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Get inside March Madness with SI.com's Luke Winn in the Tourney Blog, a daily journal of college basketball commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
3/18/2006 01:28:00 AM

The Scariest Year

Tyler Hansbrough
Tyler Hansbrough and the Heels were in danger of being knocked out by Murray State.

Nearly every high seed that played Friday had a nerve-racking experience. And that is a very good thing for the NCAA tournament. From Kansas losing to Bradley, Iowa falling to Northwestern State, and UConn, Villanova, Ohio State and UNC all surviving scares, it is becoming very clear: The gap between the little guys and the big dogs in the first round of the dance is shrinking.

Albany's scare of the Huskies -- which ended in a 13-point UConn win -- ensured that this tournament featured the smallest margin of victory (14.5 points) between 1s and 16s this decade. We dug out all six brackets since 2000 to take a look at the average margins of victory for Nos. 1-3 seeds:

Sds.   2000   2001   2002   2003   2004   2005   2006 

1/16 25.0 39.5 28.8 24.5 25.0 15.5 14.5
2/15 14.5 12.5 11.0 15.5 24.0 10.8 18.0
3/14 21.3 5.3 12.8 9.3 10.3 9.8 8.3

Comb. 20.3 19.1 17.5 16.4 19.8 12.0 13.6
Not only is this the year of the scariest 16 seeds, it's also the year of the second-smallest margin of victory (8.3 points) between No. 3s and No. 14s in the 2000s. And if you remove UCLA's 34-point drubbing of Belmont, the average margin in 2-vs.-15 games was 6.3 points -- the lowest total of the decade. Schools like Northwestern State, Albany and Monmouth, which were once given no chance in the first round, are now legitimate threats. And I hope -- for the excitements' sake -- that it stays that way.

One talking point for the overnight crowd:

- This weekend is when we'll find out if the elite mid-majors have more in them than merely first-round wins. Of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Wichita State, Bradley, Bucknell, Montana, George Mason and Northwestern State, which has the best chance of making the Sweet Sixteen?
posted by Luke Winn | View comments |  


Posted: 2:00 AM   by Anonymous
Bradley definitely has a good chance to beat Pitt on Sunday. They were in control for much of the game against Kansas, and if they can capitalize off of turnovers from a Panther team that is notoriously turnover-prone like they did tonight, Peoria will have a parade to organize come Monday.

You can't doubt Wisconsin-Milwaukee, either. Bruce Pearl's gone, but the core of last year's Sweet 16 roster is still there, and there's no reason to believe that UMW can't repeat the task against Florida to make consecutive trips to the second weekend.

Finally, Wichita State had no problem disposing of Seton Hall on Thursday. I surely would not be "Shocked" if Wichita outlasts a Tennessee squad that needed a last-second shot to defeat Winthrop.

Bradley. Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Wichita State. This year's underdog(s) will come from these three schools.
As a Pittsburgher, I'm pretty sure the universal answer to Luke's question will be "Bradley." Despite Pitt controlling Kent State completely tonight, everyone presumes Pitt's flaws will catch up with them at some point, and Bradley won't be intimidated. I don't know if the Panthers will fall, but Bradley has the best continuing-upset shot at the Sweet 16. Texas A&M should also be physical enough to give LSU a scare, and Montana could certainly face up to a Boston College team that struggled to beat a lower seed than MT in the first round.
Posted: 2:58 AM   by Anonymous
Don't overlook Montana vs BC. Very well coached, deliberate, leadership/intelligence at point and good shooting. Could be a sleeper.
Posted: 3:58 AM   by Anonymous
Bradley easily has the best matchup. They have the size to handle Pitt and probably have a better offense too. Who is to say that they aren't even a better team in general. There is no reason to think they won't win that game on Sunday.
Posted: 4:23 AM   by Anonymous
I agree that either Bradley, UWM, or Wichita State has a good chance, but I was impressed after watching Bucknell beat Arkansas. I think that their controlled style of offense could really give a young team like Memphis problems.
Posted: 6:19 AM   by Anonymous
Mid-Major Mania is the latest Dance Craze - when will the bracketeers be put out to pasture by the NC2A and have a Division I Tournament - add 3 games to the format (1 week) Imagine the revenue for EVERY CONFERENCE! Should the CONTROLLING BODY take heed of the 9 first round upsets? No - they'll call it an anamoly - rather than give every collegian a tournament experience they'll continue to sit on their judgeMENTAL Throne(s) and tell every selected team how good they think they are and continue to abuse the MIDs by sending them as far away from home as possible for their tournament opportunity. How Many 20 game winners were left out this year?
Posted: 6:50 AM   by Anonymous
Bradley can not handle the physical nature of Pitt. With Kansas out they are poised to move into and past the Sweet 16.
Posted: 8:21 AM   by Anonymous
Everybody said Memphis would be the first number 1 seed to lose to a 16 seed. Seems they were the only 1 seed that didn't struggle and come close to losing. So much for all the 'experts' that would have you believe they know so much about each team. In watching Memphis they looked very good. I don't see many teams being able to beat them if they play the way they did Friday.
Posted: 8:29 AM   by Anonymous
Clearly Wichita State has the best chanced to advace his weekend. But that has more to do with Tennessee than the Shockers.

