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Andy Wittry | | March 2, 2020

13 NCAA tournament surprises and firsts we just might see this month

5 of the greatest near-upsets in March Madness history

Did you know that the record for most points by a player in an NCAA tournament game is 61 by Notre Dame's Austin Carr? Loyola Marymount's Jeff Fryer holds the record with 11 made 3-pointers in a game and Temple's Fred Cohen once pulled down 34 rebounds. Shaquille O'Neal blocked 11 shots against BYU and UNLV's Mark Wade dished out an NCAA tournament-best 18 assists against Indiana.

These are just a few of the many NCAA tournament records that are tracked in the official record book.

I went through that book and found records that could be broken or surprising things that have never happened in the tournament that could — could! —happen this year.

Here's what I found.

Number of Big Ten teams to qualify

The record: 8, in 2019
Who could break it? Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Rutgers, Wisconsin

The Big Ten could, relatively speaking, shatter its conference record of eight teams in the NCAA tournament, which it set last year. There's a chance 10 or 11 Big Ten teams could receive bids this year and nine teams is certainly on the table.

The conference may not have any of its teams on the No. 1 seed line, but the Big Ten might have at least one team at almost every seed line between a No. 2 seed and a No. 11 seed.

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Points scored by two opposing players

The record: 96 points — Notre Dame's Austin Carr (52 points), Kentucky's Dan Issel (44 points) in 1970
Who could break it? Marquette's Markus Howard, Iowa's Luka Garza

If a Marquette vs. Iowa matchup even happens in the 2020 NCAA Tournament, I'll treat that as a win, much less if Howard and Garza were to challenge the 96-point record in this hypothetical matchup. To be clear, this is a record that's unlikely to ever be broken, considering that it has stood for 50 years.

Breaking the record would require two players to score roughly 50 points apiece in the same game, which means the game would likely be played in the 80s or 90s.

Or it would take something like four or five overtimes.

Given that Marquette and Iowa are trending toward having a similar seed line, the most likely way for them to meet in the NCAA tournament might be in a 4/5 game in the second round. Howard is averaging a nation-leading 27.2 points per game while Garza is fourth at 23.6 points per game.

Both players are in the national player-of-the-year conversation.

Howard has scored 51, 42 and 40 points in a single game this season. Last season he went for 53 once and 45 twice. He's certainly the most likely candidate to be involved in a game that challenges the Carr-Issel combined scoring record.

Then there's Garza, who has had a breakout junior season. His season-high is 44 points at Michigan and his second-highest, single-game point total is 38.

The good news, too, about this hypothetical matchup is that Marquette's defensive efficiency rating ranks just outside the top 50 and Iowa ranks just inside the top 100, so these two high-powered scorers would certainly have a reasonable chance of eclipsing their per-game scoring averages.

The odds are against Marquette and Iowa both making the tournament and being placed in the same region, much less them playing each other with Howard and Garza both putting up close to a 50-burger. But you never know.

The most teams ever from the state of Ohio

The record: 5 — Akron, Cleveland State, Dayton, Ohio State, Xavier in 2009
Who could break it? Akron, Bowling Green, Cincinnati, Dayton, Ohio State, Xavier

Only four states have ever sent six teams to the NCAA tournament in the same season — California, Indiana, North Carolina and Texas. California and Texas own the record with seven apiece in 2002 and 2010, respectively.

There's a chance Ohio could join that group of four states to put six teams in the same tournament this season but it'll need strong finishes from several teams.

Dayton is in contention for a No. 1 seed, so there's no issue there. Two-time reigning No. 1-in-the-NET debuter Ohio State could earn mid-level, single-digit seed, while Xavier and Cincinnati's NET rankings are in the 40s and 50s, respectively.

The biggest challenge would likely be for both Akron and Bowling Green to make the NCAA tournament since they both play in the MAC and only one team can win the auto-bid.

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The most NCAA Tournament upsets

Defined in the NCAA tournament record book as when the winner of the game was seeded five or more places lower than the team it defeated

The record: 13 upsets — 1985, 2014

The 2020 NCAA Tournament could have two first-time No. 1 seeds. It might have Rutgers but not North Carolina. There could be at least twice as many Big Ten teams as ACC teams.

It's been a weird but fun college basketball season and that certainly presents the possibility that March Madness is just a bit madder than normal.

In both 1985 and 2014 a No. 8 seed advanced to the national championship game. So while we'd certainly need an opening weekend full of first- and second-round upsets, breaking the record of upsets, as defined in the NCAA tournament record book, also likely requires an unlikely team breaking through to the national championship game.

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A No. 13 seed wins in the Sweet 16, a No. 12 wins in the Elite Eight

The record: No. 13 seeds are 0-6 in the Sweet 16 and No. 12 seeds are 0-1 in the Elite Eight

We've never seen a No. 13 seed make the Elite Eight or a No. 12 seed advance to the Final Four. In fact, there have been few opportunities for either.

Just one No. 12 seed has made the Elite Eight and only six No. 13 seeds have made the Sweet 16.

