For the 9th time in the last 33 NCAA Tournaments, the Sweet 16 is comprised of at least three double-digit seeds:
- 13th-seed Ohio faces #1 seed North Carolina in the Midwest Region.
- 11th-seed North Carolina State faces #2 seed Kansas in the Midwest Region.
- 10th-seed Xavier faces #3 seed Baylor in the South Region.
Interestingly, there has never been a Sweet 16 with four double-digit seeds, but there has been one with five.
That occurred in 1999 when three #10 seeds (Purdue, Miami (OH), and Gonzaga), a 12-seed (Southwest Missouri State), and a 13-seed (Oklahoma) all made it. That year, only Gonzaga ended up winning to advance to the Elite 8. The Zags beat 6th-seeded Florida 73-72 before losing to #1 seed UCONN in the Elite 8.
As it turns out, based on trends and percentages, what happened in 1999 is almost the perfect microcosm for the experience of double-digit seeds in the Sweet 16.
Here are a few statistics for you, none of which should really be surprising:
- Since 1979, 56 double-digit seeds have made the Sweet 16 – this equates to 10.9% of all Sweet 16 participants.
- Of those 56 double-digits seeds, only 14 (25%) advanced to the Elite 8
- In those 14 Sweet 16 matchups in which double-digit seeds won, the average seed differential was only five seed slots. The average seed for the winners was 10.5; the average seed for the losers was 5.5.
- Of the 14 winners: eight were 10-seeds; five were 11-seeds; one was a 12-seed.
- #1 seeds are 21-0 all-time against double-digit seeds in the Sweet 16.
- #2 seeds are 8-1 all-time against double-digit seeds in the Sweet 16.
- #3 seeds are 6-4 all-time against double-digit seeds in the Sweet 16.
What do these overview stats tell us about the chances for Xavier, NC State, and Ohio to make the Elite 8? That they aren’t good.
Everyone understands that Ohio, NC State, and Xavier are unlikely to move onto the Elite 8 based on the relative seeds, because we know that over time higher seeds will beat lower seeds more often than not.
But as I broke down every Sweet 16 that had a double-digit seed participant, I was actually struck by three observations:
- How impossible Ohio’s task seems based on history.
- How much precedent there is for Xavier fans to hang their hats on.
- The incredible record of #11 seeds in the Elite 8…if NC State can only get there.
Let’s break it down by matchup.
What Sweet 16 history says about Ohio’s chances to beat North Carolina
No team seeded lower than 12th has ever made the Elite 8 (Missouri in 2002). There have been a handful of 13th- and 14th-seeded teams in the Sweet 16, but it has always turned out the same way: with a loss.
- 2006: #13 Bradley lost to #1 Memphis 80-64
- 1999: #13 Oklahoma lost to #1 Michigan State 54-46
- 1998: #13 Valparaiso lost to #8 Rhode Island 74-68
- 1997: #14 UT-Chattanooga lost to #10 Providence 71-65
- 1988: #13 Richmond lost to #1 Temple 69-47
- 1986: #14 Cleveland State lose to #7 Navy 71-70
On the bright side, four of these games had deficits of less than 10 points, and the average margin of defeat was only 9.83 points. Unfortunately, that takes into account matchups against teams seeded 8th, 10th, and 7th. This weekend, Ohio must face #1 seed North Carolina. The average margin of defeat for 13 seeds against #1 seeds in the Sweet 16: 15.3 points.
So Ohio will be going up against more than Tyler Zeller, John Henson, and Harrison Barnes this weekend. The Bobcats will also be facing a situation for which there is no historical precedent of success. Certainly this doesn’t mean Ohio is incapable of winning, and Kendall Marshall’s injury unquestionably makes it more possible, but just know that if Ohio does spring the upset, it will be one of the most statistically unlikely upset in NCAA Tournament history.
What Sweet 16 history says about NC State’s chances to beat Kansas
As we know, Kansas has played in a great many Sweet 16s. We also know that, despite the school’s overall sterling record of NCAA Tournament success, Kansas teams of recent vintage have not been immune to unlikely upsets. The Jayhawks lost last year in the Elite 8 to 11th-seeded VCU, and they were eliminated the previous year by 9th-seeded Northern Iowa in the Round of 32.
