Bracketology, that most pernicious of trivial evils, is entering its death throes for 2017, because as we know, once the first weekend is over, seedings stop mattering.
But one of the hardiest of the perennials is the 1-16 matchup, because the 16 is a plucky 0-128 since the field expanded in 1985, and the average margin of defeat in those 128 losses is a sprightly 24.79 points. For the women, it is a slightly less nail-bitey 39.26 ppg, and we mention that only to remind you all that there are in fact two tournaments.
In fact, the 1-16 is such a daunting proposition that even pundits charged with finding upsets won’t even cozy up to a 16. Nobody dares even conceptualizing Mount Saint Mary’s or New Orleans beating Villanova, or North Carolina Central or UC Davis beating Kansas, or Texas Southern beating North Carolina, or South Dakota State beating Gonzaga.
It simply is not to be considered.
But in these days of longshots and long-sufferings paying off at an unsettling rate, let’s postulate that something funky is in the air, and someone somewhere should be suggesting that the Mountaineers or Privateers, Eagles or Aggies, Tigers or Jackrabbits could actually win.
It won’t be me, of course. I’m nobody’s cold take.
But the nerdbots at FiveThirtyEight.com give both Texas Southern and South Dakota State two percent chances of winning, so that’s something far more than the normal are allowing. Plus Tuesday is the 19th anniversary of Harvard’s upset of Stanford in the 1998 women’s tournament – at Stanford, nonetheless. It means that 128-0 is actually 219-1, and that anything is nearly but not entirely impossible.
Or at least it should be.
All this fetishizing for 12- and 13- and even 14-seeds has become a tiresome cliché. It is a staple of every tournament analyst and a mandated segment in any tournament analysis. Name That Live 12 is now an almost tiresome meme.
What we need now is a more fearless brand of pundit – someone who will break out of the cowardly mold of the mild upset that isn’t (Middle Tennessee-Minnesota is not an upset pick, not if MTSU is getting most of the money in Vegas). We need someone who will put in the time and effort to quantify the wisdom of a 16 pick, and the bravery to say it out loud.
But if that won’t do it, let’s sweeten the pot. We’ll also give you the 15 of your choice – Troy (Duke) or Jacksonville State (Louisville) or Northern Kentucky (Kentucky) or North Dakota (Arizona). 15s are 7-121 over the years, only one of the seven (Florida Gulf Coast in 2013) has escaped the first weekend, and hey, who wouldn’t take a flier on North Dakota, especially when you learn that the Fightin’ Hawks used to be the Sioux, and before that the glorious Flickertails?
But time is running out. Those brackets and the blatherage that precedes them have to be in by Tuesday afternoon, because you cannot past-post a play-in game no matter what you think. It is wrong on a moral and ethical scale, and will always be so.
We need someone to champion the downest of the troddens, because there is no time like the present. The years 2012 through ’14 saw four 16s come within single digits of winning outright, and 11 of the last 20 have been in the teens or better. Better still, the 16 has covered 11 of the past 20 games, so even if you are a coward, you can at least get by with a “I like them to cover, not to win.”
You can’t pass up this opportunity, o pretend soothsayers. One of you will be the first one to be right, and you can be proclaimed a genius for all time, which is a nice gig if you can get it.
Me? Pass. I actually saw Mount Saint Mary’s and UC Davis play this past weekend, and I haven’t got the spine for it. But that shouldn’t deter you. After all, you’re only an idiot until you’re a god, and godhood only means doing the unthinkable correctly.