A tip o’ the cap to this year’s champions, the Wildcats of Villanova University, who claimed their second national title Monday evening.
As I have written several times, the winner would be whoever played consistently very well, meaning not having a single bad game against increasingly tough competition, and avoiding injuries, and this year they were that team. Let’s take a look back at how they got there.
Before the tournament started statistics genius Nate Silver had Villanova rated the sixth most likely team to win it all, at six percent, just one rung higher than seventh-place Kentucky at four percent. The lesson here is that a team with only a six percent chance can do it. That is about one year out of every 16, and this was that 16th year, statistically, for Villanova.
The team with the best initial chances was Kansas, at 19 percent. While this means their chances were better than anyone else’s, it doesn’t mean they were expected to win it all, in fact, this was less than one chance in five.
Villanova’s first three rounds were easy wins partly because their third round opponent, Number Three seed Miami, should have been a Number Five seed. We were put on notice that something special was happening when Villanova beat tournament favorite Kansas. They went on to a devastating victory over Number Two seed Oklahoma, who was almost good enough to be a Number One seed, in the first game of the Final Four.
The championship game was as all finals should be: the odds of winning swung back and forth several times; a successful last ditch effort by North Carolina to tie it with only seconds to go, and then the game decided by the last shot.
So, what are college basketball fans supposed to talk about until next season? How about ESPN’s insanely early rankings for next year? According to them, the Final Four in 2017 would be Duke, Villanova, Kentucky, and Kansas, in that order. What a classic finish that would be. Should any of those teams falter, the ones ranked six through ten would be happy to fill their spots. They are Louisville, North Carolina, Virginia, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Oregon, all familiar names. Fellow SEC mate Texas A&M is ranked 19th and neighbors West Virginia and Cincinnati are 15th and 25th.
Let the arguments begin!