After 48 NCAA tournament games in just about 90 hours, it’s time to take a deep breath before the next, less-chaotic part of the greatest event in sports starts on Thursday night. We’re down to 16 teams, which makes this a good time to dig up 16 things to know about the Sweet 16.
More than half the Sweet 16 field has won a championship (Oregon, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina, UCLA, Michigan, Arizona, Florida).
North Carolina, Kansas and Oregon are looking for back-to-back appearances in the regional finals. South Carolina, which had never made the Sweet 16 before, is obviously looking for its first. All the other teams have an Elite Eight appearance this century, with Purdue (2000), UCLA (2008) and Xavier (2008) having the longest non-Gamecock drought.
In addition to South Carolina, Gonzaga and Xavier are trying for their first-ever Final Four. Oregon is seeking its first appearance since 1939, the first year of the tournament when the Ducks wound up cutting down the nets. Baylor hasn’t been since 1950. Purdue hasn’t been since 1980. Every other school has played a Final Four in the 2000s.
Four of the five most efficient defenses in the country made the Sweet 16 (Gonzaga, Florida, South Carolina, West Virginia). The only team that didn’t, UVA, are still probably giving up three-pointers to Florida. Three of the five most efficient offenses will play this weekend too (UCLA, Michigan, Kansas). The worst units still alive, in terms of KenPom efficiency are South Carolina (No. 124 offense) and UCLA (No. 77 defense).
The four biggest college basketball blue bloods – Kentucky, North Carolina, Kansas and UCLA – are all in the Sweet 16. They have the most tournament appearances (in that order), four of the five most Final Fours (that’s a shame about Duke), four of the six most Sweet 16s (Louisville sneaks in ahead of UCLA in that category) and have combined for 27 titles. The rest of the Sweet 16 Field has six. The Kentucky-UCLA meeting alone will be between teams with 19 titles, the most ever for a tournament game.
Kentucky is the only team with a championship this decade to make the Sweet 16. Most of those teams (Duke, Louisville, Villanova) lost in the second round. The other (UConn) didn’t make it at all.
This is the fourth-straight year a No. 11 (Xavier) has been the highest-seeded Sweet 16 team. In 11 of the previous 13 years, there had been a No. 12 or worse. The 2017 tournament is also just the second in the past 11 that has featured just a single double-digit seed in the Sweet 16.
Only five teams are making a repeat appearance in the Sweet 16. Wisconsin leads with four straight, Gonzaga and UNC have three while Kansas and Oregon have now made the second weekend in back-to-back years. That Wisconsin mark ties for the eighth-longest of all time. (Carolina holds the record with a staggering 13-straight appearances from 1981-93.)
The long lens of history isn’t kind to Gonzaga. Of the last 26 teams to enter the tournament with zero or one loss (the Zags have the latter), none have won the title. The last team to do so was Bob Knight’s undefeated Indiana team of 1976. Of the last 22 teams to enter with exactly one loss, you have to go all the way back to 1974’s N.C. State team to find a champion.
This was the first time in the 64-team era that the preseason No. 1 (Duke) and the final No. 1 (Villanova) failed to make the Sweet 16, which is actually pretty amazing if you consider how often preseason No. 1s disappoint and the rare, but not unheard of, upsets of top teams in the second round. (via Elias.)
UCLA coach Steve Alford is looking to become the seventh coach ever to play and coach in a Final Four (he played on Indiana’s 1987 championship team and the 1984 Final Four team). Only two other men have won a title as both: Bob Knight and Dean Smith – pretty lofty company. But neither Knight nor Smith were as big of stars as Alford was at Indiana.
The sum of all the seeds in the Sweet 16 is 65. That’s the third lowest since 1997.
Arizona has a chance to play a virtual home game in the Final Four, being held this year at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale (the home of the NFL’s Cardinals). In the past 25 years, three teams have made it to the championship game in their home state (Duke, Michigan State and Butler) but none of them won the title. The last team to do so was Danny Manning’s Kansas team in 1988, which won their title at Kemper Arena in Kansas City.
If North Carolina wins the title, the ACC will have the most titles of any conference. If UCLA, Arizona or Oregon win, then the Pac-12 will move into first, with 17. (These are totals of current conference members, not teams who won with that conference. So Syracuse’s win is considered the ACC’s, not the Big East; while Maryland’s is considered the Big Ten’s, not the ACC’s. The lesson, as always: Expansion is dumb.)
Chalk is in. If you’d picked a completely chalk bracket – favorites winning all 48 games – then you’d be in the 97th or 98th percentile of various, popular online bracket pools.