NCAA Tournament 2014: 16 Things to Know Heading into the Sweet 16
It’s amazing how four days of basketball can dash so many hopes and dreams around the country. I’m talking about our brackets, of course (did you think I meant the actual players, coaches and schools?), as multiple first-round upsets and a few wonderful sleepers have dismantled most of our plans for bracket brilliance this season.
Me? I still have all four of my Final Four picks alive, which feels like a perfect bracket just the same. (Where’s my billion dollars? Seriously.)
Even though most of our brackets were summarily busted thanks to a few early upsets, that doesn’t mean the Sweet 16 in the 2014 NCAA tournament won't be every bit as exciting as the first two (read: three) rounds of play.
This has been a great tournament so far, and the next two rounds should prove to be just as enjoyable as we continue on that long winding road to North Texas for the Final Four.
Here are 16 things worth knowing about some of the teams that left the party earlier than expected, and those 16 teams still out there dancing.
Kentucky One-and-Done vs. Wichita State Team
Before the CBS telecast of the Wichita State and Kentucky game that turned out to be one of the best early-round games in recent memory, tournament analyst Greg Anthony led his commentary with the overstatement of the century, via CBS TV:
Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com made a comment about this being the most significant round-of-32 game in the history of college basketball. I won’t go that far, but it could be a defining moment in how programs are built moving forward, based on the outcome of this game.
Jim Nantz explained Anthony’s comment thusly: “Is it a one-and-done way, or do you build a team? That’s what you mean by that.”
Anthony replied, “Exactly.”
No. Not exactly. Not exactly at all.
The game between the Shockers and the Wildcats was amazing, and if anything it shows that a group of players that people picked to be the top team in the country in preseason can, at some point before April, live up to that potential.
Kentucky played the best it has all season Sunday, beating what many considered the best team in the country—emphasis on that word to mean a cohesive unit, not a group of talented individuals all wearing the same jersey.
The fact Kentucky won is not a referendum on the one-and-done method of recruiting. Had Fred VanVleet’s three-pointer gone in at the buzzer, coaches around the country wouldn’t have suddenly stopped recruiting blue-chip talent to go with a different approach.
The fact is, if you can recruit Julius Randle, Jabari Parker or Andrew Wiggins to play for your basketball team, you do it. Even if you think those top prospects are playing for only one year before hitting the lottery in the NBA, the outcome of a round-of-32 game between a bunch of freshmen and a group of seniors would not change that logic.
Duke has always been a better basketball team when led by juniors and seniors. That does not mean Mike Krzyzewski is suddenly going to look past the top prospects in hopes of finding kids who will stay four years. That’s ridiculous.
Oh no, best player in America. Don't come here for one year before the NBA. We're trying to build a TEAM because Wichita State beat Kentucky.
Phew. It’s a good thing that didn’t happen then. A lot of coaches could have been forced to change their entire recruiting strategy. Then where would the one-and-done players all go?
Sweet 16 Players by Class
With the Kentucky win over Wichita State being billed as a sign of things to come in college basketball, it seems worth a look at the current landscape of the game in terms of experience heading into the Sweet 16.
Including both scholarship players and walk-ons for all 16 remaining tournament teams, there are (roughly) 54 seniors, 49 juniors, 65 sophomores and 73 freshmen still in the Dance. It’s not quite as pronounced as one might think, but still more than 57 percent of the remaining field are either freshmen or sophomores, making this a decidedly young tournament.
Having said that, of those players listed on each of the Sweet 16 rosters, just 13 freshmen average more than 20 minutes per game.
There are more than twice that number of seniors or graduate students—we counted 30—still left in the tournament who are averaging more than 20 minutes per game. In fact, we looked at the statistics for every team left in the tournament, and there are just four teams—Arizona, Wisconsin, Kentucky and Michigan—that do not have at least two seniors averaging more than 20 minutes per game.
While light on senior minutes, Wisconsin is still top-heavy with upperclassmen, as the Badgers feature three juniors, one senior and one sophomore averaging more than half a game in playing time.
Kentucky is the only team left in the tournament that does not have at least one junior or senior who averages 20 or more minutes per game.
In addition to the 30 seniors and 13 freshmen, there are 21 juniors and 26 sophomores who average more than 20 minutes for their respective teams still playing in the tournament.
There may be fewer upperclassmen overall, but a lot of them still get significant minutes.
Average Seeding in Sweet 16
The average seed of the 16 remaining teams in the NCAA tournament works out to be just a tad better than a No. 5 seed—4.9375, to be exact—which is nearly double what the chalk bracket would produce if all four top seeds from each region advanced to the second weekend.
The higher average seed number is buoyed by the inclusion of three double-digit seeds, including No. 10 seed Stanford and multiple No. 11 seeds in Dayton and Tennessee.
