PRYOR, OK —
It's always fun to follow an underdog story.
As you've read in this space over the past few weeks, the Chouteau boys were a lot of fun to follow. It was an honor to be in the building and write the story about the Wildcats knocking off the No. 2 team in the state in a come-from-behind fashion.
It was fun to watch the Thunder push the Lakers to six games in the playoffs a year after going 23-59 in their first year in Oklahoma.
It was fun to watch Rocco Mediate take Tiger Woods to a playoff at the '09 U.S. Open.
But if there's one underdog story that's always insufferable, it's any 16-seed vs. any top seed in the NCAA tournament.
If you've ever turned on a television in March, you know that 16s are oh-fers in the tourney. Every year since 1985, when the tournament expanded to 64 teams, 16s lose four games to No. 1 seeds. The 0-4 record is such a regular occurrence that Death and Taxes are considering adding it to their club.
That is about to change.
Now, I'm no psychic, and I don't think it will happen this year. Heck, I don't think it will ever happen, but that's only because I am a wise better.
But it will happen, if only for one number: 68.
After threatening to expand the tournament to 96 teams, the NCAA decided (for reasons still unknown) to qualify 68 teams for the tournament, starting with four “first-round” games before the real “first-round” games. Now, we get A and B teams. That's literally how they are designated on the bracket: “16a,” “16b,” and so on.
I was chatting with a fellow bracket geek the other day who holds the same opinion as most regarding the new format. General opinion holds that the extra game is yet another obstacle to the 16-over-one prophecy ever coming to pass. I tend to disagree. I think the extra game actually favors the 16-seeds — well, not “favors.” Let's say, “helps their odds.”
My friend argued that the extra game means the lower seed will have less time to rest, having to play an extra game between the conference tournament and the NCAA tournament. But when you consider that most lower seeds finish their conference tournaments days, sometimes a full week before the larger conference tournaments wrap up, you're looking at roughly the same amount of “rest time” between conference and postseason tournaments for the small and large schools. Let's call that a push.
My friend also said the extra game gives the 16-seed less time to scout. This is bunk on several levels. The 16-seed knows who it will play if it gets past its fellow 16-seed. The top-seed could play either one, meaning it only gets the one day between games to devise a plan.
Heck, I think any coach in a play-in position should overlook their opening-round opponent. Don't focus on the Niagaras and North Carolina A&Ts of the world, focus on the Dukes and Indianas. If you play badly enough to lose to a fellow 16-seed — about the same caliber of opponent you've played all season — you probably don't deserve to get a shot at No. 1.
And heres' the big one: most teams that end up facing a No. 1 seed in the first round have little to no NCAA tournament experience. They don't know what it's like to play in (let alone win) a game on the big stage. Starting off with a 1-0 record can do wonders for the psyche. Just ask Virginia Commonwealth, which started the tournament in 2011 as an “11a” and finished as a Final Four team.
Trust me, a 16-seed will one day beat a one-seed. All we're waiting for is air traffic control to give the “all clear” to those pigs stuck on the tarmac.