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.

Schofield scores 29, No. 3 Tennessee beats Memphis 102-92

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Admiral Schofield scored 20 of his 29 points in the second half and added 11 rebounds as third-ranked Tennessee beat Memphis 102-92 Saturday to snap a three-game skid to the in-state rival.

The Volunteers (8-1) avoided any letdown after a weeklong layoff for finals since upsetting then-No. 1 ranked Gonzaga last weekend in Phoenix. That win pushed the Vols to their highest Associated Press ranking since Feb. 25, 2008, when they went to No. 1 after upsetting another top-ranked team in Memphis.

Grant Williams added 19 points for Tennessee. Jordan Bone had 17, Jordan Bowden 12 and Kyle Alexander 10.

Kyvon Davenport helped Memphis (5-5) keep Tennessee from blowing the Tigers out. He scored 26 of his career-high 31 points after halftime and had 11 boards. Tyler Harris added 10 points.

First-year Memphis coach Penny Hardaway remains winless against the Vols after going 0-2 when playing for the Tigers in the early 1990s. Simply having the former NBA star as head coach has Tigers’ fans excited enough about the future that they sold out the FedExForum for the first time since March 7, 2009, against Tulsa just before coach John Calipari left for Kentucky.

This rivalry had cooled down since that No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown in 2008. It’s the first game between the programs on either end of Tennessee since January 2013.

These Vols came in with a big advantage in both size and experience with all five starters back from the team that shared the Southeastern Conference regular season title last year. They trailed only once at 3-2 within the first minute on a trio of free throws by Harris.

With Tennessee hitting its first five shots, including a trio of 3-pointers, the Vols jumped out to a 15-5 lead on Schofield’s 3 with 16:21 left. Tennessee led 50-35 at halftime.

The Tigers pulled to 63-56 when Antwann Jones’ 3 capped eight straight. Schofield scored the next five for Tennessee. Davenport did his best to rally Memphis but couldn’t get the Tigers closer than eight despite hitting 10 of 12 shots.

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee: The Vols finally have a true road game on their resume with the arena filled with lots of Memphis blue.

Memphis: Hardaway needs more time and the recruiting class he is building for 2019 is led by James Wiseman. But he had the Tigers racing up the floor every chance they got in transition. Hardaway’s halftime adjustments were evident when the Tigers hit as many shots (10) within the first nine minutes as the entire first half.

Vick, Lawson lead No. 1 Kansas past No. 17 Villanova

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Dedric Lawson and Lagerald Vick combined for 57 points and scored all but one of the Jayhawks field goals in the second half as No. 1 Kansas remained undefeated with a 74-71 win over No. 17 Villanova in Phog Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday afternoon.

Villanova, who was coming off of their third loss of the season — and their second to a mid-major — when they were beaten by Penn on Tuesday, put up an impressive fight, but they did not have an answer for the Big Two of the Jayhawks.

Here are three things we can takeaway from that game:

1. KANSAS REALLY MISSES UDOKA AZUBUIKE

The Jayhawks were essentially a two-man band on Saturday afternoon, as Dedric Lawson and Lagerald Vick accounted for 57 of their 74 points. They were 19-for-30 from the floor. The rest of the Kansas roster was 4-for-16 combined. A Devon Dotson layup late in the second half was the only field goal made by someone not named Dedric or Lagerald in the second half.

I bring this up because Udoka Azubuike’s absence has created a situation where Lawson is forced to play a different role than what would be ideal for him and for Kansas. Self has made it clear that he wants to run his offense through the post. We know this, and without the dynamic guard play that he’s had the last two or three years, he doesn’t really have another option. Dotson is good. He’s not Frank Mason or Devonte’ Graham, at least not yet.

But with Azubuike dealing with an ankle injury, Lawson is the only player on the roster that can come close to matching Azubuike’s low-post production. Mitch Lightfoot isn’t that guy. K.J. Lawson isn’t that guy. David McCormack isn’t ready. Silvio De Sousa isn’t eligible. So it has to be Dedric, but running him as a low-post presence means that he’s not out there as a playmaking four.

So not only does Kansas lose Doke’s presence on the block and not only is Dedric forced to play out of position, but they don’t really have anyone that can do the things that Dedric can do when he’s playing the five instead of the four.

And Kansas is still undefeated, despite having played one of the toughest schedules in the country for high-major program.

2. AND THEY NEED TO FIND SOME WAY TO GET QUENTIN GRIMES GOING

Another problem with Kansas is that they are getting absolutely nothing out of Quentin Grimes. He scored a single point in 14 minutes on Saturday, which is more or less in line with everyone game he’s played since that 21 point outburst he had in the win over Michigan State. This is a problem because teams don’t really have to pay attention to him defensively. They don’t really have to pay attention to Marcus Garrett, either. Charlie Moore and K.J. Lawson haven’t been threats to score. Other than Vick and Dotson, who is as up and down as you would expect a freshman to be, Kansas doesn’t have anyone to worry about on the perimeter when Quentin Grimes is playing like he’s Rick Grimes.