This is the first time since the NCAA expanded the tournament to 68 teams that no team lower than an 11 seed has made the Sweet 16.
In 2013, a 12, 13 and 15 advanced to the second weekend. In 2012, a 10, 11 and 13 advanced, and in 2011—the first year of the field of 68—a 10, two 11s and a 12 all advanced to the Sweet 16, including three double-digit seeds from the same region.
There was no such luck for Cinderella this year. Having said that, with Dayton scheduled to play Stanford, there is a guarantee that at least one double-digit seed will make it to the Elite Eight, something that has not happened in either of the last two tournaments.
The 2014 tourney also marks the third time in the last four years where a No. 1 seed did not make it to the second weekend. Ironically, the only No. 1 seed to miss out on last year’s Sweet 16 fell to Wichita State, which was the only No. 1 seed to exit the Dance early this season.
This has also been a fortuitous tournament for the No. 4 seeds, who have proven they were clearly under-seeded on Selection Sunday. All four No. 4 seeds advanced to the Sweet 16, with just one No. 3 seed and two No. 2 seeds making the second weekend.
The Madness of Close Games
There have been 52 NCAA tournament games played so far this year, and six needed overtime to determine the winner.
Interestingly, of those six overtime games, only two ended up being decided by a final margin of just one possession, with another two decided by six or fewer points and two that, frankly, got away from the losers.
Throughout this year’s tournament, we’ve been lucky to see some memorable early-round games. Both Dayton games have been something fans of the tournament format can hang their collective hats on, even if the first half of the win over Syracuse was horrible basketball. The end was great, for sure.
There have been a few other close contests—North Carolina was on the right and wrong end of two this weekend—but there weren’t a ton of games that came down to the last few seconds with the game on the line.
The average margin of victory for the first two rounds, including the First Four, was 11.9 points, which is understandable given the number of high- and low-seeded teams facing off. Yet just 17 of the first 36 games played were decided by fewer than 10 points, with 10 of those decided by two possessions or fewer.
That’s not bad for the early rounds, but the average actually got worse in the round of 32, bumping up to an average margin of victory of 13 points per game in that round. That number does include four games decided by one possession, but just two of the remaining 12 games in the third round were decided by single digits.
Of the 52 games played in the first three rounds, 20 were decided by 15 or more points. We will remember the upsets, buzzer-beaters and near-misses the most. Let’s just hope for more of them as the tournament rolls along.
2014 Sweet 16 vs. 2013 Sweet 16
There are a few familiar faces to the Sweet 16 this season. Five of the 16 teams from last year’s Sweet 16 qualified again this year, including two of the teams to make the Final Four. Still, just three of the teams that made last year’s Elite Eight are back to try again this season.
In fact, just nine of the 16 teams remaining even qualified for the NCAA tournament last season, with five teams playing in the 2013 NIT—including champions Baylor—and two teams with no postseason at all.
Of the teams that made the Sweet 16 last season, four flamed out in the third round this year, with two—Duke and Ohio State—failing to win an NCAA game after qualifying for the tournament.
That’s still better than the remaining five teams from last year, isn’t it? Florida Gulf Coast lost in its conference tournament, taking Dunk City to the NIT this season. The other four teams from last year’s Sweet 16—Indiana, La Salle, Marquette and Miami—didn’t even get that this year.
Tennessee and the First Four History
This is the third time in four seasons that a First Four participant has made it through to the Sweet 16.
Tennessee joins La Salle from last season and VCU from 2011—the first year of the First Four format—to advance out of the First Four and make it to the second weekend.
Moreover, a team from the First Four has won at least two games every season since the model began. In 2012, South Florida won its second-round game before falling in the round of 32.
No team, of course, has done better than VCU, which made a run all the way to the Final Four in 2011. Tennessee still has two wins left to match what the Rams did three seasons ago.
Coaches In and Coaches Out
Who would have thought a week ago that Johnny Dawkins would be in the Sweet 16 and Mike Krzyzewski would not?
Who would have thought that Cuonzo Martin would go from the hot seat to suddenly being a hot coach, taking Tennessee from the bubble to the First Four to the Sweet 16 in a matter of one week?
It’s amazing what a tournament run can do for a coach. For some it can save their jobs. For others, it can get them a better one.
Archie Miller has just 62 career coaching victories in his three seasons at Dayton. After a run to the Sweet 16 and a family pedigree of success, the Flyers have announced, via ESPN.com, his contract extension through the 2018-19 season.
Iowa State also has a good chance to keep Fred Hoiberg in Ames. Hoiberg has 90 career coaching wins and has burst onto the college scene the last few years after a journeyman NBA career. He will not fly under any radars from this point forth, but the Ames legend may be happy staying home for a while.
