By Andrew Mooney
An already unpredictable season of college basketball got a little bit wackier last weekend. After defeating Georgetown, 15-seed Florida Gulf Coast has received the majority of the Cinderella-centric media coverage, and rightly so, but let’s not forget about the other two double-digit seeds in the Sweet Sixteen: 12-seed Oregon and 13-seed La Salle.
The NCAA tournament hasn’t lacked for madness in recent years; this is the fourth consecutive year at least three double-digit seeds have survived into the second weekend. 2012 saw the 13-seed Ohio Bobcats advance to the round of 16. The year before featured a matchup between a No. 8 (Butler) and a No. 11 (VCU) in the Final Four, and Cornell nearly took out top-seeded Kentucky in 2010.
But, with the first ever 15-seed in the Sweet Sixteen this year, is it safe to say 2013 has been the craziest of the bunch? I attempted to quantify just how wild the first weekend of each tournament has been since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985 to see how this one compares to tournaments past.
To start, I summed the seeds of all the teams that made up each year’s Sweet Sixteen, then normalized those sums into an index from 0-100, with 0 being the chalkiest possible sixteen teams (1-4 seeds in all four regions) and 100 being the “maddest” Sweet Sixteen we’ve seen so far: 1986, when the average remaining team’s seed was 5.56. The Madness ratings for each year are graphed below.
By this measure, 2013 has indeed been a particularly mad year—only three other tournaments (1986, 1990, and 2000) rank ahead of it. In 1990, only one two-seed made the Sweet Sixteen, and in 2000, two one-seeds (Arizona and Stanford) bowed out early to a pair of eight-seeds (Wisconsin and North Carolina). In addition to the aforementioned double-digit seeds still alive in this year’s tournament, No. 9 Wichita State eliminated No. 1 Gonzaga and now squares off with La Salle, ensuring the presence of at least one big underdog in the Elite Eight.
In examining the graph, there doesn’t seem to be much of a chronological pattern to the Madness. The recent stretch of craziness was preceded by the most boring year in history, when, in 2009, only one team seeded higher than fifth reached the round of sixteen. And who could forget the snoozefest that was 1989, when every No. 1 and No. 2 seed survived its first two contests?
This March, however, the cause of the little guy is being abundantly supported. For another week, we can revel in the improbable and urge Dunk City or La Salle deeper into the tournament. If just for images like this, let’s hope these folks keep dancin’.