Let the madness, the March Madness, begin! That’s right, it’s that time of year again and of course that means the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship tournament.
It is considered one of the top U.S. sporting events on the calendar, second only to the Super Bowl as 64 of the best college basketball teams in the country are pitted head-to-head for the right to be crowned champion.
While every year the quest for a perfect bracket is attempted and never achieved, this year, that goal might be harder than ever before. That’s because for the first time in the history of the tournament, which dates back to 1939, each team in the field has at least four losses. There are no undefeateds, no undisputed #1s. In fact, again in a history making moment, this year marks the most combined losses of the top four seeds, a total of 23.
If ever there was a year for some volatile bracket busting, it would be 2016.
The Ones (Kansas, North Carolina, Virginia, Oregon) vs The 16s (Austin Peay, Florida Gulf Coast, Hampton, Southern Cross)
Ah, the 1 vs 16 match-up. At one point it seemed as if the 16s were close to finally breaking through and then last year happened, marking the second time in five seasons that all four games were decided by double digits. While the 1s are the weakest they have ever been, none of them will lose in the first round. 129-0 is coming.
The Twos (Villanova, Xavier, Oklahoma, Michigan State) vs The 15s (UNC Asheville, Weber State, CSU Bakersfield, Middle Tennessee)
The 15s had come on strong before the past two years in which they have gone winless, all losses coming by double digits. This is more of the expected result for sure given the 15s are just 7-117 against the ones, their last win coming in 2013.
But 2016 is an interesting case because you have, among your two seeds, two teams that easily could have been seeded as ones in Michigan State and Oklahoma and two Big East teams, which could go out early. I’d put Villanova and Xavier on upset alert but that said, I still think these match-ups go to chalk. Take all the twos to somewhat comfortably advance.
The Threes (Miami, Texas A&M, West Virginia, Utah) vs The 14s (Buffalo, Green Bay, Stephen F. Austin, Fresno State)
This is kind of the trendy match-up right now as for the past three years the 14 seeds have won at least one game for the first time since 1997-99. Last year, there were two such victories for the first time since 1995. Last year as well, all of the 14/3s were decided by single digits.
When looking at the match-ups, you could argue any of the 3s might be vulnerable to the upset. Based off of previous tournament resume however, I’d focus on the West Virginia/Stephen F. Austin clash. The SFA Lumberjacks have been dominant in their mid-major conference, going 59-1 in the past three years. They are no stranger to upsets either as in 2013, SFA made a name for themselves as they as a 12 seed upset VCU, the five seed.
Will they pull it off? Maybe not, but if you’re intent to look for an upset early when thinking about a betting pick then this is the first, best chance of one happening.
The Fours (California, Duke, Kentucky, Iowa State) vs The 13s (Hawaii, UNCW, Stony Brook, Iona)
We’re starting to get down to business in these match-ups as from 2008-13 at least one 13 seed emerged victorious over a four. However, in 2014 and 2015, the fours went 8-0. So the real question is, where do these upsets stand on a likelihood scale?
You have to look at the individual contests. California is a solid and in some ways underrated team, Duke is coming off of a disappointing finish in the ACC tournament however they have a great first round track record and Kentucky is probably the best four seed in this or any other year. So that leaves Iowa State, which on my bracket, is the first top five team to fall.
Iowa State has failed to live up to expectations recently and is just 1-6 against its last seven ranked opponents. Iona meanwhile has won 12 of their last 13 and has Cinderella potential written all over. They are looking strong at the best time so I’d put Iowa State on pretty high upset alert.
The Fives (Maryland, Baylor, Indiana, Purdue) vs The 12s (South Dakota State, Yale, Chattanooga, UALR)
A 12 seed will beat a five seed. Stop me if you’ve heard that one before.
Since 1985, a 12 seed has failed to upset a five just four times. In fact, from 2008-14, the 12s actually won 15 of the 28 match-ups. While none emerged victorious last year, there is no reason to expect a repeat in 2016. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of who.
Looking through the match-ups, the most vulnerable to an upset might just be Baylor. The Bears fell victim to a 14/3 upset last year and against the Ivy League champs, that fate could befall them again. Yale is dancing for the first time since 1962 so there’s no doubt they will make the most of it. They match up well against Baylor and could be primed to really surprise some people and bust some brackets.
The Sixes (Arizona, Texas, Notre Dame, Seton Hall) vs The 11s (Wichita State, UNI, TBD, Gonzaga)
The further down the bracket the more likely you are to see the double digit seed win. Such is the case with the 11/6 match-up. Historically, the sixes have won 65 percent of the time but dating back to 2010, the teams have actually split their 24 meetings evenly.
Since 2000, only once have all of the sixes emerged victorious, so definitely look to an upset here.
Wichita State over Arizona makes a lot of sense. A lot of people were shocked to see the bracket busters of the past in the play-in game but they made quick work of their opponents and showed why they are capable of winning over the Wildcats. That said, Arizona is a top 20 offense and defense and as long as they are on, they should be able to hold over the Shockers.
Seton Hall is probably the best six seed in the tournament given they won their conference and Texas should be safe as well coming from the Big 12, which sent seven teams to the tournament. So that leaves, Notre Dame and TBD. Yes, TBD is not a university but Michigan or Tulsa are. At the time of this writing, Michigan looks like the likely opponent. Notre Dame has struggled recently and are too hot and cold for my liking. Michigan on the other hand is in the play-in game and every year at least one of winners from these two contests have gone on to win a first round tournament game.
The Sevens (Iowa, Oregon State, Wisconsin, Dayton) vs The 10s (Temple, VCU, Pittsburgh, Syracuse)
The second hardest round to handicap is the 7/10 with the higher seeds winning just 61 percent of the time since 1985. They have won nine of the last 12 though.
The 10s normally split the match-ups so while one win is pretty much a guaranteed, any more than two is a rarity. In fact, just four times since 1985 has the seven won three or more of the four meetings in a single tournament, the last time coming in 2010.
Off the bat, Oregon State is probably the most vulnerable and then Wisconsin. Temple is coming off of a conference championship and looks strong and most people don’t even believe Syracuse belongs in the tournament so Dayton should survive as well.
The Eights (Colorado, Saint Joseph’s, USC, Texas Tech) vs The Nines (Connecticut, Cincinnati, Providence, Butler)
Unsurprisingly, this one is just about split down the middle with the eights holding just a 63-61 lead over the nines since 1985. Recently, the eights have been on their best run however, winning 15 of 20 since 2011 and the last time the nines won more than two in a match-up was in 2007.
Last year the eights swept the meetings but this year, I don’t see a repeat. Connecticut is a better team than they have been lately and Butler has their own history of bracket busting. Even Providence over USC is an intriguing match-up.
My only lock to win here, and bear this in mind with your sportsbooks’ picks, would be Saint Joseph’s given their conference championship and recent winning streak.
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