Tony Bennett won't fly under any radars either. Bennett led Virginia to a top seed in his fifth season with the Cavaliers and is one of six coaches in the Sweet 16 to have fewer than 200 career victories, along with Miller, Hoiberg, Martin, Dawkins and Kevin Ollie.
The rest? Well, there are a few bona fide legends still hanging around the Dance.
With Coach K, Jim Boeheim and Roy Williams out of the tournament early, Rick Pitino is the dean of remaining coaches with 693 career wins. John Calipari is next with 594 career wins, though that number may not be officially recognized by anyone inside the NCAA after vacating a good chunk of them over his career.
Five coaches still in the tournament have more than 400 career victories, including Steve Fisher (497), Billy Donovan (484), Tom Izzo (467), John Beilein (442) and Steve Alford (413), making the case that not all wins are created equal. Seriously, Alford has more career victories than the likes of Jay Wright, Mark Few, Thad Matta and Bo Ryan, who heads into the Sweet 16 sitting on 349 career victories.
The last two coaches in the Sweet 16 are Sean Miller, with 248 wins, and Scott Drew with 226 to his name. They both have a long way to go before they catch Pitino, who has a very long way to go before he catches the other legends he will face in the ACC next season. He does get a few more chances to get closer this year, if his Kentucky nemesis doesn’t get in the way.
Tobacco Road Woes
Speaking of the ACC, specifically the legendary coaches who ply their trade on Tobacco Road, it was a horrible tournament for teams from Carolina.
North Carolina State won its First Four game before losing in overtime to Saint Louis in the second round. North Carolina squeaked by Providence in the second round before falling in a heartbreaker to Iowa State in one of the funkiest endings in the history of the NCAA tournament. Has anyone ever seen a timeout that led to a review that led to the realization that the clock started late that led to the end-of-game handshake? Bizarre.
Was that more bizarre than Duke losing to Mercer in the second round? Duke. Lost to Mercer. In the first game of the tournament. That was played in Raleigh.
Of all the upsets in the first few rounds—there were eight seeded upsets in the second round and another five in the third round—none were more shocking than Duke losing to Mercer in what was basically a home game.
“It’s definitely a surreal feeling, man,” Mercer guard Langston Hall told reporters. “This is what March madness is about, really.”
Power Conference Basketball
The NCAA selection committee rewarded the power conferences this season, particularly the Big 12, ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and Atlantic 10, which probably isn’t in the same class as the others in terms of power conferences but deserving of bids just the same.
Some of those conferences have validated the number of selections, while others have…not.
Both the ACC and the Atlantic 10 have just one of their respective six participants in the Sweet 16. The Big 12 has two of its seven selections still playing.
Conversely, the Big Ten and Pac-12 each have three of their respective six teams still playing. The SEC received only three bids, and all three of its teams are still playing, including Tennessee, which had to play an additional game just to get into the field of 64.
Big East vs. American Athletic Conference
We failed to mention either the Big East or the American Athletic when discussing the power conferences in the tournament. Part of that was to save the comparison for here, while another part was because it’s unclear if either conference is actually a power conference.
The AAC is insanely top-heavy, with four teams making the tournament and one team—SMU—narrowly missing out while the rest of the conference toiled in abject mediocrity. Cincinnati lost its first game this year to Harvard, while Memphis beat up on George Washington before losing to Virginia in the third round.
The other two AAC teams are still dancing after UConn beat former Big East rival Villanova and Louisville took care of Saint Louis from the Atlantic 10.
The AAC had just four bids, but two are still alive.
The same can’t be said for the Big East. The reconfigured conference had four teams make the tournament, but none reached the Sweet 16. Villanova was ousted after one win despite a No. 2 seed. Creighton earned a No. 3 seed but got destroyed by Baylor on Sunday. Providence won the Big East title to qualify but couldn’t win a game in the NCAA tournament, and Xavier couldn’t even get out of the First Four.
Next year, the AAC will be significantly weaker after Louisville leaves for the ACC. For this year, what could have been a really interesting rivalry between the once and future Big East turned out to be a complete dud, with both conferences wondering exactly what they will have left in the future.
Sweet 16 by State
We looked at the Sweet 16 by conference, but what about by state?
There are three teams from California left in the tournament, leading the Sweet 16 with UCLA, San Diego State and Stanford.
Michigan and Kentucky each have two teams left, Michigan and Michigan State and Kentucky and Louisville respectively. Ohio, Connecticut, Virginia, Wisconsin, Texas, Iowa, Arizona, Florida and Tennessee each have one school left in the tournament.
So what about the players on all of these teams? That tells a different story.
There are 44 players from the state of California still playing in the tournament, far and away the most of any state. The next highest state in terms of homegrown talent still in the tournament is Indiana, with 21 players across all 16 teams. That can’t help the Hoosiers woes.
