Watching the NCAA Men’s Tournament this year, one thing has become clear to me. While no 16 seed won this year, I think it’s really just a matter of time. It’s coming, and soon.
I don’t say that thinking that surely, after enough years, it’s likely to happen. I say that because the level of play in college basketball as a whole is low enough now that there simply isn’t that much difference between top contenders, and small schools from small conferences.
Watching some of the top seeds this year, I don’t see really well-honed teams with more athleticism, size, and talent than the rest of the field. I see teams with a higher level of recruit, slightly more talent, and lots of holes in their game. Holes that can be taken advantage of by weaker teams with the right matchup.
We didn’t see that in any of the 1-16 match ups this year, though we also didn’t see a lot of the blowouts we saw in those games on a regular basis just 10 years ago. We certainly saw the weaknesses of high seeds in other match ups though, most notably Wichita State against Gonzaga, FGCU against second seeded Georgetown, Harvard against New Mexico, and Lasalle against Kansas State. Those weren’t fluke results. Those were highly seeded teams that weren’t quite that good, and had their weaknesses exposed by decent teams with a much lower seed, but not a much lower level of play.
Now, does that mean that we have reached a time when there are no dominant teams? Not hardly. An amazing recruiting class, a la Kentucky last year, can simply dominate based on pure talent. But the one and done rule means that team will only be dominant for one year, and the small schools, who have kids playing together for a few years, are going to play team basketball better than teams with more noteworthy recruits in many cases.
In short, small conferences and mid-majors haven’t raised their game to the level of the top programs in the last few years as much as the top programs level of play has dropped so far, that they aren’t significantly better any more. That tells me a 16 is about to not just grab a fluke win, but truly outplay and beat a 1 seed, very soon.