You know, it’s the middle of January of the next year so I guess it’s about time that we did a port-mortem of the 2023 NCAA Tournament. Lay off, I had a lot of Tostitos and dip last year.
Bottom line, it was a mess.
I believe the statistical term for 2023 and one of Malcolm Gladwell’s favorite words, is “outlier”, and this tournament was certainly that. So I’m going to start at the beginning and step through each round, examining the oddities where we deviated significantly from what is expected and is normally the norm. 2023 was really fascinating and yet equally frustrating as each top seed fell and teams that had not excelled or demonstrated capability during the year kept slaying dragons.
First and Second Rounds
The ominous music began to play early when for only the second time in history a 16 defeated a 1. FDU knocked off Purdue, who shamefully joins Virginia, as the only 1 seeds with this distinction. This was so bad I had to look up what FDU stands for (Fairleigh Dickinson U) and I’m kind of sure that even Google doesn’t know where the campus is located. When it happened my buddy Mike, who is a big CBB guy, called me up—crying—he was so happy. You have to stand up and slow clap a 16 that advances, it is a magnificent achievement. FDU, you have a place in my heart from here on out.
But interestingly, that is where the crazy paused in the first round. Like seriously. There were only 5 upsets; in the last 10 years the average is 7 and the all-time average is 6.25. That is a pretty stable arrangement by the committee. And to boot, this was only the 6th time that there was not a 12-5 upset. If I stopped here you’d think that Kansas won it all and Alabama was a close second. Oh man, that’s funny.
The next item of note is that we had an upset of a 2 seed by a 15 for the third year in a row when Princeton took down Arizona. All three of those 15’s advanced to the Sweet 16. On a personal note, I was a kid in Tucson many years ago when the 1993 Arizona squad choked on another 2 seed, losing to some Canadian kid named Steve Nash who played for Santa Clara. I guess if I’m Arizona, I want to be good but not good enough to have that #2 millstone hung around my neck.
What do Arizona, Purdue, Marquette, and Kansas all have in common? They are all either a 1 or 2 seed that failed to make the Sweet 16. Only Alabama, Houston, UCLA and Texas survived and this is only the 5th time in NCAA Tourney history where there were less than 5 1- or 2-seeds who advanced to the round of 16. That’s remarkable.
Alabama and Houston were the only 1-seeds in the Sweet 16; that’s only the 4th time that’s ever happened. I’m not even going to talk about Florida Atlantic yet, because I may have to write a separate article on just them.
Remember how the last paragraph was about Alabama and Houston? Scratch them. Both defeated by 5 seeds, San Diego State and Miami. If you thought The Show was insufferable on twitter before this, holy moly, this put them in another orbit. Thank goodness for football greed and therefore conference realignment to shut them up over the summer. Sorry, not sorry.
This is the first tournament ever without a 1-seed in the Elite 8. Fewest ever 1 or 2-seeds with only Texas protecting the Alamo for top seeds. Spoiler, just like at the real Alamo they lost and weren’t in the Final Four.
On a positive note, if you were a 4-seed or higher, this was your year! Indeed, in 1986 and 2022, four of these guys got this far and in 2000 five of the 4+ seeds did. March 23rd-26th was a blue-blood bath.
No 1-seeds. For only the third time in history the best teams through out the course of the season were not to be found playing in the biggest weekend of college basketball. In fact, there wasn’t even a 2 or 3 seed to be found. Again, this is the only time that’s ever happened. In 2000, 2011 and 2013 there was a single top three seed in the Final Four and each of those teams won the Championship for their respective year.
The most impressive in all of this is Florida Atlantic University. They earned a 9 by winning their tournament in Conference USA and going 35-4 for the season. But holy frijoles, the Final Four? How? Their most impressive victory prior to the tourney was over an unranked Florida. I was watching a documentary piece on them the other day and when the gym is taken by some other group on campus, the FAU basketball team—the FINAL FOUR basketball team—has to use an upstairs yoga studio that had a couple of bankers nailed to the wall above the plié bar. The room is so narrow that during their practices and walk throughs the top of the key is cut off by a wall. Though if you’re looking for a glass half full observation, they can still shoot free throws. Just don’t squat too much.
2023 was a doozy. I’m not sure how to categorize it and make it fit in our perfectly pristine data set. I suppose that the variability and nature of unexpected outcomes in competition results in surprises every so often that make it all so interesting and beautiful.
That being said, our mission here at BracketResearch hasn’t changed at all, we still strive to develop and predict that perfect bracket through data science and analytical prognostication. We are so close we can taste it. Except for last year.
Hey, of note, I started a new Twitter account just dedicated to CBB. Please go and give me a follow @Spooky_Pirate or Mike @bracket_ninja. Should be full of real good stuff through March Madness.
Cut to the closing credits of Ferris Bueller’s day off. Why are you still here? Go home.