Gonzaga v Southern

Does the first round score really matter?

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I think Rob Neyer did a quick study like this not too long ago — and I’m sure many others have as well. But, well, you certainly know the famous story about writing a long letter, a story that has been attributed to many people. Somebody wrote a very long letter. “If I had more time,” Benjamin Franklin or Blaine Pascal or Woodrow Wilson or Mark Twain or someone else ended that letter, “I would have made it shorter.”

Well, if I had more time I would have looked up the other studies. Instead, I just tried to answer it myself.

The question is: Does it MATTER how much a No. 1 seed wins by in the first round* of the NCAA Tournament?

*And, oh yes, I will continue to call the Round of 64 the “first round” — let the NCAA sanction me if they want. Calling those play-in games the first round is, well, it’s certainly not the MOST ridiculous thing the NCAA has done in recent months, or even in the Top 100, but it’s plenty ridiculous and I won’t be a party to it. What, we’re now supposed to believe that SIXTY TEAMS get a bye in the first round? Dear NCAA: Stop it right now.

I started thinking about this again when Gonzaga beat Southern by only six points on Thursday. I wondered, “Does this mean anything at all?” Then I watched Kansas play a brutal game against a spirited Western Kentucky and win by only seven IN KANSAS CITY, a virtual home game. And I thought: This HAS to mean something.

Let’s go to the spreadsheet.

OK, so here’s the deal: Coming into this year, there have been 112 No. 1 seeds since the tournament expanded to 64 teams (and beyond). You’ve probably seen the lists, but since I have them right in front of me I’ll show you the teams that have been No. 1 seeds multiple times:

12 times: Duke
11 times: North Carolina
10 times: Kansas
9 times: Kentucky
5 times: Arizona; Connecticut; Michigan State; Oklahoma.
4 times: Ohio State
3 times: Georgetown; Illinois; Purdue; Stanford; UCLA; UNLV
2 times: Arkansas; Indiana; Memphis; Michigan; Pittsburgh; St. John’s; Syracuse

OK, in total there are 112 No. 1 seeds. And, as you know, they all won their first game — No. 1 seeds, including this tournament, are now 116-0 against No. 16 seeds.

What happened from there? Well, 48 of those No. 1 seeds won their region and went as far as the Final Four. That’s about 43%. Here’s the complete breakdown.

No. 1 seeds: 112
Lost in the round of 32: 13 (11%)
Lost in the Sweet 16: 20 (18%)
Lost in the Elite 8: 31 (28%)
Lost in the Final Four: 21 (19%)
Lost in national championship: 10 (9%)
Won championship: 17 (15%)

That probably lines up with you what you were expecting. Only 29% of the teams fail to reach at least the Elite 8. It’s a pretty nice setup, being a No. 1 seed. And it should be.

But, to get back to the point — does that first round score matter? Does it matter if you win by 50? By 30? By 2? Well, let’s break it down — remember, in total, No. 1 seeds reach the Final Four about 43% of the time and one out of seven win the national title.

No. 1 seeds that won by 40 or more points:

There have been 16 of these teams. Eight of them — exactly half — have reached the Final Four, and three have won a national championship. Only one of these teams — the stunned 1998 Kansas team — lost in the round of 32.

No. 1 seeds that have won by 30 to 39 points:

There have been 23 of these teams. Thirteen of them have reached the Final Four, so that’s almost 57% — even higher than the 40-plus group. Four have become national champions. Two of these teams — 2002 Cincinnati and 1992 Kansas — lost in the round of 32. At quick glance, it does not appear there’s much difference between winning that first game by 35 or 55, which shouldn’t be surprising.

No. 1 seeds that have won by 20 to 29 points:

There have been 37 of these teams. Eighteen of them — just a touch under half — have reached the FInal Four. Seven of these teams have won the national championship, and six have lost in the round of 32. So, again, not seeing much difference. But that’s about to change.

No. 1 seeds that have won by 10 to 19 points:

Um, well, now comes a big difference. There have been 23 teams that have won their first round games by 10 to 19 points. Only six of the 23 — barely more than a quarter of them — have reached the FInal Four.

