedule this year, finishing 101-23 with an 81.4 winning percentage, the second best in the entire country. Xavier’s loss was a big black eye, while the lower-seeded Big East squads drew some tough matchups in Kansas, Texas A&M, and Purdue. I thought Creighton underwhelmed.

Does any of this mean that college basketball features “parity?”

I don’t know. The question always comes up during March Madness, simply because the tournament gives us a huge raw sample of high stakes non-conference matchups. I tend to lean on the second chart above, because there’s just more data to parse, even if a chunk of those games are played early in the season when teams might not be clicking yet. For example, how much stock do you put in a late-November game at the Maui Invitational versus a Big 12/SEC challenge game played in January? How much weight does a neutral floor game in Germany carry versus an 8/9 tournament matchup between Alabama and Seton Hall in Boise? There are a ton of factors to consider.

OOC parity is tough because the biggest data sample comes from the early portion of the schedule, while the tournament gives us neutral court, playoff-type of situations in a smaller size. If UMBC plays Virginia 10 times, how many do the Retrievers win? One? Two? How about Xavier vs. Florida State with 4 games in Cincinnati, 4 in Tallahassee, and 2 on an aircraft carrier docked on Penn’s Landing?

In recent years, the upsets sort of fade out when we get to week two. If you look at the seeds that have entered the Final Four going back about 6-7 years, this is who advanced to the last weekend:

  • 2017: 1, 1, 3, 7
  • 2016: 2, 1, 2, 10
  • 2015: 1, 1, 7, 1
  • 2014: 7, 8, 1, 2
  • 2013: 1, 4, 4, 9
  • 2012: 1, 2, 2, 4
  • 2011: 3, 8, 4, 11

So that’s only two double digit seeds qualifying for the final four going back to 2011.

The number 10 seed in 2016 was Syracuse, a traditional power, and the 11 seed in 2011 was VCU, probably the last true “Cinderella” to make the final weekend of the tournament. And the lower-seeded single digit teams are Butler, Wichita State, Michigan State, and Kentucky, two traditional powers and two teams that I hesitate to call “mid-majors” because of their consistent success year-in and year-out (which led to jumping into better conferences).

But the story is more or less the same; in recent seasons, the cream rises to the top.

I tend to agree with this guy:

2. Villanova

The path to the Final Four looks good.

West Virginia plays tough defense and a full court press, but Nova has experienced guards who can handle the ball and create transition offense. All it takes is a corner three off a press-break to unsettle a Bob Huggins team, and God knows we’re not going to shoot like we did against Marshall.

If you’re a neutral, tune in for the Jalen Brunson vs. Jevon Carter matchup. These are two of the country’s better, more experienced guards going at it on Friday night. I think it’ll be close for a bit but Nova has too much back court savvy to lose to a gimmicky team like us. I say Nova 72, WV 63.

From there, the Cats get the Texas Tech/Purdue winner. WVU beat Tech twice, so if Nova handles us, they shouldn’t have any issues with the Raiders. Purdue is playing without center Isaac Haas, who fractured his elbow in the first tournament game, so there’s another boon for Nova.

Then it’s Kansas or Duke. Kansas is the better draw. They’re a small ball, guard-oriented team that shoots the three extremely well but doesn’t have a ton inside. Again, I like Villanova’s experienced back court going up against Devonte’ Graham in that game. Duke is more balanced and more dangerous than Kansas. This is one of Bill Self’s less-talented teams of the last 10 years, but he’s done a nice job with the group. Coach K’s squad is probably the toughest test for Villanova on that side of the bracket.

3. Syracuse

Ah yes, the ‘ole disrespect card.

“I told you we deserved to be here! We were right! You were wrong!”

Syracuse fans are too educated to go down this road, the road of trying to justify your inclusion in the tournament based on what happens AFTER the selection. It doesn’t work that way.

The Orange were the last team in, according to the committee. They were 20-13, finished 10th in the ACC, and carried highly questionable tournament credentials.

They won an 11 vs. 11 play-in game, then beat six-seed TCU before upsetting Michigan State on Sunday afternoon in one of the weekend’s ugliest games:

I’ll be honest, I used to love college basketball before I started writing about the Sixers. But now that I see the NBA on a regular basis, I have a new understanding of how raw and unpolished college basketball really is, especially on the offensive side.

Watch how NBA teams move the ball and space the floor, and then watch a college team try to do those same things. That, I think, is where the biggest difference lies.

But, don’t get me wrong, I give a ton of credit to Jim Boeheim and Syracuse for getting here. If the opponent is gonna sit back in a 2-3 zone, then you have to hit some outside shots. Michigan State shot 25.8% and lost by two. If they make 18 or 19 field goals in this game, instead of going 17-66 (barf), they win. Sparty has nobody to blame but themselves.

That said, going back to what I mentioned above, I don’t understand why people keep playing the revisionist history card. Syracuse fans are super smart, they know basketball, and they should understand that anything can happen when you get in. I mean, they made the Final Four as a 10 seed just two years ago.

But the problem is that past history and the overall success of the program are irrelevant to the single season resume you build to qualify for the tournament.

I made a simple diagram to explain:

In basic terms:

A) Did Syracuse have questionable tournament credentials?


B) Are they going on a really nice run right now?


C) does B change anything regarding A?


D) does it matter?

Not really, no.

That’s about it. I just become somewhat agitated when I see Syracuse fans trolling college basketball writers who said that they didn’t deserve to be in the tournament based on their regular season body of work. That 20-13 record is what it is. Those opinions were all justified at the time and backed up by a 4-7 mark against the RPI top 50, an 8-10 conference record, and a pair of bad losses to Georgia Tech (13-19) and Wake Forest (11-20).

I certainly feel like Syracuse benefited from name recognition and past tournament performances (no shit), two things that don’t have anything to do with the body of work this squad put together in 2017/2018.

THAT SAID, I give them major props for ripping off three wins in six days to advance to the Sweet 16, where I will be pulling for them to bury Duke like the cockroaches they are.



10 Responses

  1. and God knows we’re not going to shoot like we did against Marshall.

    What the fuck “we”?

  2. Michigan State, making an early tournament exit, brought tears of joy to eyes.

    1. The lamest sound drop in Philadelphia sports radio in 30 years.

  3. This is Kinker’s last day at CB. He is going to Jim Adair’s site and will be paid $100k. Jim has been killing it. Anyone see his interview with Ty Lue about him quitting? Dude had that days before Woj.

  4. I am actually starting to get concerned for Mike Missanellis mental well being. How long before he loses it on a producer again?

    1. The man is in his 60’s. Could be early onset of dementia ya’ know…

  5. Eytan Shander is such an asshole. He goes to my gym, he never wipes down the equipment when he’s done, and he always walks around the locker room totally naked. And yet he still gets tons of hot chicks. I don’t get it. Eytan, we get it…. you have a big dick, get over it.

  6. Hey boy toys, I’m large and in charge and looking for fun, if you know what I mean…Call me…

  7. Jay Wright’s suit wins another national championship. He likes the way he looks. He guarantees it.

  8. Doesn’t that Grayson prick from Duke look like a young Sean Hannity? I fucking hate them both, but given the choice; I would put my foot up Hannity’s ass.

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