Kansas has not, however, ever lost a Sweet 16 game to a double-digit seed. In fact, Kansas has only faced a double-digit seed in the Sweet 16 twice, beating 12th-seeded Villanova 72-57 in 2008 and 12th-seeded Richmond 77-57 in 2011.
But NC State fans can take solace in the fact that, unlike Ohio’s task against North Carolina State, there is at least some precedent for an 11 seed to win a Sweet 16 game. In fact, five 11 seeds have won their Sweet 16 matchups and reached the Elite 8:
- 2011: #11 VCU beat #10 Florida State 72-71 (VCU then reached the Final Four)
- 2006: #11 George Mason beat #7 Wichita State 63-55 (GMU then reached the Final Four)
- 2001: #11 Temple beat #7 Penn State 84-72 (Temple lost in the Elite 8)
- 1990: #11 Loyola Marymount beat #7 Alabama 62-60 (LMU then lost in the Elite 8 to UNLV 130-101)
- 1986: #11 LSU beat #2 Georgia Tech 70-64 (LSU then reached the Final Four)
The most optimistic takeaway here for NC State fans is that, in addition to the precedent of a #11 beating a #2, #11 seeds who reach the Elite 8 have gone on to make the Final Four 60% of the time. While it’s an extremely small and probably insignificant sample size, I find it compelling nonetheless, certainly as an indicator of the importance of momentum in tournament play. Furthermore, those Elite 8 wins didn’t just come as a result of good matchups like many of the Sweet 16 wins seem to have (with four of the five coming against #7 or #10 seeds). The three #1 seeds that reached the Final Four all beat #1 seeds in the Elite 8.
So the #1 seeds may not have to worry about double-digit seeds in the Sweet 16, but they better watch out if they get matched up against one in the Elite 8. #1 seeds are just 7-3 all-time against double-digit seeds in the Elite 8, 2-3 when that double-digit seed is a #11.
Still though, NC State has to get to the Elite 8 first, and fact remains that overall #11 seeds are 5-7 in the Sweet 16 but just 1-7 when the matchup is with a #2 seed as NC State’s is this weekend.
What Sweet 16 history says about Xavier’s chances to beat Baylor
Nine #10 seeds have made the Elite 8, but let’s forget for a moment that all nine of these teams ultimately lost their regional final matchup; the key for Xavier is just to get there, right?
Unlike #1 and #2 seeds, who have a dominant 29-1 combined Sweet 16 record against double-digit seeds, #3 seeds have been far more accommodating to Cinderella. #3 seeds have only won 60% of the games they have played against double-digit seeds, which includes the following losses:
- 2008: #10 Davidson beat #3 Wisconsin 73-56
- 2002: #10 Kent State beat #3 Pittsburgh 78-73
- 1991: #10 Temple beat #3 Oklahoma State 72-63
- 1987: #10 LSU beat #3 DePaul 63-58
So at least Xavier and its fans have a handful of previous matchups involving teams of the seed in which the double-digit seed came out on top. Ohio has nothing, and NC State just has one game from 1986 that featured a #11 over a #2.
There aren’t really a lot of conclusions anyone should draw from this other than what we already know: teams with better seeds are more likely to win, and the odds even out the closer together the seeds become. If, at the beginning of this post, I had asked you to rank the likelihood of the double-digit seeds winning this weekend, you probably would have said Xavier, NC State, then Ohio…so this data only confirms what most of us already thought. I just found the numbers and games fun to research because I’m a giant college basketball nerd.
Kendall Marshall’s injury does make the North Carolina-Ohio matchup more intriguing though. We can assume with near certainty that North Carolina would not have been a #1 seed if it had played without Kendall Marshall during the regular season, so the 21-0 all-time Sweet 16 record for #1 seeds against double-digit seeds shouldn’t scare Ohio fans as much, because it could be argued that North Carolina is only a nominal #1 seed now without Marshall but won’t play like one this weekend.
Still, regardless of the circumstances surrounding the game, Ohio has a chance to make history. The Bobcats can become the first #13 seed to ever make the Elite 8, and they can end the Sweet 16 dominance of #1 seeds over double-digit seeds. Not that anyone other than Tar Heel fans needed a reason to cheer for Ohio, but now you know you’re cheering for more than just the Bobcats…you’re cheering for history.
Fellow nerds, here is the spreadsheet with the results of every Sweet 16 games involving double digit seeds.