At this time of year, especially the early rounds, match-ups are the key.

Alas every Cinderella story must end, and the second weekend usually filters out the lucky and less talented teams.

I argue the opening rounds are more about seeing which of the big schools have ridden their school's name and history to national respect and less about small schools proving that they can play good basketball.
Posted: 8:58 AM   by Anonymous
you gotta love the double-standard being applied by the media to these games - teams like Tennessee and Memphis are being painted as overrated, but when UConn or Texas gets into a close game, it's chalked up to "the greatness of the tournament."
Posted: 9:47 AM   by HollyRhea
Everyone is in love with West Virginia to do again this year what they did last year. That said, Northwestern State's win over Iowa wasn't a case of a big school not taking a little school seriously. NSU played a really good non-conference schedule with wins on the road at Oklahoma St., Oregon St., & Mississippi St. not to mention razor-thin losses on the road to Utah St. (by 3), Witchita St. (by 2) & Hawaii (by 3). No, those aren't all power teams (although people are finding out about the Shockers)but they're all difficult places to play & these guys have been up to the task. As quirky as WVU's style is, NSU doesn't exactly throw same ol', same ol' at you either. I'm not saying NSU will win but don't be surprised if they do.
Posted: 11:35 AM   by corn belter
I follow Illinois, who played Wichita State in the finals of the Padre Island tournament. The Shockers are the real deal--they won the MVC by two games, and the MVC is 2 out of 4 so far in the tourney, as good a ratio as the Big Ten. Also,in spite of Tennessee's (debatable) 2 seed, I think Wichita can take the Vols if they out-hustle them--a tall order but doable.
Posted: 12:23 PM   by Anonymous
Im from Fairfax, Virginia and know alot of the players on the Geroge Mason team. I know they have a tough game against UNC coming up, but knowing them I belive they can take down the champs with Jai Lewis's inside play, Lamar Butler's shooting and the return of the wonderful point guard, Tony Skinn. I also love Wisconsin- Milwaukee's cnace.
Posted: 12:26 PM   by Nathan
Wichita State has the best chance to pull the upset on Tennesse. They were the only team that didn't really go through an emotionally draining first round, so they still have a lot of energy. Plus, they act like they're supposed to be there, they know they're good. They feel like the frontrunner for the MVC, they have a lot to prove to all those people who have put a chip on their shoulder. On the other side, Tennessee has gotten a little loose, they celebrated a lot after their win, which they should, but they didn't seem worried that they almost lost to Winthrop (even the coach was backing them up). Tennessee also has all the ESPN cameras following them around, which is just a disaster waiting to happen.
Posted: 1:10 PM   by Fuscia Warrior
I think UW-Mil is perhaps the best team, but Wichita State has the easiest path (UTenn.) and best chance of winning. TN over-acheived and peaked in Jan., staggered into the tournament, and should have lost to Winthrop. The other mid-major foes -- Florida, BC, Pitt, WVU, UNC -- are legit title contenders. TN is not.
Posted: 1:27 PM   by Anonymous
After being chosen the most likely # 1 seed to ever lose, I'm sure Memphis will consider itself lucky to be in the second round playing against a Bucknell team that will probably be favored because they beat Syracuse earlier in the year. And, as we all know, Memphis didn't play anybody all year. Got to love the experts.
Posted: 4:32 PM   by Anonymous
I think the team with the best chance has to be Wichita State. Tennessee definetely didn't deserve such a high seed, and I've seen both teams play and I picked Wichita State to win. The only other team who I think has a chance is Bradley which is playing against Pitt.
Posted: 6:32 PM   by John
Don't want to hear about this small victory margin. This year's seedings are all messed up anyway. #1 seeds who can't even get to their conference championship games. A #3 seed who won both the regular season and conference championship. #19 team in the RPI ratings doesn't even get an invitation. Teams left out who would have clobbered the 2 teams in the "bunny bracket" game, which brings up another point. How does the winner of this game not play the #1 team in the tournament, which was chosen by the selection committee? Is money and conference prestige have anything to do with this messed up system. And we complain about the BCS system in football. Give me a break.
Wow WSU has chance to go to the elite 8. They get to play against a weak UNC team that barely beat Murray State. Wichita and Bradly are proving that the Missouri Valley is as good as advertised and the "mid-majors" are on par with the majors. Thank god for the Valley and for George Mason and Montana. Hopefully the Big Sky will get more credit.
Posted: 7:13 PM   by Anonymous
Is it me, or would those margins of victory be even lower if these games were played at truly "neutral" sites? OSU playing in Dayton? Duke in Greensboro (every year!)? Villanova in Philly??? I'd favor a rule stating that teams can't play in venues withing 150 or so miles of their campus. It really stinks when your George Mason having to play OSU in Dayton. The game could have just as well been played at Ohio State. Aren't the decks already stacked enough in the high seeds' hands?
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