Louisville coach Rick Pitino believes this is the season that a 16-seed will defeat a Number One seed in the NCAA Tournament.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The NCAA Tournament has seen undefeated champions, programs that have racked up titles in seven consecutive years and buzzer beaters from every angle.
Here is one development that has never been celebrated or grieved: A 16-seed toppling one of the tournament's four number one seeds.
This is the year that changes. Several experienced voices have been predicting it for weeks. Add Rick Pitino's name to the list.
"I think this could be the year where a 16 beats a one," Pitino said, on the eve of his team's trip to South Bend, Ind., to play Notre Dame Saturday at 9 p.m. "It could happen. It could happen. If it's going to happen, it's this year because there's no Number One that's totally dominant."
Or even somewhat dominant, if you've been studying the video. Not Indiana, not Duke, not Louisville, not Michigan, not anybody. The Number One rating comes equipped with the banana peel.
I'm not ready to fall in line with Pitino – yet. There is something about the 104-0 record that Number One seeds have built against 16 seeds that tells me this requires more consideration. Only a dozen of those 1 vs. 16 games have been decided by less than 10 points – and this won't be the first March with questionable Number One seeds. Let the record show that two seeds are 100-4 against 15s.
But the evidence of the past four days certainly inspires questions about what is going on. Arkansas, Texas Christian and Illinois, teams with combined conference records of 6-19, have just whacked first-place teams in the Southeastern (Florida), Big 12 (Kansas) and Big Ten (IU) conferences.
Arkansas and TCU are not NCAA Tournament teams. Illinois has debatable credentials. The Gators, Jayhawks and Hoosiers have all been discussed as likely top seeds.
"This could be the most bizarre year we've ever seen," Pitino said. "You're going to pick four number one seeds and they may not be the four best teams. This is a year where you could see a lot of eight- and nine-seeds, even seven-seeds make it into the Final Four.
"It's fun. It's a lot of fun to be like this. The best team on the West Coast right now is Gonzaga. They're a terrific basketball team. It wouldn't surprise me to see them cut down the nets at the end of the year. They're very, very good at both ends of the floor."
A smile from Pitino.
"But I could give you 17 other reasons why somebody (else) could cut down the nets. I think it's a lot of fun, really a lot of fun."
The jumble at the top has been so unrelenting that it has become a more compelling story than Louisville's trip to Notre Dame, even with ESPN College GameDay booked for South Bend. Going to Purcell Pavilion has always been reason for Pitino to pack his Prilosec. His U of L teams are 0-3 there. They have lost by 33 – and in overtime. Four of the last five games the teams have played have required overtime.
It always seems as if Notre Dame has more upperclassmen than any team in the Big East. Mike Brey doesn't put many guys in the NBA, but he usually has guys who have been around since 2001.
"Notre Dame is typical of a Butler or a team that gets four-year players," Pitino said. "They always are good every year. There's great continuity. They don't have very many bad swings in seasons. They're always building with sophomores, juniors and seniors, who all shoot the ball."
That has not changed. Notre Dame starts two seniors, two juniors and a sophomore. Several years ago Jack Cooley, Notre Dame's center, was known as the guy who looked like Luke Harangody. Now he plays like him, too. Cooley is the only guy in the Big East averaging a double-double – 14.8 points, 11.3 rebounds.
The Irish are the best shooting team in the Big East, but they're the worst team in the league at creating steals. Pitino said Notre Dame might have the best homecourt advantage in the league, but Georgetown and Connecticut have beaten the Irish in South Bend by a combined 23 points.
Consider it another sign of the kind of year it is in college basketball.