Sweet 16 unlikely but not out of reach for Marshall, UMBC in NCAA tournament

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The 2018 NCAA tournament has had its share of high seeds making big splashes, capped off, of course, by the biggest tsunami in this event’s modern era. We’ve certainly had our share of sensational upsets in the early going.

Now, can these underdogs maintain that momentum, even if it’s just for one more win? Or are they likely to meet the same fate as Buffalo?

The No. 13-seeded Bulls, you’ll recall, stunned Arizona in the first round, 89-68, only to fall to a Kentucky team on Saturday that was too much to overcome.

History says Buffalo is the rule and not the exception for teams seeded at No. 13 or lower, albeit with one interesting forecasting wrinkle introduced by No. 16 seed UMBC’s historic upset over No. 1 seed Virginia on Friday. First, the facts.

1. Very low seeds rarely make the round of 32

In the 33 years since the tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1985 (and counting games played this weekend), there have been just 59 teams seeded No. 13 or lower that have made it as far as the second round. Put another way, the combined record of those low seeds in the round of 64 is just 59-485. That’s a win percentage of .108, so, yes, these survivors already have beaten the odds.

Still, you’re interested in whether No. 13 seed Marshall and, of course, UMBC can keep this magic going. Glad you asked.

2. The low seeds that do get this far have a (slightly) less tough time making the Sweet 16

Remember that .108 win percentage for the lowest seeds in the round of 64? That number actually improves in the round of 32.

Counting Buffalo’s loss to Kentucky this weekend, teams seeded No. 13 and lower are now 9-47 in the round of 32. That looks like an ugly record, and maybe it is. Still, the .161 win percentage is actually better than what these same seed groups posted one round earlier. If you think about it, that actually makes sense.

These low seeds are catching a break in their second games, in the form of a lower-seeded opponent. A No. 13 seed faces a No. 4 in the first game, and then plays either a No. 5 or possibly even a No. 12 seed. The bracket should, other things being equal, get easier for very low seeds in their second game.

Easier, sure, but not by much. Marshall, for example, beat No. 4 seed Wichita State, and will now face No. 5 seed West Virginia. Technically, the Mountaineers are a lower seed than the Shockers were, but this is, at a minimum, the second consecutive tough opponent that Dan D’Antoni’s team is playing.

3. If history’s any guide, Marshall faces long odds

With Buffalo’s loss to Kentucky, the record of No. 13 seeds in the round of 32 in the modern tournament era now stands at 6-21 (win percentage: .222). Marshall is trying to join this select group of No. 13 seeds that have reached the Sweet 16: La Salle (2013), Ohio (2012), Bradley (2006), Oklahoma (1999), Valparaiso (1998) and Richmond (1988).

All of those teams lost in the Sweet 16 (though Ohio did take North Carolina to overtime in 2012).

4. We’ve never seen a second-round situation like what the Retrievers now face

Ryan Odom’s team conquered a No. 1 seed in the Cavaliers and will now face a No. 9 seed in Kansas State. That drop of eight seed lines from the first to the second opponent is not unprecedented. In five instances over the past 33 years, a No. 15 seed has defeated a No. 2 seed, and then faced an opponent seeded on the No. 10 line in the second round.

What is different about UMBC, of course, is that the Retrievers have shown they can beat an overall No. 1 seed by 20 points. It’s doubtful they’ll find much to fear, then, in a No. 9 seed.

Besides, it’s not as if we haven’t seen tournament success achieved by teams seeded very near the Retrievers. Remember Florida Gulf Coast?

The Eagles reached the 2013 Sweet 16 from the No. 15 seed line. Throw in two No. 14 seeds that also reached the second weekend (Chattanooga in 1997, and Cleveland State in 1986), and Odom practically has a highlight reel of past examples to show his team before the Kansas State game.

Tournament success is really, really tough when the committee seeds you down in the mid-teens, but not impossible, and certainly not unprecedented. Besides, Marshall and, especially, UMBC already have made it past the most difficult part of their weekends.

Bottom line? The odds are definitely against the Thundering Herd and the Retrievers. The odds were against them both before their last games, too. You’ve been warned, West Virginia and Kansas State.



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