Certain teams captured the nation’s attention in the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, while others stumbled into the next weekend of the Big Dance by the skin of their teeth. Now it’s time to pick winners in the Sweet 16, and the rule of thumb is—don’t trust what you just saw.
There’s a reason that March Madness captures the nation’s attention. With games going on from noon to past midnight for four days in a row and teams you’ve barely heard of springing upsets, there seems to be something to watch all the time. When the dust clears late Sunday, we’re left with the Sweet 16, and the chance to do it all again in four days.
The NFL Cornerbacks’ Rule
If you plan to bet on Sweet 16 games, you need to follow the rule of the NFL cornerbacks—have a short memory.
Certain teams captured everyone’s attention by springing upsets and busting brackets. Other teams, expected to contend for the title, stumbled through the weekend, barely surviving for another round of games. You may be tempted to put stock in what you just saw. The Cinderella team is red hot and can’t be stopped. The big-time contender is barely hanging on, waiting to be knocked out for real.
Just think back for a second and remember who had all the momentum heading into the round of 64 after a successful conference tournament run, and who got knocked out early that weekend? Relax, no one remembers the conference tournaments at this point. That was a whole week ago. And we’ll be thinking of this past weekend the same way once we get into the heat of the Sweet 16.
The “Safe” Favorite
One top seed—Baylor—lost in the first weekend. Two others—Arizona and Gonzaga—trailed in their games and had closer than expected wins in the round of 32. Kansas, meanwhile, had a fairly drama-free run, blowing out Texas Southern and beating Creighton by seven. Among two-seeds, Villanova posted a pair of double-digit wins. Clearly, those two teams are on cruise control, right?
In 2015, undefeated Kentucky won its first two games by an average of 36 points. The Wildcats barely got past Notre Dame in the Elite Eight and lost in the Final Four. Last year, undefeated Gonzaga and top-seeded Michigan both looked like world-beaters in the first round. Neither cut down the nets at the end.
No one saw Baylor’s loss or Arizona’s struggles on Sunday coming before they happened. For top seeds, trouble is always one game away. Don’t put much stock in early-round blowouts … or, on the flip side, early-round struggles. Most teams survive a test at some point on their championship runs.
Saint Peter’s upset No. 2 Kentucky and then kept the party going with a win over Murray State. Clearly, this is a team on a mission, and longtime observers will remember Loyola Chicago, Davidson, and George Mason, teams that put together deep runs and challenged for the Final Four in tournaments past.
Then there’s Oral Roberts. They upset Ohio State and Florida to make the Sweet 16. Don’t remember that? It was last year. They fell to Arkansas in the next game. A big upset win earns you the chance to do it again, nothing more.
Bracket Opened Up
Villanova drew No. 11 Michigan, thanks to upsets across their region. Purdue gets a date with No. 15 Saint Peter’s. Clearly, with seeded teams falling, the path has opened up to the Final Four for the few remaining high seeds in a region, right?
Players on those teams look at bracket sheets too. They know that their road looks easier on paper. That can be a big trap. The tournament is based on urgency and toughness. An easier-than-suspected road often leads to a team being down for its next game.