The good news is that three of the six teams that DID reach the Final Four — 1994 Arkansas, 2002 Maryland and 2012 Kentucky — went on to win national titles. But the cutoff is pretty glaring. It seems that you want to win that first round game by 20 or more points. And it’s about to get worse.

No. 1 seeds that have won by fewer than 10 points:

Oh boy. Coming into this year, only 13 No. 1 seeds have won their first round games by fewer than 10 points. Truth is, it just doesn’t happen much. But when it does happen, it’s pretty telling. Just three of the 13 reached the Final Four. None won the national title. The closest was 1986 Duke, which finished runner up to Louisville. And that’s a long time ago. Since 1990, seven No. 1 seeds squeaked by their first round game by fewer than 10 points, and only one of these — 1997 North Carolina — even reached the Final Four.

Obviously, we’re not dealing with a huge sample size here … but these seem to be pretty clear results. Twenty points looks like a severe cutoff point. Teams that have won by 20-plus have reached the Final Four a little bit more than half  the time.

Teams that have won by 19 or fewer have reached the Final Four only a quarter of the time. And the less they win by, the less likely they are to reach the Final Four. Indiana and Louisville this year both finished above that 20-point victory line. Kansas and Gonzaga finished well below it. With a tournament as wide open as this one appears to be, I would have to say it’s a bad indicator for Kansas and Gonzaga.

I looked up one more thing. I wanted to see last the time a team — no matter what seed — won its first game by seven or fewer points (like Kansas and Gonzaga) and went on to the win the national title. And I found something pretty cool: It hasn’t happened in almost 25 years. That’s not the cool thing. The cool thing is that in the 1980s is happened ALL THE TIME.

— In 1980, Louisville needed overtime to beat Kansas State by two — and went on to the national title.

— In 1982, North Carolina — that incredibly loaded team with James Worthy and Sam Perkins and the freshman Michael Jordan — beat James Madison by just two points before going on to win the championship.

— In 1983, Jim Valvano’s N.C. State began its improbable run with a two-overtime 69-67 victory over Pepperdine.

— In 1984, Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown — and I guess I forgot this — barely held on to beat Southern Methodist in a 37-36 thriller. Yeah: 37-36. I think you know where this is leading.

— In 1985, Villanova beat Dayton by just two in the opening round of its magical run to the title.

— And in 1989 — this is the last time it has happened — Michigan beat Xavier by five, 92-87, and went on to the title.

I think it’s pretty obvious why this happened so often in the early 1980s: There was no shot clock (and also no three-point line). There is a lot of talk about how much more parity there is in college basketball now than ever before because of the NBA draft and national exposure to so many teams and so on. That’s probably true. But I would argue that THE GAME ITSELF does not cater nearly as much to parity.

Since the shot-clock has been introduced to college hoops, the national champion has won its first game by an average of 25 points.

In the six years leading up to the shot clock, the eventual national champ won its games by 2, 34 (Indiana), 2, 2, 1 and 2.

Just more fun stuff to think about as we head into the round of 32.

Kansas guard Devonte’ Graham arrested over unpaid ticket

LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 26:  Devonte' Graham #4 of the Kansas Jayhawks shoots the ball in the first half against the Villanova Wildcats during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at KFC YUM! Center on March 26, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Kansas guard Devonte’ Graham was arrested and booked into Douglas County Jail late on Wednesday night on a failure to appear for court charge, according to jail records.

The charge was a result of an unpaid ticket for an expired tag that Graham had received. It dates back to June of last year.

Graham released a statement on the matter.

“This is my fault,” Graham said. “I was driving an ex-teammate’s car and I thought the ticket was paid so I didn’t pay attention to the notice to appear that I got. That’s on me, and I apologize to everyone. I learned a lesson the hard way.”

The arrest was a damper on what should have been a great night for Graham. He had 17 points and seven assists in a home win over TCU that clinched the 13th straight Big 12 regular season title for the Jayhawks. It was also his 22nd birthday.