Maybe this is the year that changes.

A No. 5 seed wins the national championship

The record: No. 5 seeds are 0-3 in the championship game

We've seen 22 No. 1 seeds win the national title, five No. 2 seeds and four No. 3 seeds. There's been one No. 4 seed, one No. 6 seed, one No. 7 seed and one No. 8 seed.

But for whatever reason, never a No. 5 seed.

For what it's worth, preseason No. 1 Michigan State could end up on the No. 5 seed line. Just saying.

Kansas overtakes Duke for most wins over No. 1 seeds

The record: Nine wins

Kansas has beaten eight No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament, which is tied for the second-most with North Carolina. If the Jayhawks, which could potentially earn a No. 1 seed themselves, win the national championship, they could potentially beat two No. 1 seeds along the way. Or if they earn a No. 2 seed or worse, they could potentially beat two No. 1 seeds on their way to the national title game.

Duke and Kansas tie Kansas and North Carolina for most Final Four matchups

The record: Four matchups

The most common Final Four matchup of all-time (including the national championship) is between Kansas and North Carolina. The Jayhawks and Tar Heels have met there four times, most recently in 2008. There are three matchups that have occurred three times — Duke and Kansas, Louisville and UCLA and Michigan State and North Carolina. The Blue Devils and Jayhawks meeting in the Final Four seems to be clearly the most likely to occur again, which would tied the record.

Gonzaga beats a No. 1 seed for the first time

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, Gonzaga has never beaten a No. 1 seed. That's one of the few things the 'Zags haven't done.

Like Kansas, Gonzaga could earn a No. 1 seed this season and if it happens, the Bulldogs would have to make the Final Four to potentially face (and beat) a No. 1 seed.

The AP No. 1 team wins a title for the first time since 2012

You might be surprised to learn just how rare it is for a team to enter the NCAA tournament ranked No. 1 in the AP Top 25 poll, then go on to win a national title.

It hasn't happened since 2012, when Kentucky won the championship. Before that, it hadn't happened since Duke in 2001 and UCLA in 1995.

So you're essentially looking at once a decade, give or take, the No. 1 team when the tournament starts will actually go on to win the national title. That speaks to both how hard it is to win the NCAA tournament, even if you're believed to be the best team in the country, and just how little separation there might be between the No. 1 team and, say, the No. 4 team in the AP poll.

It's the first year of a new decade, so maybe the No. 1 team entering the NCAA tournament — whoever that is — goes on to cut down the nets.

The highest sum of the Final Four teams' seeds

The record: 26 in 2011

Did you know that for two decades, the 1980 NCAA Tournament's four-team Final Four seed total of 21 stood as the record? Seeds were officially added in 1979 and the very next season, there was relative chaos in the tournament with No. 2 Louisville, No. 5 Iowa, No. 6 Purdue and No. 8 UCLA making the Final Four.

No. 8 seeds North Carolina and Wisconsin made the Final Four in 2000, helping set a new record of 22.

Then, the 2011 NCAA Tournament blew that record out of the water with a combined seed total of 26.

Not a single No. 1 or No. 2 seed made it, while No. 8 seed Butler and No. 11 seed VCU did instead. Most years have had a combined seed total lower than 19 and the Bulldogs and Rams' two seeds alone almost added up to 20.

This has been a year of unpredictability in men's basketball. Just when we thought we knew when the best teams were separating themselves, No. 1 Baylor, No. 2 Gonzaga and No. 4 San Diego State lost Feb. 22. A week later, No. 2 Baylor, No. 6 Florida State, No. 7 Duke and No. 9 Maryland all fell.

Look, March Madness is inherently mad. That's the beauty of it.

But as the calendar has finally flipped to March, you might have a hard time identifying four teams you can confidently say will win four games in a row in the NCAA tournament.

And that's how you end up with a combined Final Four seed total in the 20s and maybe, just maybe, 27 or higher.

Most losses by a national champion

The record: 11 — Kansas in 1988

There have only been three national champions that had double-digit losses and only two since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams – Villanova in 1985 (10 losses) and Kansas in 1988 (11). If this year's March Madness reaches its parity potential, then maybe we could see another team cut down the nets in Atlanta in April with a few more losses than you'd expect.

Last year's national runner-up Texas Tech entered March with 11 losses. Michigan and West Virginia had 10 when the calendars turned over, while Iowa, Ohio State and Michigan State had nine. All of those teams were in the AP Top 25 last week. Depending on how those schools — and others — finish the regular season and conference tournament play, there could be a handful of protected, top-four seeds (or dangerous No. 5 or No. 6 seeds) that have 10, 11 or 12 losses.

Akron wins a game in the NCAA tournament

The record: 0-4 in the NCAA tournament

Akron is just one of two MAC schools, along with Northern Illinois, that has never won a game in the NCAA tournament. If the Zips make the tournament, they could find themselves earning a No. 12 or No. 13 seed, which obviously leads to a much better chance of victory in the first round than if they were a No. 14 or No. 15 seed.

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