If you’re tired of watching the same old powerhouses, this is an NCAA Tournament for you.
Duke, Kentucky and Louisville didn’t qualify. UCLA, Michigan State and Syracuse barely did. North Carolina is a No. 8 seed. Connecticut is a No. 7.
The four No. 1 seeds are Gonzaga, Baylor, Illinois and Michigan. Those programs have combined for only one national championship — Michigan’s in 1989. The last time the top four seeds had only one title between them was in 1990, when Michigan State, UNLV, Connecticut and Oklahoma were atop the regions. Out of that foursome, only Michigan State had won a championship prior to that year.
This year, six of the eight teams on the top two seed lines are seeking a first national title. Ohio State is the only No. 2 seed that has already won one. You have to go all the way down to third-seeded Kansas before you’ll find a team with multiple championships.
In 2019, Virginia won its first championship. Before that, the tournament hadn’t had a first-time winner since Florida in 2006. The last time there was a first-time champ in two straight NCAA Tournaments was when Maryland and Syracuse won in 2002 and 2003.
Here are a few more things to watch in this NCAA Tournament:
Is this the year?
The Big Ten has nine teams in the field, including two No. 1 seeds and two No. 2s. The league also hasn’t won a title since Michigan State in 2000.
Since then, Indiana (2002), Illinois (2005), Ohio State (2007), Michigan State (2009), Michigan (2013 and 2018) and Wisconsin (2015) have all reached the championship game and lost.
Gonzaga (26-0) is trying to become the first undefeated national champion since Indiana went 32-0 in 1976. Since then, four teams have entered the NCAA Tournament undefeated: Indiana State in 1979, UNLV in 1991, Wichita State in 2014 and Kentucky in 2015. Three of those teams did reach the Final Four, but none of them won it all.
But don’t assume Gonzaga would have been better off losing during the regular season to take the pressure off. It’s been even longer since a team won the national title with exactly one loss. The last team to do that was N.C. State (30-1) in 1974.
Hartford and Grand Canyon, the two first-time participants in this tournament, have their work cut out for them. Hartford, which won the automatic bid from the America East Conference, is a No. 16 seed and will face Baylor in the first round. Grand Canyon, which won the WAC Tournament, is a No. 15 seed and takes on Iowa.
A couple other teams are making their first appearances this century. Drexel is in the field for the first time since 1996 and will take on top-seeded Illinois. Rutgers, appearing for the first time since 1991, is a No. 10 seed and faces Clemson.
The selection committee could have pitted Michigan against Appalachian State in a 1-16 matchup, but that didn’t happen. The Wolverines do have Big Ten rivals Michigan State and Maryland in their region, but they can’t meet either of those teams until the Elite Eight.
Gonzaga’s path includes a some potential rematches. The Bulldogs could face Virginia in the Sweet 16 — they beat the Cavaliers 98-75 in late December. Gonzaga’s draw also sets up a possible Elite Eight matchup with either Kansas or Iowa. The Bulldogs beat both those teams by double digits earlier this season.
Illinois may have to deal with a tough in-state opponent in the second round. Loyola Chicago is the No. 8 seed in that region. Illini coach Brad Underwood could also face Oklahoma State, his former team, in the Sweet 16.
Weighing the numbers
The NET rankings raised some eyebrows this season. Colgate finished at No. 9, but when it came to the NCAA Tournament seedings, the Raiders were treated the way a Patriot League team is usually treated. They were seeded 14th in their region.
Loyola Chicago is ranked 10th in the NET, but received a No. 8 seed.
“Colgate is a little bit of an outlier. You can tell by their seed we didn’t base that off the NET,” selection committee chairman Mitch Barnhart said. “I don’t think there’s a perfect metric out there. I think if everybody was looking for the perfect metric, you wouldn’t have a committee that looked at it through the prism of different lenses.”