He was released on $196 bond Wednesday night. Bill Self said he will not be suspended for the arrest.

Bracketology: Syracuse banks in a little Madness

SYRACUSE, NY - FEBRUARY 22:  John Gillon #4 of the Syracuse Orange celebrates tying the game with little time left on the clock during the second half against the Duke Blue Devils on February 22, 2017 at The Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York. Syracuse upsets Duke 78-75.  (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
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The bank was open Wednesday night in Syracuse. John Gillon’s three-pointer at the buzzer lifted Syracuse over Duke at the Carrier Dome and back (again) into the bracket.

It’s been a wild month for the Orange who now need to close the deal.  It was also a big night for Providence, who used a Kyron Cartwright trey to knock off Creighton in Omaha.  And then Dillon Brooks nailed a long-distance dagger to beat California, leaving the Bears teetering for bracket survival as February comes to a close.  Are we ready for March?

No changes on the No. 1 seed line. By a whisker, Villanova holds onto the overall No. 1 seed after its second loss to Butler, a team whose profile is far better than its AP ranking. Kansas, North Carolina, and Gonzaga round out the group.  UNC moves up to No. 3 after dispatching Louisville.

If last night was any indication, it’s going to be fun ride toward Selection Sunday.

UPDATED: February 23, 2017

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Regarding bracketing principles, can read them for yourself at http://www.ncaa.com. For example: teams from the same conference may now meet before a Regional final, even if fewer than eight teams are selected. The goal is to keep as many teams as possible on their actual seed line.

FIRST FOUR PAIRINGS – Dayton (First Round)

  • Seton Hall vs. Kansas State | East Region
  • Providence vs. California Midwest Region
  • MT. ST. MARY’S vs. NC-CENTRAL | East Region
  • UC-IRVINE vs. NEW ORLEANS | Midwest Region

BRACKET PROJECTION …

EAST New York MIDWEST Kansas City              
Buffalo Tulsa
1) VILLANOVA 1) KANSAS
16) NC-CENTRAL / M.S. MARY’S 16) NEW ORLEANS / UC-IRVINE
8) South Carolina 8) Northwestern
9) VCU 9) Xavier
Milwaukee Milwaukee
5) Virginia 5) Notre Dame
12) UNC-WILMINGTON 12) ILLINOIS STATE
4) PURDUE 4) Butler
13) PRINCETON 13) VALPARAISO
Indianapolis Orlando
6) Saint Mary’s 6) SMU
11) Seton Hall / Kansas State 11) Providence / California
3) Kentucky 3) Florida State
14) AKRON 14) BELMONT
Indianapolis Salt Lake City
7) Maryland 7) Iowa State
10) Marquette 10) Wichita State
2) Louisville 2) ARIZONA
15) BUCKNELL 15) NO. DAKOTA ST
WEST – San Jose SOUTH – Memphis
Salt Lake City Greenville
1) GONZAGA 1) NORTH CAROLINA
16) NORTH DAKOTA 16) TX-SOUTHERN
8) Miami-FL 8) Dayton
9) Michigan 9) Arkansas
Buffalo Sacramento
5) CINCINNATI 5) Wisconsin
12) MONMOUTH 12) UT-ARLINGTON
4) West Virginia 4) UCLA
13) VERMONT 13) NEVADA
Greenville Orlando
6) Creighton 6) Minnesota
11) MID TENNESSEE ST 11) Syracuse
3) Duke 3) FLORIDA
14) FLA GULF COAST 14) E. TENNESSEE ST
Sacramento Tulsa
7) Oklahoma State 7) Virginia Tech
10) Michigan State 10) USC
2) Oregon 2) Baylor
15) CSU-BAKERSFIELD 15) UNC-ASHEVILLE

NOTES on the BRACKET: Villanova is the No. 1 overall seed, followed by Kansas, North Carolina, and Gonzaga.