Michigan and Illinois both have 18 players, and Texas boasts 16 players, while Florida and Ohio both have 15 still playing. There are 10 players from Wisconsin, the most before a drop to single digits for the rest of the represented states.
There are as many players from New York (nine) as there are from Kentucky, which either says something about the top-level recruiting in the state of Kentucky or the state of basketball in New York. Or both.
Through the first three rounds of the NCAA tournament, there have been six games in which a player has scored 30 or more points. Unfortunately for half of them, hitting for 30 or more didn’t guarantee a victory.
Aaric Murray went for 38 in the First Four game for Texas Southern, but it wasn’t enough to lead his team over Cal Poly, falling 81-69.
Bryce Cotton scored 36 in Providence’s 79-77 loss to North Carolina, while Wichita State’s Cleanthony Early scored a game-best 31 in the Shockers’ 78-76 loss to Kentucky.
Still, scoring a lot hasn’t been all bad.
Michigan State’s Adreian Payne dropped 41 on Delaware in the second round, leading the Spartans to a 93-78 victory.
Before getting held in check against Baylor, Creighton All-American Doug McDermott lit up Louisiana-Lafayette for 30 in the Blue Jays’ 76-66 second-round victory.
Xavier Thames has been Mr. Everything for San Diego State, scoring 30 in a 63-44 win over North Dakota State in the third round, helping the Aztecs get into the Sweet 16.
You may recall the NCAA taking heat for the letter-of-the-law manner in which it asked referees to enforce the newly adopted flagrant foul rule. This year, the organization changed the rule, allowing referees a bit of discretion when it comes to an elbow to the face coming during a routine basketball play.
The rule is better, but it still needs more work.
There have been far too many flagrant fouls called this year and countless trips to the monitor from officials during this NCAA tournament to enforce a rule that actually rewards the defender for putting his face in the way of a ball-handler’s wingspan.
During the final seconds of Wichita State’s loss to Kentucky, Shockers guard Ron Baker fouled a Kentucky player on the sideline without even using his arms, essentially hoping the ball-handler would hit him in the face in order to get his team two shots and the ball.
Baker flung to the ground after he fouled his opponent, grabbing his face in hopes of getting the referees to look at the monitor. It seemed as if the attempt at a flagrant foul was Baker’s plan all along. Thankfully the referees didn’t bite.
They have in other cases, however, including one incident where a player was tapped with a flagrant foul after being fouled.
All we can hope for at this point is that a soft flagrant-1 call doesn’t impact the outcome of a game.
Any more than it already has.
Referee, Clock Operators and Replay
While we are on the topic of review, it’s worth noting that the referees in the Iowa State-North Carolina game got the call right at the end of that contest, denying the Tar Heels a chance to call timeout and set up a final play.
The clock started late on the last-second inbounds play, so when the referees went over to review if Carolina had called timeout with any time left on the clock, they saw the error in delaying the start of the clock, ending the game in anticlimactic fashion.
The call was right. The clock operation was awful.
Sometimes the clock operator has a horrible time seeing when a ball is touched, with players and referees in the way of a clear line of sight to the player in control of the inbounds pass. There is a simple fix for that: Don’t put the clock operators at midcourt of the scorer’s table. Put someone in the press box or in an elevated position in the arena in charge of the clock. Eliminate any distractions or impediments from getting the clock right.
If review can see if a fingernail is on the ball before time expires, why can’t we figure out a better way to start and stop the clock?
One of my fun brackets this year was to pick the winner of the NCAA tournament based on which mascots would win in a fight. In doing that, I found some interesting mascot research, most notably that cats do much better than dogs, and animals have always done better than humans.
This year isn’t much different.
We have two wildcats, two bears—the Baylor Bears and the UCLA Bruins—a wolverine, a badger, a huskie dog, a gator and a redbird. On the human side we have a volunteer, Aztec, flyer, cavalier and a Spartan. Plus a color—Stanford Cardinal—and an act of nature in the Iowa State Cyclones.
The safe bet is always picking a wildcat, though I guess Villanova didn’t hold up its end of the wildcat bargain this year.
Nobody Cares About Your Bracket
How many times have you seen this on Twitter in the last few days? “Nobody cares about your bracket.”
Everyone cares. Everyone cares about your bracket because the only thing better than talking about your bracket is the process of filling it out in the first place.
During March, “how’s your bracket” is the same as “how’s the weather.” It’s a national greeting for millions of people who filled out a bracket this season. I care about your bracket. You should care about mine.
There is no fun in filling out a bracket and not bragging about picking Baylor to get to the Final Four if it actually does it (this guy). That’s the point of the brackets.
So go ahead, America, tell me all of your bracket secrets. I will never tell you that I don’t care. And if you fill one out and enter a pool, you should care about mine too.