OMAHA, Neb. — It is a statistic every Bracketology 101 student can recite from memory.
In the 30 years since the NCAA men’s basketball tournament expanded to 64 teams, no No. 16 seed has beaten a No. 1 seed. After Thursday, the bottom seeds were 0-for-122 in games against the top seeds.
And you thought Kentucky was a lock this season. In a tournament that owes its tremendous popularity to its plethora of bracket-busting upsets, David has never brought down Goliath.
“That’s crazy,” University of Wisconsin forward Sam Dekker said. “One of these days, that’s going to happen. Hopefully, it’s not us.”
The next No. 1 seeds attempting to defy the law of averages by keeping alive the longest winning streak in sports are UW and Duke tonight. The Badgers, seeded first in the West regional, will open tournament play with a game against No. 16 Coastal Carolina at CenturyLink Center.
As expected, both teams are downplaying the futility of the No. 16 seeds against the No. 1s. Based on their film study, the Badgers think Coastal Carolina’s veteran, guard-oriented team looks nothing like a 16 seed. The Chanticleers, who got into the field by winning the Big South Conference tournament, say their experience as a No. 16 seed last season, when they made No. 1 Virginia squirm before losing by 11, has eliminated any anxiety they might feel being a No. 16 seed.
Regardless of history, the Badgers have no interest in becoming the No. 1 seed that breaks the streak.
“They’re in the tournament for a reason,” UW guard Josh Gasser said. “They’re a good team. They won their conference championship, and obviously that Virginia game stands out as something that we definitely realized, watched film on and understand that they’re good. So we’ve got to come out ready to play and we’ve got to play our best ball to come out with the win.”
One would expect nothing less from the Badgers, who don’t often take opponents lightly. In fact, they never do. It’s just not in the DNA of a Bo Ryan-coached team, particularly one that, as a heavily favored No. 2 seed last year, began its journey to the Final Four with a 75-35 victory over No. 15 American.
Still, it’s hard to ignore history in this 1 vs. 16 matchup. Of the 122 games, only 15 have been decided by single digits. The most recent was last season, when Arizona beat Weber State 68-59. That would be the same Arizona team that lost to UW by one point in the regional final.
But if that doesn’t resonate with the Badgers, Coastal Carolina’s game with Virginia last year did. The Chanticleers held a 35-30 halftime lead and were tied with the Cavaliers with 8 minutes to play before Virginia put them away. They have four starters back from that game and nine of the 11 men who played.
“Last year’s game against Virginia was a game that we came into with confidence, just like this year, and the way the game went, it sort of disappointed us the way we didn’t finish the game,” Chanticleers guard Warren Gillis said. “But we know that this year we can compete with them teams.”
They already have. Earlier this season, Coastal Carolina won by four at Auburn, led Mississippi by 13 at halftime before losing by three and played UCLA tough for 30 minutes before falling by 13.
“I’m disappointed we were a 16 seed,” Coastal Carolina coach Cliff Ellis said. “I thought we deserved better.”
As proof, Ellis pointed out that Gardner-Webb, which finished seventh in the Big South, won at Purdue and Clemson this season. His point? The Big South is better than people think, and so are the Chanticleers.
Whatever UW thinks of Coastal Carolina, if it needed a wake-up call on what the NCAA tournament is like, it got one Thursday when No. 3 seeds Baylor and Iowa State were eliminated by Georgia State and UAB, respectively. It’s their turn today, and one of the benefits of playing on the second day is you learn quickly that anything can happen in the tournament’s one-and-done setting. After an upset or two, everyone is on high alert.
“Coastal Carolina is a good team,” UW center Frank Kaminsky said. “We’ve been able to watch some film on them and we know what to expect. And if you look at what happened today, you’ve got to come out and play your best basketball of the year if you want to beat anyone. Can’t take anyone lightly. We’re going to go in and give them our best 40 minutes of the season.”
If the Badgers do that, they will win the game because they’re bigger and better than the Chanticleers. The only way Coastal Carolina can win is if UW opens the door for it, and that doesn’t seem likely.
“There is pressure because this is the NCAA tournament and if you don’t come to play, that’s your season and that’s your career,” Gasser said. “So it doesn’t matter what seed you are. ... A 16 against a 1, it’s going to happen sometime. We’re going to go out there and just play our game. If we take control of the things we can control, we should be OK.”
Indeed, as long as UW plays like the No. 1 seed it is, the streak should remain intact.