(Now do you see why Bill Self has everything running through the post?)

I’m not really sure what the issue is here, either, beyond Grimes not knowing where he fits in this offense. He’s not going to be the guy asked to run ball-screens. He’s not going to be the guy asked to score in isolation, at least not when Vick is doing what he’s been doing to start the season. He’s never been a pure jump shooter.

There’s a reason he’s a projected lottery pick. The kid is talented. Self just needs to figure out how to get him going.

3. IT’S CLEAR WHO JAY WRIGHT TRUSTS AND DOES NOT TRUST

We know he doesn’t trust Jahvon Quinerly. That much has been proven true time and again. Saturday was JQ’s fourth DNP-CD of the season.

But as Villanova plays more games in tough environments like this — with Big East play bearing down, it’s going to happen quite a bit more often — we’re likely going to see his rotation condense unless some of the guys on the outside looking in step up.

On Saturday, Phil Booth, Collin Gillespie and freshman Saddiq Bey all played at least 36 minutes. Eric Paschall would have matched that if he didn’t pick up his fourth foul midway through the second half. Dhamir Cosby-Rountree played 28 minutes and fouled out.

And for the most part, it looks like that is going to be the five guys Wright rolls with. Jermaine Samuels will see minutes as a guy that gives Villanova a different look. Joe Cremo will be the guard that gives Gillespie and Booth a breather. Swider will get a few minutes here and there as Wright tries to get him to find his shot.

But Swider has now missed his last eight threes and is shooting 24.2 percent from deep on the season. Cremo has looked like an America East player. Samuels isn’t ready for this level yet.

Wright is never a stranger to a short bench, but this year it feels more like this is being forced upon him than it is a conscious decision to condense minutes.

Stith leads Old Dominion’s rally, upset of No. 25 Syracuse

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SYRACUSE, N.Y. — B.J. Stith scored all of his 18 points in the second half, and Old Dominion overcame an 11-point second-half deficit to stun No. 25 Syracuse 68-62 on Saturday.

Xavier Green had 15 points and Marquis Godwin added 11 for the Monarchs (8-3), who trailed by 13 points late in the first half and by 11 early in the second before rallying for their sixth straight victory.

After Elijah Hughes made a 3-pointer to put the Orange (7-3) ahead 39-28, Old Dominion went on a 13-2 run, capped by a 3-pointer from Goodwin that tied it at 41 with 10:19 remaining.

Syracuse pulled aback ahead and led 50-46, but a jumper by Godwin and a 3-pointer by Ahmad Carter put the Monarchs on top again. Syracuse went ahead 53-51 with 4:15 to go, but that was the Orange’s last lead of the game.

Three foul shots by Stith and five straight points by Green extended the Monarchs to a 59-53 margin with under three minutes to go. Six points by Stith down the stretch sealed the upset.

Tyus Battle led Syracuse with 23 points on just 5-of-14 shooting. Hughes had 15. Oshae Brissett had just nine, going 3 of 11 from the field.

Syracuse shot just 33 percent from the field for the game and 8 of 22 from 3-point range.

Syracuse closed on a 12-3 run to take a 33-23 halftime lead. Battle, who scored 13 in the first 20 minutes, accounted for eight straight points during the run.

BIG PICTURE

Old Dominion: The Monarchs are flying high. Six straight wins and a huge comeback at the Carrier Dome give Old Dominion huge momentum heading into its matchup with in-state rival Richmond.

Syracuse: The Orange are still in search of an offense. Frank Howard isn’t himself and Syracuse won’t go far if its point guard doesn’t contribute.

Dwyane Wade, Gabrielle Union aiding high school basketball player seeking reinstatement to school

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PLANTATION, Fla. (AP) — Dwyane Wade and Gabrielle Union are backing attorney Benjamin Crump in an effort to help an expelled student and family friend get back into high school.

Wade and Union released a statement Thursday supporting senior Cyrus Nance, who was a basketball player in his first year at American Heritage High until he was expelled last month after a verbal altercation with a coach of another team at the school.

Crump says “every fact in this case points to discrimination.” Nance would like to return to school.

Zaire Wade, the oldest son of the longtime Miami Heat star, also plays at the school. Nance is friends with Zaire Wade and the Wade family.

Crump says the school has refused to release Nance’s transcript until his mother signs a non-disclosure agreement and pays a fee. Wade and Union say they will stand by Nance until he and his mother “get the transparent due process” that they seek.

School officials, citing privacy concerns, did not directly respond to the allegations.

CBT Podcast: ESPN’s Myron Medcalf on Jahvon Quinerly, Quade Green, Kentucky

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Rob Dauster was joined by Myron Medcalf from ESPN.com on Friday morning to talk through all of the week’s biggest college basketball stories, from Jahvon Quinerly and the fake Instagram hack to Quade Green’s transfer to whether or not Kentucky can still recruit basketball players that matter.