2010 NCAA Tournament: Could This Be the Year a 16-Seed Pulls Off the Impossible?

Josh KleinCorrespondent IMarch 15, 2010

It's never happened, a 16 seed beating a  one seed, and some say it never, will but for some reason I have a tough time believing that.

Any big program can have an awful game and any small program can shoot lights out in a given game.  It hasn't ever happened and I'm not thinking this will be the year, but if it were, which 16 seed would be most likely to pull off the big upset?

Before we get into the analysis, it is worth analyzing past close calls for No. 1 seeds in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

In the first year of the 64-team format for the Big Dance in college basketball, a small team from New Jersey by the name of Fairleigh Dickinson gave the No. 1 seed Michigan Wolverines all they could handle in the opening round match up.

Farleigh Dickinson was actually leading at the half but ultimately lost the game in a close call 59-55.

The next year an up and coming Duke team had eyes on the national title but almost stumbled out of the gate against Mississippi Valley State University.  The Blue Devils were down by 11 in the second half but stormed back with a vengeance to finally win the game 85-78.

And who could forget the year 1989?  It was the year three No. 1 seeds all came close to biting the dust early to a 16  seed. 

Illinois narrowly escaped McNeese State by six, winning 77-71.

Oklahoma got to the second round by the skin of their teeth by edging out a rough and tumble East Tennessee State team 72-71.

And finally, in a game that is still disputed by a myriad of Princeton fans to this day.  With just seconds left on the clock Princeton had a chance to pull of a miracle and got off two shots that could have sealed the deal.

Instead, Alonzo Mourning rejected both attempts (some Princeton fans will tell you that there was a blatant foul on one of those shots) and the Hoyas won the game 50-49 in a grinder.

The final game worth mentioning belongs to the only 16 seed never to lose in regulation.  In the year 1990, Michigan State came into the tournament on top of the world.  A No. 1 seed in the biggest tournament in collegiate basketball and with a 26-6 record that proved it.

But the 21-9 Murray State Racers were out for blood and took the Spartans to the limit.  Down by three, little known Racer guard Greg Coble launched a three point shot that hit the bottom of the net as time expired and tied the game at 65-65.

In overtime though, talent took over and the Spartans just got by the Racers in a 75-71 nail biter of a game.

There were other games of course, but for the sake of the article, let's leave it at those examples.

All this to say that even though some have come close No. 16 seed has been able to get over the hump and actually have the upper hand as the final buzzer sounded.

The fact that there hasn't really been a close match up since 1997 might make one believe that either the gap has widened between the big teams and the small schools or that the selection committee has become almost flawless at seeding the field as of late.

However, as the wise saying goes, that's why they play the games.  So who could be this year's Murray State, only successful?

Kansas vs Lehigh

The Kansas Jayhawks from top to bottom might be the most talented and seasoned team in all of the NCAA tournament this season.  Which would be why most, if not all, of the experts have picked them to win the entire thing.

Players like Sherron Collins, Cole Aldrich, Xavier Henry, Marcus Morris, Markief Morris, and many more all have NBA talent and athleticism while also playing cohesive as a team which is part of the reason why the Jayhawks only lost two games this season.

The Mountain Hawks of Lehigh come in feeling good about themselves.  They overcame bitter rival Lafayette to find their way into the big dance on the back of their two star players: C.J. McCollum and Zahir Carrington.

McCollum and Carrington are the two most athletic players on the Mountain Hawks' squad but they still don't match up well with most of Kansas' bench, let alone their starters.  Lehigh relies too much on the three ball and offensive rebounds to win this match up and should be in store for a rude exit from the big dance this weekend.

Kentucky vs. East Tennessee State

You might recall that East Tennessee State almost beat Oklahoma as a 16 seed in 1989, but two decades later the Buccaneers stand even less of a chance in this one. 

John Wall has been sensational from start to finish for the Wildcats this season as has DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson.

Tommy Hubbard would have to have the game of his life to even get the Buccaneers into the same 10-point window as the Wildcats in this one.

In the end, ETSU doesn't have the speed or the firepower to remotely match up with John Wall and Kentucky.  One thing they might have going for them is that it seems that the Wildcats have become apt to playing down to the level of their opponents in games and squeaking them out in the end.

At the end of the day though, Kentucky is just too good to even think about ETSU pulling the upset.

Duke vs (play-in winner) Winthrop vs Ark. Pine Bluff

If we know anything about a Mike Krzyzewski coached team, it is that they just don't lose in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Not only are the Blue Devils led be a veteran corps of star players in Kyle Singler, Jon Scheyer, and Nolan Smith, but in the past 15 years of consecutively making it to the Big Dance the Dukies are 12-2 in the first round, losing last to VCU as the six seed a few years back.

Sure there is always a chance that either Arkansas-Pine Bluff or Winthrop will exit the play-in game on a roll and come out firing on all cylinders.  But even at their best, it's tough to believe either team can match up with the coaching prowess and athleticism of the Blue Devils over 40 minutes of basketball.

Syracuse vs. Vermont

If there is a one seed that might lose in this first round it is the Syracuse Orangemen for a few reasons.

First, the Orangemen lost an early season exhibition game against division two opponent Le Moyne by three before the regular season started.  Of course some may say that this was a wake up call for Syracuse because the Orangemen then rattled off 13 straight wins to open the season.

Second, this same team finished the year on a two-game losing streak.  They lost by 10 to now eight seed Louisville in the final regular season game of the year and lost by seven to now third-seeded Georgetown in the first round of the Big East Tournament.

On top of all of that, negative energy comes a talented team from Vermont who, the last time they got to the NCAA Tournament as a 13 seed beat this same Syracuse team by three in 2005.

Obviously the only way that translates in this situation is that they know that a team from their school can compete with the likes of Syracuse even if the players are completely different.

Vermont has the talent in players like Marqus Blakely who can shoot and rebound using his 6'5" 225 pound frame as leverage down low and a nice stroke from outside.  Maurice Joseph can flat out fly and score and Evan Fjeld has the ability to hold his own down low especially if Arinze Onuaku is still out with a leg injury.

It's the perfect storm for the Vermont Catamounts to become the first ever 16 seed to pull the upset in the first round, but they must play flawlessly and hit their threes when it counts.  It would help to get the Syracuse starting lineup in foul trouble early too.

So is it plausible that any of these match-ups will result in a victory for the lowly 16 seeds this year?  Probably not. 

But a college basketball fan can dream can't he?


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