The headline is a bit deceptive I know, especially with the NCAA adding three teams to the tournament and now calling the round of 64 the second round. I just sense a lot of people will still view the Thursday/Friday games as the first round, with the Tuesday/Wednesday games being seen as play-in games. No. 1 seeds have lost in the second round before, Kansas did last year.
The changes with the tournament are going to hurt the smallest conferences the most. The NCAA has tried in most cases to avoid having the SWAC and MEAC against each other, but with the four lowest rated teams now going into the Tuesday/Wednesday round, it is probable that both teams will be represented unless Hampton wins their conference tournament. An additional small school team will not get a chance to play one game against a top seed. Then again, an additional small school team will win a tournament game.
The play-in winners have for the most part been blown out in the round of 64, just like most of the other No. 1 seeds. Siena and Monmouth were the only two play-in winners to keep their round of 64 game within 15. An odd note is that two play-in winners also won a first round game during the decade (Siena won two of them and Northwestern State) and a play-in loser won a first round game(Winthrop). Oakland lost the 2006 play-in game and now looked to be positioned to have a pretty strong seed this year. For a lower conference team, the play-in game has not been a relegation to second class compared with getting a No. 16 seed.
The likelihood of a 16 seed winning the first round game on Tuesday or Wednesday and then traveling and beating a No. 1 seed on Friday is incredibly slim. At least this year most likely the No. 16 seeds will only have to travel from Dayton to Cleveland.
The focus of the unthinkable upset should be in the other two No. 16 seeds. Now with two teams being pushed down the bracket, two automatic qualifiers who were No. 15 seeds will now be No. 16 seeds. A No. 15 seed winning in the first round is rare, but it does happen, and No. 15 seeds playing close games happens a lot more often.
Robert Morris, Cal St Northridge, Belmont and Texas A&M CC all put big scares into their No. 2 seeds, and with the new bracket teams some of those teams will be No. 16 seeds.
It still seems improbable that a No 1 seed would lose, but I want to take Joe Lunardi's two latest bracket predictions to show that a No. 1 seed could really be scared this year.
The current bracket prediction has the No. 16 seeds not in the first round as Morehead St and Miami of Ohio. Miami of Ohio's last tournament appearance was in 2007, where they lost to No. 3 seed Oregon by two points. Another factor for Miami of Ohio is that Joe's bracket shows them in Cleveland (I would lean towards the two teams playing in Dayton to face the No. 1 seeds in Cleveland), and that is the home of the MAC tournament and plenty of fans. A MAC team No. 14 seed also won a first round game last year. A decent recipe for a massive upset is to have a lot of the crowd rooting for the underdog.
The previous bracket prediction is more interesting. His No. 16 seeds were Montana and Murray State. Montana won a tournament game in 2006, and, for more reason, tournament experience almost beat No. 3 seed New Mexico last year. Murray State as a No. 16 seed would be scary. It's not often that a No. 1 seed would have to face a team that a year earlier won a tournament game, and lost to the eventual national champion runner-up by two. Teams like Montana and Miami of Ohio and Murray State show that there is the possibility that the No. 1 seeds will have to work a lot harder to advance this year.
One thing is likely, and why the changes to the tournament should make the round of 64 more fascinating. The No. 2, No. 3, No. 4 and No. 5 seeds will be playing tougher teams, because of two teams moving down. In the current bracket prediction, Fairfield, Bucknell and Princeton are No. 14 seeds. The No. 12 seeds will be better because one or two of them will be weeded out by the first round game. What fascinates me though are how the No. 13 seeds will look.
In a majority of the tournaments, a No. 13 seed does win in the first round, that team was Murray State last year. Just looking at the bracket projection and it almost feels like No. 13 will become the new No. 12 when predicting winners. Two No. 13 seeds will have a really strong shot of winning every year. Right now, the projected No. 4 vs No. 13 seeds according to Joe Lunardi are:
North Carolina vs Belmont
Villanova vs Oakland
Louisville vs Cleveland St
Florida vs Coastal Carolina
With the pod system in place, the No. 4 seed gets slotted to location last, meaning they often play in front of heavily neutral or opposing fans. Looking at those matchups, they look exciting and there definitely looks like some upset potential in all of them. Having an additional No. 13 seed in round one win means that No. 1 seed in theory will have a better shot of advancing since their highest seeded opponent in the round of 16 will be gone. Then again the No. 1 seeds last year lost to a No. 9 and two No. 5s. The games in the round of 64 should be more competitive and we will be able to see all of them, if you can find TruTV.
The No. 1 seeds feel like they are getting weaker, the No. 16 seeds by design are getting a bit stronger and Gus Johnson feels primed to call the first No. 16 seed win.
Will it happen this year or any year in the future? I don't know, but I do know that if George Mason can make the Final Four and Butler can almost make a half court shot to win the title, then it could happen.