Author: Matt Fargo - Tuesday, March 18, 2008
It's that time of year again and everyone from the seasoned professional to the novice soccer mom with be filling out their brackets in search of the perfect ticket. Unlike last year, 2007-08 was an interesting regular season with very little switching of the top spots and at the end, it all remained the same. The top four in the Preseason poll were (1) North Carolina, (2) UCLA, (3) Memphis and (4) Kansas. After all was said and done, those four finished in the exact same order.
Only three teams held down the number one ranking at one point this season, led by North Carolina who was number one for 13 weeks over two different parts of the year. Next was Memphis for five weeks and Tennessee for just one week. Kansas never left the top five this season but never made it into the top spot while UCLA dipped outside the top five for only two weeks but failed to garner a top ranking. Wisconsin finished 5th in the ESPN/USA Today poll but was able to lock down only a 3rd seed.
Taking a look at some prior years can tell us a lot heading into this postseason. 2007 was a postseason that was slightly of mark considering the amount of favorites that won in the first round. Of the first 32 games, only five lower seeds won and three of those were 9th seeds over 8th seeds. The other two were 11th seeded VCU over Duke and 11th seed Winthrop over Notre Dame. It didn't end there. While only two top seeds made it to the Final Four, it was the first year since 1993 that all four teams consisted of #1 and #2 seeds.
2006 was the second straight season that both a 13th and 14th seed upset a 4th and 3rd seed respectively. Northwestern St. took out Iowa while Bradley beat Kansas with the latter making it all the way to the Sweet 16. Overall, there were nine lower seeds that won in the first round but that was the most that we have seen over the last four tournaments. However, the most shocking aspect was that no number one seed made it to the Final Four, the first time that has happened since 1980.
2005 had its share of opening round upsets but it was not a bracket full of shockers. Of the 32 opening round games, only eight lower seeds won outright and three of those were nines over eights. 13th seeded Vermont and 14th seeded Bucknell were the two biggest upsets. Two top seeds, North Carolina and Illinois, made it to St. Louis but Louisville and Michigan St. also broke through as four and five seeds respectively. It was the first year since 2002 that teams lower than a 3rd seed made it to the Final Four.
In 2004, it was even more sided toward the favorite as only four lower seeds advanced with 12th seeds Manhattan and Pacific leading the way. UAB and Nevada took out Washington and Michigan St. respectively as the only other upsets. Those two teams actually made it to the final 16 and along with Alabama, were the only two teams seeded lower than 5th to advance that far. Of the final four teams, only one team, Georgia Tech, was seeded lower than a two and the Yellow Jackets were not far back with a three seed.
2003 saw only eight lower seeds advance past the first round with three of those being the nine seeds. Of the five other upsets, 13th seeded Tulsa and 12th seeded Butler were the two biggest shockers. The four top seeds, Kentucky, Arizona, Texas and Oklahoma, advanced to the final eight but Texas was the only team to make it to New Orleans. Third seeded Syracuse won the title by taking out two number one seeds and the Orange were the only non-number one or two seed to win it all over the prior eight years.
One thing is clear and that is we have never seen all four top seeds making it to the semifinal round. The closest was back in 1999 when three number ones made it to Indianapolis as it was top seed Connecticut that won the whole thing. As mentioned earlier, 2006 was the first year since 1980 that no number one seed advanced but it was number two seed Louisville that held off a five, six and an eight seed back then. At least two number ones have made it to the semis in 17 of the last 29 years while three have made it only three times.
Since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, there have been plenty of major upsets but none involving a number one seed. It will happen some year but it's anyone's guess if it's this year or in 20 years. Since 1985, four number two seeds have fallen with the most recent being Iowa St. in 2001. The three seed has lost 15 times, Iowa being the latest victim in 2006 while the four seed has gone down 19 times, none last year. Five times we have seen at least three 13th or lower seeds advance past the first round, 2001 being the last year of that occurrence.
Past tournament history can tell you a lot but it can also tell you nothing. Upsets just happen and they can come out of nowhere but some can be seen coming. The higher seeds clearly advance more but the trick is finding the ones that won't. A lot of it is based on momentum heading into the tournament which I will touch on and a lot of it is based on just simple matchup advantages. Balance and depth are two important factors that are often overlooked but play a huge role as fresh legs can be a big part of winning or losing.
How a team finished the regular season and how it did in the conference tournaments can carry over into the big event. Conference champions bring in a lot of momentum, not only because of the title but also because of the winning streak that comes with it. For the lower rated conferences, winning the postseason tournament is a must and if there is a team that knows that, it is Davidson. The Wildcats own the dubious record of finishing undefeated twice during the regular conference season (1996 and 2005) and failing to make the NCAA Tournament.
Five teams this season enter with winning streaks of 10 games or more. Belmont (13), Wisconsin (10), Cornell (16), UCLA (10) and Davidson (22) all carry some significant momentum but notice only Wisconsin and UCLA are from major conferences. The other three teams have schedule strengths of 289th (Belmont), 298th (Cornell) and 141st (Davidson). How about negative momentum? Of the 65 teams, 34 teams come in on a losing streak but 32 of those teams have only a one-loss run going. Indiana and Louisville are the only squads with more than one loss heading in and both are on two-game skids.
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