The curious case of the 2009 Sweet 16

There are those among us who have apparently chosen to take the opportunity on this Monday to bemoan the fact that the NCAA Tournament’s top seeds account for 14 of the 16 slots in this year’s Sweet 16.

Chad Forde of espn.com is one of them, calling the NCAA Tournament a “gated community” in his column today.

To which I say, he could just not be more wrong.

As Forde points out, five conferences do make up the majority of the remaining field as the Big East (5), Big 12 (3), ACC (2), Big Ten (2), and Pac-10 (1) unsurprisingly represent the BCS (read: power) conferences in their typical style.  One major BCS exception is the SEC, unable to qualify a school in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1989.

But there are a few factors that would indicate that this year’s results are more a force of the incredible randomness of the tournament, as opposed to an indication that Cinderella has left the dance forever.

For one thing, Forde indicates that all of the top 12 seeds in the tourney remain alive for the first time ever.  It is also the first time in 14 years that all of the top eight seeds have made it this far.

Additionally, having done my own research on the Sweet 16, there have actually been 48 different schools represented over the past five years alone. 

That is an amazing number and the list includes such schools as Bradley, Western Kentucky, Davidson, Wichita State, and the unforgettable Patriots of George Mason University, who advanced all the way to the Final Four just three years ago.

Breaking it down even further, there are only three schools (Memphis, North Carolina, & Villanova) that qualified for the Sweet 16 four of the last five years and only Memphis has done it consecutively. 

Yes, the Memphis Tigers have the longest current streak of Sweet 16 appearances with a whopping four.

Shawn Taggart's Memphis Tigers are headed to the Sweet 16 for the 4th consecutive season

Shawn Taggart's Memphis Tigers are headed to the Sweet 16 for the 4th consecutive season

Finally, of this year’s Sweet 16, a full nine are new from last season.  Last year’s returnees include only the aforementioned Memphis, North Carolina, and Villanova, along with Kansas, Louisville, Michigan State, and Xavier.

Schools that have NOT been represented in the Sweet 16 over the last five years include Indiana, Marquette, Notre Dame, Michigan, California, Auburn, Wake Forest, Maryland, and countless other big-time schools.

My point is that the tournament is perfect as is.  Programs within the BCS conferences rise and fall and provide a competitive balance that brings unpredictability over time as to which schools will break through in any given year. 

The non-BCS schools rightfully have their shot at playing bracket-buster due to the NCAA’s allocation of one automatic berth (31 overall) per certified conference.  The fact that Memphis, Gonzaga, and Xavier can make it to the Sweet 16 to a cacophony of yawns is proof that the system works.

Next year’s Sweet 16 will bring different programs to the forefront of the collegiate basketball world.  Let’s celebrate the great programs that make up this year’s version rather than make faulty assumptions about what the unusual results of one season might indicate.

For the record, here is the complete list of Sweet 16 participants over the last 5 years.  For your sake, I hope your school is here.  If not, feel very confident that your time will come.  And soon.

Arizona – 2 (’09, ’05)
Boston College – 1 (’06)
Bradley – 1 (’06)
Butler – 1 (’07)
Connecticut – 2 (’09, ’06)
Davidson – 1 (’08)
Duke – 3 (’09, ’06, ’05)
Florida – 2 (’07, ’06)
George Mason – 1 (’06)
Georgetown – 2 (’07, ’06)
Gonzaga – 2 (’09, ’06)
Illinois – 1 (’05)
Kansas – 3 (’09, ’08, ’07)
Kentucky – 1 (’05)
Louisville – 3 (’09, ’08, ’05)
LSU -1 (’06)
Memphis – 4 (’09, ’08, ’07, ’06)
Michigan State – 3 (’09, ’08, ’05)
Missouri – 1 (’09)
North Carolina – 4 (’09, ’08, ’07, ’05)
North Carolina State – 1 (’05)
Ohio State – 1 (’07)
Oklahoma – 1 (’09)
Oklahoma State – 1 (’05)
Oregon – 1 (’07)
Pittsburgh – 2 (’09, ’07)
Purdue – 1 (’09)
Southern Illinois – 1 (’07)
Stanford – 1 (’08)
Syracuse – 1 (’09)
Tennessee – 2 (’08, ’07)
Texas – 2 (’08, ’06)
Texas A&M – 1 (’07)
Texas Tech – 1 (’05)
UCLA – 3 (’08, ’07, ’06)
UNLV – 1 (’07)
USC – 1 (’07)
Utah – 1 (’05)
Vanderbilt – 1 (’07)
Villanova – 4 (’09, ’08, ’06, ’05)
Washington – 2 (’06, ’05)
Washington State – 1 (’08)
West Virginia – 3 (’08, ’06, ’05)
Western Kentucky – 1 (’08)
Wichita State – 1 (’06)
Wisconsin – 2 (’08, ’05)
Wisconsin-Milwaukee – 1 (’05)
Xavier – 2 (’09, ’08)

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~ by acm213 on March 23, 2009.

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