In his 24 seasons as a head coach, Roy Williams has now been to 22 NCAA Tournaments, and he's won his first-round match all 22 times. He's done it as a 1-seed, a 2-seed, a 3-seed, a 4-seed, a 6-seed, and, yes, even once as an 8-seed (2000). So, in his 23rd attempt, we'll put the ultimate hex on him and do what every player, coach, and superstitious fan is not supposed to do during a basketball tournament. We'll just assume that Villanova becomes his latest victim, and look ahead to the second round.
It's generally understood that Carolina got hosed seeding-wise in the interest of television ratings. Pitting Roy Williams' current Tar Heels against his former Jayhawks seems to be a favored story line for the selection committee. (As Adam Lucas points out, it's a meeting that's been set up three times in the 10 seasons since Roy left Lawrence for Chapel Hill, despite being a potentiality in exactly none of the 18 preceding 64-team tournaments.)
But since you can't change what's passed, what would a third UNC-Kansas match-up look like?
Kansas would be bigger, particularly at the point and center. The Jayhawk 6-4, 6-5, 6-6, 6-8, 7-0 starting five outsizes the 6-1, 6-3, 6-7, 6-6, 6-9 Tar Heels. All the match-ups here would be pretty intriguing. The most interesting chess match would be on the perimeter. Kansas would probably prefer to put their defensive stopper (Releford) on Bullock, freeing McLemore up offensively. So, do the Heels stick with that match-up, which has advantages for us as well (I still see Strickland as the superior defender to Bullock), or do you try to switch it up, putting the defenders on each other (Strickland and Releford) and forcing McLemore to go to work on both ends of the floor against one of the best two-way small forwards in the nation? Probably the former, but it'll be fun to watch.
Ironically, Kansas is also probably a little deeper. Since going small, the Heels have increasingly relied on primarily six guys, while Kansas regularly uses eight. We've seen how foul trouble can affect the new lineup in recent games, and while the Heels are more comfortable playing 10 or 11 guys than Kansas might be, that would also likely entail some reversion to the more traditional two-big lineup.
But the committee didn't do Kansas any favors by putting the 27th-ranked, No. 18 RPI Heels in their second round. The 8-seed may profess to account for Carolina's early-season struggles, but that's not the team the Jayhawks will be facing--a team that's 8-2 over its last ten games, losing only to Top 5-caliber competition and forcing Miami to play its best game of the season to take the conference crown.
If the Heels are on (and they seem to be on more often than not these days), Kansas will have to have a big day to reach the second weekend.
Roy is 0-2 against Kansas since leaving for Carolina, which could be interpreted as a trend or incentive.
Likewise, the outlook for 8-seeds, in general, in the 64-team field calls for varying levels of optimism in Chapel Hill.
The bad news? You mean, other than playing Kansas in Kansas City, and being rewarded with the committee's highest-ranked 4-seed if we get through that, with the SEC champ and Big East regular season champ waiting in the wings? Eight-seeds have historically poor probabilities of success in the NCAA Tournament.
Since 1985, when the field was expanded to 64, 8-seeds have won the championship 0.9% of the time. They've made the Final 1.8% of the time, 3.6% for the Final Four, 6.3% for the Elite 8, and 8.9% for the Sweet 16 (7-seeds have a 17% chance of reaching the Sweet 16, and 6-seeds get there 33.9% of the time).
What's worse, 8-seeds win their first-round match less than half the time (48.2%), and when they do, they only have an 18.5% chance of beating the 1-seed.
The good news? When 8-seeds do make it past the second round (and the Heels have a better chance of pulling it off than anyone else), they usually do pretty well the rest of the way. In 112 tries, only ten 8-seeds have made it to the Sweet 16. But of those ten, seven have advanced to the Elite 8. Four of those seven have gone on to the Final Four, with two of those four reaching the Final and one of those two winning it all.
An 8-seed's shot at one shining moment is as good as that of a 4- or 6-seed (who are each 1-for-2 in championship games since 1985), and better than that of a 5-seed (0-for-3) or 7-seed (0-for-0). In fact, a 7-seed is yet to even make a Final Four since the field was expanded in 1985, failing all seven chances.
The lone 8-seed to go the distance? Villanova.
I hear ya, cosmos. Maybe I should back off a bit.