At least we now know it can be done. A No. 1 seed had never lost in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament prior to last year, but the UMBC Retrievers made history with their stunning 74-54 win over the Virginia Cavaliers last season. Prior to that, No. 16 seeds had lost all 135 of their games against No. 1 seeds, but UMBC has given this year’s No. 16 seeds hope. That has led offshore sportsbook BetDSI to put up a prop on whether or not a No. 16 seed can pull off a March Madness stunner for the second straight season.
Will a No. 16 seed beat a No. 1 seed?
Last year was the first time a No. 16 seed defeated a No. 1 seed, but No. 16 teams have come close before. In 1989, Princeton almost knocked off Georgetown before falling to the Hoyas 50-49, and East Tennessee State took a 17-point lead on Oklahoma but faltered down the stretch and lost 72-71. The following year, Murray State took Michigan State to overtime, but No. 1 seeds had generally coasted for the past three decades prior to last year.
This Year’s Candidates
It’s probably going to be harder for a team playing in the First Four to pull off an upset, so the two most likely No. 16 seeds to win this year are Iona and Gardner-Webb.
Iona finished the year 17-15 and was unimpressive outside of the MAAC. The Gaels were the best team in the conference during the regular season with a 12-6 record, but they went 2-9 against non-conference foes. Their only wins came against Albany and Hartford and both of those victories were by five points or less, and they lost to three Ivy League teams and were blown out by both Ohio and VCU.
The Gaels have won 10 straight and you can’t completely discount a hot team, but they have a really tough match-up in North Carolina. The way to beat UNC is to either play shutdown defense or have a very physical frontcourt, and the Gaels have neither. Their defense is ranked 275th in the country per Ken Pomeroy, and they mostly use a four-guard offense.
Virginia is a No. 1 seed again, and you can be sure the Cavaliers won’t overlook Gardner-Webb like they might have done with UMBC last year. The Cavaliers have heard the jeers for months, but they were incredible throughout this season, only losing to Duke twice and Florida State in the ACC Conference Semifinals.
The Cavaliers have one of the best defenses in the country, and this is a veteran team that can hit the three. They are playing the No. 16 seed that looks to be the best of the bunch in Gardner-Webb, which posted a 23-11 record this year, but it’s hard to imagine it happening to the Wahoos for a second straight year.
It’s very difficult to see the other No. 16 seeds getting it done too. North Dakota State is probably the best team of the four playing in Dayton, but even if they beat North Carolina Central, they are no match for Duke with Zion Williamson healthy. I don’t see Fairleigh Dickinson or Prairie View A&M giving Gonzaga much of a challenge either, so the ‘No’ is the play for me.
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