Last Four Byes (at large): Michigan State, Wichita State, Marquette, Syracuse

Last Four IN (at large): Seton Hall, California, Providence, Kansas State

First Four OUT (at large): Wake Forest, TCU, Georgia Tech, Rhode Island

Next four teams OUT (at large): Vanderbilt, Clemson, Alabama, Houston

Breakdown by Conference …

ACC (9): NORTH CAROLINA, Louisville, Florida State, Duke, Notre Dame, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Miami-FL, Syracuse

Big 10 (7): PURDUE, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Maryland, Northwestern, Michigan, Michigan State

Big East (7): VILLANOVA, Butler, Creighton, Xavier, Marquette, Seton Hall, Providence

Big 12 (6): KANSAS, Baylor, West Virginia, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Kansas State

Pac 12 (5): OREGON, Arizona, UCLA, USC, California

SEC (4): FLORIDA, Kentucky, South Carolina, Arkansas

Atlantic 10 (2): VCU, Dayton

American (2): CINCINNATI, SMU

West Coast (2): GONZAGA, Saint Mary’s

Missouri Valley (1): ILLINOIS STATE, Wichita State

Mountain West (1): NEVADA

ONE BID LEAGUES: Monmouth (MAAC), Middle Tennessee State (C-USA), UT-Arlington (SBELT), Princeton (IVY), North Dakota (BSKY), Valparaiso (HORIZON), New Orleans (SLND), East Tennessee State (STHN), UC-Irvine (BWEST), Akron (MAC), Florida Gulf Coast (ASUN), Belmont (OVC), UNC-Wilmington (CAA), Winthrop (BSO), NC-Central (MEAC), North Dakota State (SUM), CSU-Bakersfield (WAC), Vermont (AEAST), Bucknell (PAT), Mt. St. Mary’s (NEC), Texas-Southern (SWAC)

VIDEO: Bill Self tells hilarious Brandon Rush story

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 27: Bill Self head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks claps for his team as they celebrate winning the Big 12 Conference Championship after they defeated Texas Tech Red Raiders 67-58 at Allen Fieldhouse on February 27, 2016 in Lawrence, Kansas. With the win, Kansas clinched its 12th straight conference championship. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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Last night, as Kansas clinched their 13th consecutive Big 12 regular season title, the Jayhawk program retired for star Brandon Rush’s jersey. Rush was a member of the 2008 national title team and is still bouncing around the NBA despite a series of knee injuries.

He’s a helluva player.

He’s also a terrible liar, as evidenced by the story that Bill Self told about him in last night’s press conference:

I guess honesty really is the best policy.

No. 22 Butler ruins No. 2 Villanova’s seniors’ perfect Pavilion record

Butler center Nate Fowler and Villanova forward Eric Paschall, right, vie for a rebound in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017, in Villanova, Pa. (AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)
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All Villanova players have known since they joined the program is winning at The Pavilion. Late into Wednesday’s game against No. 22 Butler, it looked like that would continue to be their only frame of reference for a group of seniors that were 45-0 in the building.

Then another ‘0’ turned that zero into a ‘1.’

The Bulldogs ripped off an 18-0 run in a 5-minute span to ultimately claim a 74-66 victory over second-ranked and defending national champion Villanova.

Villanova looked like it was going to cruise to another home win when Josh Hart’s 3-pointer with 10 minutes, 37 seconds remaining put the Wildcats up 49-42.

They wouldn’t score again until nearly the 4-minute mark.

During that span, Butler made 7 of 11 shots, with three being 3-pointers, while the Wildcats went 0 of 6 from the field and turned the ball over twice.

A seven-point lead for Villanova became an 11-point advantage for Butler. Villanova would try to rally, but couldn’t pull it off as it saw its home winning run stopped, its seniors’ perfect Pavilion record blemished and its seven-game winning streak come to a halt.

Beyond it probably being immensely annoying to the senior class, the loss probably doesn’t hurt Villanova too much as it looks to hold on to a No. 1 seed, preferably in the East region. The Wildcats’ resume is still as strong as nearly anyone in the country and they are, after all, the defending champs. They’ll be fine.

