Thursday, March 18, 1999

A Sweet Sixteen-pack of facts

Time to expect the unexpected

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Sixteen sweet facts about the 1999 Sweet 16 (Be happy it's not 1,999 facts):

        • 1. The upset lives. After the NCAA Tournament had become fairly routine during the early 1990s, we've returned to a time when the unexpected rules. This year's Sweet 16 is the second-lowest seeded since the 64-team format began in 1985. The average seed of the remaining teams is 5.5, the same as in 1990 and surpassed only by the memorable 1986 tournament, which featured Cleveland State and Navy in the Sweet 16.

        • 2. Somebody up there really likes Duke. The teams in the East Region, Duke included, constitute the third-weakest group of regional semifinalists since 1985. Duke, Temple, Purdue and Southwest Missouri State have an average seed of 7.25. That was sur passed by the 1990 West group's 7.5 (UNLV, Ball State, Loyola Marymount and Alabama) and the 1986 East's 8.5 (Navy, Cleveland State, DePaul and, indeed, Duke).

        • 3. The norm is not the norm. The South bracket had the Nos.1 (Auburn), 2 (Maryland), 3 (St.John's) and 4 (Ohio State) seeds survive. This almost never happens. In the 64-team era, this is only the eighth of a possible 60 times that combination has survived the first two rounds in a region.

        • 4. Auburn's got problems. Having three talented teams in its company suggests that the trend of No.1 seeds failing to escape the South Region will continue. Only two have made it into the Final Four since 1985: Kentucky in 1993 and Oklahoma in 1988.

        • 5. Kentucky seems to get this thing. The Wildcats are making their fifth consecutive appearance in the Sweet 16, the only team with such a streak. Of this year's remaining teams, Connecticut has made four trips in that period, Mary land three.

        • 6. It's not easy to repeat. The only teams making return appearances from the 1998 Sweet 16 are Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan State, Purdue, Duke and UConn.

        • 7. There's an East Coast conspiracy. There areonly four teams remaining from west of the Mississippi River. That's happened only four times since 1985.

        • 8. Six is a lucky number. Once again, the teams seeded No.6 tended to overachieve, and those seeded No.3 tended to underachieve. The presence of Florida and Temple brings to 17 the total of No.6 seeds to make it since 1990; Kentucky and St.John's lift the total of No.3 seeds to 20.

        • 9. Double is trouble. If you're wondering what an achievement it is for No.10 Gonzaga, No.12 Southwest Missouri State and No.10 Miami to be alive still, they bring the total of double-digit seeds to 20 out of 160 regional semifinalists in the 1990s.

        • 10. The buck stops here. Of the previous 17, only four of those double-digit seeds advanced to play in the regional finals: Providence (1997), Temple (1991), Loyola Marymount (1990) and Texas (1990).

        • 11. Past performance is not indicative of future results. The NCAA Tournament selection committee makes a big deal of how teams perform in their final 10 games, but Florida, Iowa and Southwest Missouri State were 5-5 in that period, and Purdue was 4-6. And here they are. The Sweet 16 teams were 115-45 (.718) over their final 10 games. Remove the No.1 seeds, and they were just 78-42 (.650).

        • 12. The Big Ten is a big deal again. The Big Ten has four teams remaining, which is the eighth time one league has done that this decade. The Southeastern Conference has done it once (1996), the Pac-10 twice (1997 and 1998) and the ACC four times (1990, 1992, 1993 and 1995).

        • 13. There's pride at stake. The Atlantic Coast Con ference doesn't have much to brag about now, but Duke probably will be its 11th Final Four team of the 1990s. To surpass that figure, the SEC would need Florida, Kentucky and Auburn to reach St. Petersburg.

        • 14. C-USA stands for Can't U Stick Around? Conference USA has not had a Sweet 16 team in either of the past two years. Since the league was formed in 1996, it is the only major conference to go two consecutive years without placing a team in the regional semifinals.

        • 15. Experience isn't required. Florida's Billy Donovan and Southwest Missouri State's Steve Alford are the only coaches left in the field who played in the Sweet 16. Both sweet-shooting guards guided teams to the 1987 Final Four.

        • 16. It's been a long time for the RedHawks. Actually, Miami had a different nickname (Redskins) the last time it played in the Sweet 16: 1978. Its 21 years between Sweet 16 trips represents the longest span among the remaining teams.