NCAA Tournament Facts and Interesting Stats 2018
It feels like an endless wait every year, but the NCAA Tournament is finally just about to begin. As I write this conference tournaments are underway, and good basketball is being played, but it just feels like an appetizer for the main event, and I'm hungry for the actual meal. To help the time pass a little quicker, let's look at some NCAA Tournament facts - because facts always make things go by faster:
A perfect bracket?: There is always some group out there willing to give you a bunch of money if you pick a perfect bracket - millions of dollars, or even a billion. Well, I have some bad news for you - you aren't going to do it. You couldn't even set out to fill out every possible combination. In a 68-team tournament there are 147,573,952,589,676,412,928 different unique brackets. Even if you ignore all the ones that have a No. 16 winning a game you are going to be around for a very long time - much longer than you have before the games start. If you were able to fill out one bracket per second - which you obviously can't do - you would have all of the combinations picked in a scant 4.7 million years, and that's not including breaks. So why can companies offer huge prizes for a perfect bracket? Because it isn't likely to happen, and it costs very little to insure against the faint possibility that it does if they don't want to deal with the risk themselves.
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March is the bluest month: North Carolina won the tournament last year, and Villanova the year before. Neither result is at all surprising for one big reason - they both have blue on their uniforms. A total of 15 of the last 16 National Champions have had the color blue somewhere on their uniforms. The only one that didn't is Louisville, and they have since forfeited that title. Coincidence? Going further, you could argue that the new winner of that Louisville title is the team they beat in the final - Michigan, a team so blue their cheer is "Go Blue!" And last year the blue dominance extended into the Final Four. Blue-loving Gonzaga knocked off blue-hating South Carolina, and North Carolina, which has their own unique shade of blue, beat Oregon and their decidedly non-blue color scheme. So, you really need to go no deeper than the team's palette's when handicapping this thing.
Best overall isn't necessarily best: Last year North Carolina was a No. 1 seed when they won it, but they were the fourth overall No. 1 seed behind Villanova, Kansas, and the Gonzaga team they beat in the final. That marks the 20th time in 22 tournaments that the first overall seed did not win the tournament. Kentucky in 2012 and Louisville in 2013 are the only two to buck that trend. When the tournament was smaller and the sport wasn't nearly as deep and competitive, it was far more common for top overall seeds to win - John Wooden alone did it multiple times with UCLA. But times have clearly changed.
Top seeds still shine: While the top overall seeds don't win often, there is a clear advantage to being a No. 1 seed. Last year we had two No. 1 seeds in the Final Four, which was twice as many as the year before when North Carolina was the only one. But in the 33 prior years of the 64-team era, we have had at least one No. 1 seed in the Final Four every year except for two. That means it's rare to be without No. 1 seeds but twice as common as having a Final Four made up of only No. 1s - that only happened in 2008. Overall, the No. 1 teams have done well - last year was their 20th win in 33 editions of the 64-team field.
David vs. Goliath: Sooner or later a No. 16 is going to shock the world and upset a No. 1 seed in the opening round. The teams have met 132 times, and the top seed has won all 132 games. And it hasn't been that close very often. In 1989 we almost saw it happen twice - two different No. 1 teams won by a single point. Three other times the margin was five or less points. But last year the margins of victory were 39, 38, 20 and 20 points, so drama was in short supply. Interestingly, the No. 15 teams have beaten No. 2 teams eight times - most recently in 2016. That should give hope to the ultimate underdogs, but it also shows how big the gap between 15 and 16 seeds are. If and when the ultimate upset does happen, the lower seed will likely make history in another way as well. The biggest betting upset in tournament history happened in 2012 when No. 15 Norfolk State beat Missouri as 21.5-point underdogs. A No. 16 would almost certainly be taking more points than that.
Everything's bigger in Texas: For the fourth time the Final Four will be played at the Alamodome in San Antonio. Kentucky won in 1998 when it was first there, followed by Connecticut in 2004, and Kansas in 2008.
Frequent visitors: When North Carolina won last year it was their 20th Final Four appearance - a record. Kentucky sits second with 17 appearances, followed by Duke and UCLA with 16 and Kansas with 14.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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