For Butler, it’s a signature win for a team that’s had a number of really good victories, but a few confounding losses, like St. John’s on the road and to Creighton (without Maurice Watson) and Georgetown at home. Beating Villanova – at the Pavilion, no less – could be worth a seed line.

Kelan Martin was fantastic for Butler, going for 23 points and eight boards, while Kamar Baldwin went for 15 points off the bench.

Jalen Brunson led the way for Villanova with 24 points while Josh Hart had 18 points and six rebounds. Kris Jenkins struggled, going 1 of 8 from the floor while scoring eight points.

The Wildcats get a chance to start a new streak at the Pavilion on Saturday with Creighton coming to town.

 

No. 8 North Carolina stakes their claim to the title of ‘nation’s best’ with beatdown of No. 7 Louisville

CHAPEL HILL, NC - FEBRUARY 22:  Theo Pinson #1 of the North Carolina Tar Heels reacts after a play against the Louisville Cardinals during their game at the Dean Smith Center on February 22, 2017 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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North Carolina may not have anyone on their roster that sends chills down the spine of opposing coaches, and they may not have anyone on their roster that is going to be targeted by NBA franchises as lottery pick, and they may not be dominating the headlines like undefeated Gonzaga, reigning champ Villanova, winner of 13 straight Big 12 titles Kansas or even Tobacco Road rival Duke.

They’re not a sexy pick, they’re not the favorite in Vegas and they may finally crack the No. 1 seed line in all bracket projections after beating No. 7 Louisville 74-63 on Wednesday night, but at this point, I’m not sure that the Tar Heels aren’t the best team in college basketball.

‘The Best Team In College Basketball’ is not an easy title to earn this season, not because there are too many candidates but more because everyone of those candidates have some kind of glaring flaw that makes you wonder have they’ve made it to late-February with a winning record. Think: UCLA’s defense. Or maybe: Kansas’ total lack of front court depth. How about: Kentucky can’t shoot. And then there’s: Duke doesn’t have a point guard, or: Gonzaga doesn’t play anyone.

We can play that game with every team in the country.

In fact, I did, just last week on a podcast.

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North Carolina didn’t escape our wrath. There are question marks about Joel Berry II’s consistency, as he had a nasty habit of laying an egg every once in a while. Is that defense going to hold up for six games in a single-elimination tournament? Do they have enough consistent three-point shooting? Can Isaiah Hicks and Theo Pinson stay healthy?

Here’s the thing: I think the answer to all those questions is ‘yes’.

Justin Jackson has developed into a bonafide all-american and quite possibly the ACC Player of the Year. He’s a versatile scorer that is shooting the grip off the ball and has proven the ability to be the guy to take and make big shots for the Tar Heels this season. That’s taken some of the pressure off of Berry, who can spend more time as a secondary offensive weapon, facilitator and a leader than having to worry about carrying the team offensively. Theo Pinson’s return has opened some things up offensively, while UNC’s four-headed front court monster — Kennedy Meeks, Hicks, Tony Bradley and Luke Maye — have shown that they can score in the post or off of a missed shot, where they lead the nation on offensive rebounding percentage.

And as far as the defense is concerned, they’re ranked 20th in adjusted defensive efficiency by KenPom.com. Yes, a lot of that has to do with the pistol-whipping that was Gameday on Saturday night against Virginia, but Louisville, who was the third-best offensive team in ACC play, managed just 63 points in 73 possessions on Wednesday.

My point?

That defense doesn’t have to be great, it just has to be good enough, and it probably is.

But here’s the most important number to know: Two.

That’s how big North Carolina’s lead in the ACC is as of today. Louisville, Duke, Florida State and Notre Dame have all lost five times this year. As long as the Tar Heels can go into Pittsburgh and get a win over the Panthers, they are going to clinch a share of the ACC regular season, and they can lock up the outright league title before the showdown with the Dukies on the season’s final night.

The margins are thin, yes, but after Wednesday, North Carolina has as much claim to the title of ‘Nation’s Best’ as anyone in college basketball.