Will a No. 16 Seed Ever Beat a No. 1 Seed?

C.J. MooreCollege Basketball National Lead WriterMarch 20, 2013

Mar 11, 2013; Hot Springs, AR, USA; Western Kentucky Hilltoppers celebrate after defeating the Florida International Panthers during the championship game of the Sun Belt Conference tournament at Summit Arena. Western Kentucky defeated Florida International 65-63. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

In the NCAA tournament, only one seed is still waiting for its "One Shining Moment." 

The poor No. 16. Those guys never win. Like, literally never. They've tossed the ball up 112 times and not once has Cinderella worn No. 16. Not once. 

But is this the year? 

On Feb. 6, TCU beat Kansas. The Horned Frogs finished the season ranked 238th in RPI. The Jayhawks got a No. 1 seed. 

It was not the equivalent of a No. 16 seed beating a No. 1 seed, but the equivalent of a No. 60 seed beating a No. 1 seed. 

Am I saying Western Kentucky has a chance? 

Well, not exactly. That game was at TCU. And it wasn't in March. 

Nowadays, the NCAA has set it up so that the No. 1 seeds play as close to home as possible. Kansas and Louisville open in their backyards (Kansas City and Lexington). Indiana fans have less than a three-hour drive from Bloomington to Dayton. Gonzaga is at least on the right coast in Salt Lake City.

These games are technically played at neutral sites, but not really, and that's fine. You should be rewarded for kicking butt in the regular season. 

Some of those 112 teams with a "16" next to their name probably believed they would beat the No. 1. Overcoming the mental odds is half the battle. 

Princeton, a team that has worn the slipper before, lost by one to Georgetown in 1989. The next year, Murray State took Michigan State to overtime. Last season, UNC Asheville lost by seven to Syracuse. 

David has put his slingshot to good use, but Goliath keeps ducking at the right time. 

In the women's game, the improbable has happened. In a 1998 contest pitting schools with comparable academics but incomparable women's basketball programs, No. 16-seeded Harvard defeated No. 1-seeded Stanford.

The circumstances happened to be just right —as in Stanford somehow had not one but two players tear their ACLs in the week leading up to the game. 

"The hard thing was just the injuries," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer told the New York Times 10 years after the fact. "The game itself to me wasn't a really sad thing. The sad thing happened during the week when we had two kids go down from ACL injuries. It was absolutely depressing."

That is sad. And the odds—two ACLs blown in one week—have to be astronomically slim for that to happen. Like, "a No. 16 over a No. 1" kind of slim. 

But, hey, that could happen. Russ Smith and Gorgui Dieng, or Ben McLemore and Jeff Withey could get hurt in practice this week, suddenly making an extreme mismatch not so extreme anymore. 

We are also in the one-and-done era when many of the top dogs (see: Kentucky in 2012) are loaded with players only a couple years removed from puberty. Many of the small schools that dance have rosters full of grown men. 

The word parity gets thrown around too often in college basketball, but overturning rosters support the parity pushers. It brings those No. 16 seeds a little closer to the No. 1 seeds. 

Someday, all the stars will align and it will happen. The No. 16 seeds will have their moment.

"Never" isn't a theme that sticks in sports. 


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