Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
The Ultimate Bracket Buster: Is This the Year a 16 Beats a 1?
By ADAM ZAGORIA & JOSH NEWMAN
NEW YORK — Rick Pitino and his Louisville Cardinals were named the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday, but even Pitino knows something wild and crazy could be brewing in this year’s Big Dance.
With all the parity in college hoops this season, and all the instability at the top of the rankings, will a No. 16 seed finally beat a No. 1, thereby spoiling brackets from Maine to Oregon?
“I do think a 16 seed can beat a 1 because if TCU can beat Kansas [during the regular season],” Pitino said after his team won back-to-back Big East Tournament titles Saturday night over Syracuse at Madison Square Garden.
“It’s not like TCU has a tremendous homecourt advantage, they don’t. But anybody can play bad on any given night, so it is going to happen. That’s why I’d rather be a 2 seed.”
The last sentence was said with a smile, of course.
In the history of the NCAA Tournament, No. 1s are 112-0 against No. 16s, while the 2s are 106-6 against the 15s, including last year’s upsets of Duke and Missouri on the same day.
Louisville will face No. 16 North Carolina A&T/Liberty in a first-round game in the Midwest Region.
The Selection Committee also gave No. 1 seeds to Kansas, Indiana and Gonzaga.
The other 16 seeds are Western Kentucky (South), LIU Brooklyn/James Madison (East) and Southern (West).
The odds are long, but Turner Sports analyst Reggie Miller believes that a 16 will beat a 1.
“Yes, this is the year and I will not be surprised,” Miller said. “A 1 will go down…I won’t mark my word on it, but you won’t be surprised, would you?”
Count longtime AP college basketball writer Jim O’Connell — who covered the famous 1989 game when No. 16 Princeton nearly knocked off No. 1 Georgetown before losing, 50-49 — among those who believes a 16 will eventually beat a 1.
“Oh, it’s going to happen, it’s definitely going to happen, and people better have their DVRs ready,” O’Connell told SNY.tv.
“Everything’s changed a lot. There’s no veteran teams at No. 1 seeds anymore, and that will make a difference. These 16 seeds, they may not be really talented, but usually they’re really veteran teams. These guys are all there for four years, and some of these conferences they’re playing for their third time in four years [in the NCAAs] and that’s a huge advantage.”
When a 1 does go down to a 16, O’Connell believes some coach is in for a rough time.
“I’ll tell you what, I’m going to feel really bad for the first [No. 1] coach to lose,” he said. “That’s going to be tough. I mean, you go to the coaches’ convention, you’re getting water balloons thrown at you. You were the first No. 1 to lose.”
VCU coach Shaka Smart agrees it’s possible for a 1 to go down.
“It all depends on the game,” he said. “It almost happened a couple years ago, or maybe it was even last year (2012 when Syracuse outlasted UNC-Asheville, 72-65). But those 1 seeds are really good and last year you had a 15 (Lehigh) beat a 2 (Duke). It’s never happened with a 16 beating a 1, but if you think about it, it’s really not that big of a difference, 16 vs. 1, 15 vs. 2. That’ll happen at some point. We won’t be a 1 or a 16, so it really doesn’t matter to me.”
ESPN analysts Billy Raftery and Jay Bilas aren’t convinced history is about to happen, though.
“It depends where, what style, what teams are accustomed to,” Raftery told SNY.tv. “[The No. 1] has to really fall asleep or underestimate or overestimate themselves and not be ready to play. But everybody’s got players. If you’ve got a big guy and a guard, you got a chance.
“And if you do some things, a fastball vs. a curveball that these teams aren’t used to, then the opportunity is there.”
Said Bilas: “Of course, it’s possible, but I don’t think there’s anything this year that says, ‘Well, the 1s just aren’t that good.’ They may not be as dominant. There’s not the Kentucky that we had last year, the Carolina in ’09, but the other three No. 1 seeds are still pretty damn good, so I’d be surprised if it happened.”
Still, Pitino and the other No. 1-seeded coaches don’t want to be the first victims of a 16.
“We could lose to anybody on a given night,” Pitino said.
“I think we’ll proably be the No. 1 of No. 1 seeds but what difference does it make either way if you’re a 2 seed? I mean it really doesnt make a difference, you’re going to play good teams.”
Photo: Chicago Tribune
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Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.