Cleaning up some first-round issues…collectively, this year’s 1 vs. 16 and 2 vs. 15 games were the closest ever with an average margin of victory of 13.1 points. And by "ever," I mean since the tournament went to the 64 team format in 1985. The previous low (14.3) occurred during the magical 1989 tourney when two 16 seeds fell one point short in the opening round.
This has relevance for the one seeds in this way: Since 1985, only 7 of 30 (23%) one-seeds that failed to win the first round game by at least 20 points made the Final Four. Teams winning by 20 or more fared much better, with over half (27 of 50) advancing to the Final Four. The only one-seed with such a victory this year was North Carolina.
Now to the second round. The most shocking development was everybody’s Final Four pick (including mine), Wake Forest, losing to my adopted team, West Virginia.
(I do enjoy how this opens the door for Washington to get to St. Louis, perhaps the most disrespected one-seed ever, even more so than Saint Joe’s last year and the ’94 Missouri team. Not just because UW was a victim of the perpetual east-coast bias, but also because there is already a university by the name of Washington that has been in St. Louis for quite some time.)
Much was made of Wake Forest’s defensive weakness this season, and it reared its head against the Mountaineers. WVU scored 111 points on roughly 90 possessions, for an offensive efficiency of 124. Even if you remove WVU’s free throws – 30 of 39 – and their associated possessions, their OE still works out to an impressive 111.
The Mountaineers offense was underrated before the dance, it ranked 22nd nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency before the dance. They had torched some high profile teams with less than air-tight defenses before (LSU – 129 OE, NC State – 122 OE, and most recently Villanova – 130 OE). However, in all of those cases they had nice three point shooting games. At the end of regulation against Wake, they had only made four threes.
A team that gets an average of 38% of its offense from beyond the arc, the most of any team in the dance, took Wake to overtime by only getting 16% of its offense on threes. This was the Mountaineers’ second-lowest regulation total of the year.
Their worst three-point output was in a December win against 2-26 St. Bonaventure. Their third- and fourth-worst games were the crushing 73-53 home loss to BC in January and the loss to 6-22 Marshall the game before that.
So is it Skip Prosser’s system or the players? For the second year in a row Wake makes an early exit, and for the second year in a row their defense is the culprit.