All Eyes on the NCAA Tourney
The NCAA men’s basketball season is headed into the home stretch before a national champion is named. In the final weeks, teams across the country are playing with all eyes on the tournament.
The official bracket is released on March 17. Until then, teams will be focused on extending their season by playing for conference titles and the attached automatic qualifier, or clinching one of 36 coveted at-large bids from the Selection Committee.
Reserve your living room TV or scout out the best seats at your favorite sports bars because however the seeding shakes out, the first weekend is the second-best weekend (behind the Final Four obviously).
Plain and simple, it's 48 basketball games over four days. At tip-off, coaches, players and fans forget about regular season records and tournament seeds. It's one-and-done basketball, and no one wants to see their season end. Anything can happen:
- A year ago, University of Maryland -d Baltimore County became the first No. 16 seed to knock off a No. 1 seed, and not just any top seed, but the 2018 tournament's overall No. 1 seed Virginia. A No. 1 seed had never lost in the first round, even before the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
- The national champion has been a No. 1 seed 21 times, and the final match-up has been two No. 1 seeds seven times.
- Going into the 2019 tournament, the No. 8 vs. 9 matchup is deadlocked with 68 wins apiece and is almost always up for grabs: 33 games have been decided by three or fewer points.
- Since 2012, four No. 15 seeds have upset the No. 2, including Middle Tennessee over Michigan State in 2016. In 2012, neither Georgetown nor Missouri made it out of the Round of 64 as No. 2 seeds.
- Top seeds are far from safe. Last year, No. 11 Loyola-Chicago knocked off No. 3 Tennessee, 63-62, in the second round and eventually advanced to the Final Four. In 2014, No. 8 Kentucky beat No. 1 Wichita State, 78-76, in the second round. The next day, No. 7 UConn defeated No. 2 Villanova, 77-65. Both continued to run through the tournament and met in the National Championship, with UConn winning 60-54.
- While the tournament has staple teams that seem to always be around, the first round is a great introduction to mid-major and small Division I teams. Never doubt the no-name, as No. 4 Louisville learned against No. 13 Morehead State in 2014. A buzzer-beater abruptly ended the Cardinals season.
- Aside from upsets, the blowouts are equally impressive during the first weekend. Teams have won by 30 or more points 89 times, include two games that were decided by 56 or more. Most were by top seeds, but in 1999, No. 12 Missouri State routed No. 4 Tennessee 81-51 to advance to the Sweet 16.
- Of seeds in the top half, only No. 5 has never won a national title. Technically, No. 5 has also been upset the second most in the first round — behind the No. 8 seed.
(All stats taken since the tournament expanded to 64 teams ahead of the 1985 Championship, per the NCAA and SportsReference.com.)