College basketball: Why this year's NCAA tournament will feature upsets galore
It’s been well documented that college basketball has been nothing short of crazy this year.
This week alone, four of the top six teams in the AP Poll have lost. The only predicable thing about the 2015-16 season has been its unpredictability. With the NCAA tournament less than two months away, it’s not exactly going out on a limb to say that the 2016 ‘Big Dance’ could feature even more upsets than usual.
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A No. 16 seed has never taken down a No. 1 seed. And don’t get it twisted – this year, it’s still very unlikely to happen. But expect more and more of the typical 12/5 upsets to trickle their way into 14/3 or even 15/2 upset territory.
Based on KenPom rankings from this year and years past, we’ll take a look at some upsets that have happened in the past two weeks alone and evaluate how they would be viewed if they occurred in the midst of March Madness.
Jan. 9: Georgia Tech 68, Virginia 64
Virginia probably has the weirdest NCAA tournament resume in the country (four losses outside of KenPom’s top 35, but wins over Miami, Villanova and West Virginia). Regardless, the Yellow Jackets taking down the Cavaliers was a huge upset.
Tech was ranked 64th in KenPom; Virginia was ranked sixth. Last season, Buffalo earned a No. 12 seed in the NCAA tournament and finished 60th in KenPom. Adjusting for possible tournament pairings, this would be similar to a No. 10 seed taking down a No. 2 in the NCAA tournament, or even a No. 8 or 9 over a No. 1.
Jan. 13: Alabama 73, South Carolina 50
The Crimson Tide handed the Gamecocks their first and only loss of the season by 23 points, and while South Carolina hadn’t beaten any elite teams at that point, it was still a big upset. Avery Johnson’s squad was ranked 122nd in KenPom at the time, while South Carolina was 19th.
Alabama’s ranking would have placed them with the No. 16 seeds in last year’s NCAA tournament, while South Carolina was in the No. 4 range. That’s a matchup that has never happened in tournament history, but for reference, this was about as likely to happen as a 14/3 or 15/2 upset would have been. And obviously, this game was not particularly close.
Jan. 19: Oklahoma State 86, Kansas 67
Kansas still has a shot to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, but it got absolutely smoked in Stillwater by emerging star point guard Jawun Evans and the Cowboys. Kansas was No. 2 in KenPom going into the matchup; Oklahoma State was 82nd.
Teams in the low 80s in KenPom rankings are typically in the 12/13 seed range if they make the NCAA tournament. Harvard finished 73rd in KenPom last season and earned a 13 seed.
So at first glance, this would look like a No. 13 seed upsetting a No. 1. But the Pokes didn’t just defeat the Jayhawks; they pummeled them by 19 points. Taking the final score into account, what Oklahoma State did to Kansas is about as likely as a No. 15 seed upending a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Jan. 19: Georgetown 81, Xavier 72
Going into this game, the Hoyas were ranked 65th in KenPom while the Musketeers were ranked eighth.
That would land Georgetown in the 13-seed neighborhood, while Xavier would be considered a No. 2. Adjusting for first round pairings, this would be like a No. 14 seed upsetting a No. 3.
Jan. 20: Texas 56, West Virginia 49
Texas has pulled off several impressive upsets this season, the latest coming in Morgantown against a relentless West Virginia squad. Still, the Longhorns came into the night ranked 54th in KenPom; the Mountaineers were ranked fourth.
Based on that judgment, it would reasonable to slot Texas as a No. 11 seed (Ole Miss earned the same distinction and finished 50th in KenPom last season). West Virginia was one of the top four teams in the country at the time, so this outcome is akin to a No. 1 seed falling in the Round of 32.
Jan. 20: Nebraska 72, Michigan State 71
Before Denzel Valentine’s injury, Michigan State looked like the best team in the nation. Their star is back now and playing well, but the Spartans have struggled to regain their form as a unit.
The Cornhuskers were ranked 90th in KenPom heading into Wednesday night, while the Spartans were ranked 11th. That qualifies as something like a 14/3 or even a 15/2 upset.
We cannot stress this enough -- all of this craziness has happened in the past two weeks. Buckle up, because March is going to be a fun ride.