Not that we really needed it, but the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight weekend showcased why the NCAA Tournament is one of sports’ greatest events.
And not just because six games of the 12 came down to the final seconds.
Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan, one of the game’s most consistent coaches for 30 years, reached his first Final Four. A day later, UConn’s Kevin Ollie, in only his second season has a head coach anywhere, did the same.
And while Kentucky played in three of the best games of the Tournament against Wichita State, Louisville and Michigan, the Wildcats managed to surprise by unleashing a seldom-used five-star forward to beat the Wolverines.
With the field whittled from 68 teams to four, here are some other numerical superlatives and surprises.
18. Seed total of the Final Four teams, making this the fourth-most “upsetting” Final Four since seeding began
The sum of the seed numbers for Final Four teams is one of a handful of odd data kept by the NCAA. In essence, it’s a shorthand way to figure how many upsets occurred (or didn’t) on the way to the Final Four. The sum of the seed numbers for Florida, UConn, Wisconsin and Kentucky comes to 18 for the fourth-highest total since the NCAA started seeding the Tournament in 1979. Here are the others:
25. Years separating Bo Ryan’s and Kevin Ollie’s ages at the time of their first Final Four
Perhaps the best illustration of the random and cruel nature of the NCAA Tournament was watching Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan and UConn’s Kevin Ollie reaching the Final Four in the same weekend. Ryan, 66, has been coaching college basketball since 1984 and at Wisconsin since 2001 and waiting 30 years to reach his first NCAA Final Four. Ollie, 41, earned his first trip in only his second year as a head coach. If Ollie seems young to reach the precipice of college basketball, he’s not compared to the other two coaches in North Texas. Both Billy Donovan and John Calipari reached their first Final Four in their 30s.
5. Coaches to reach the Final Four in their first or second season as a head coach
Speaking of Ollie, he’s in an exclusive group of coaches who reached the Final Four in either their first or second season of their career as a head coach. Steve Fisher at Michigan in 1989 and Bill Guthridge at North Carolina in 1998 both reached the Final Four in their first seasons as head coaches. Mike Davis at Indiana in 2002 and Shaka Smart at VCU in 2011 reached the Final Four in only their second seasons as head coaches. Two of the five coaches were handpicked successors for legendary coaches — Guthridge for Dean Smith and Ollie for Jim Calhoun. Davis was an assistant for Bob Knight when he was fired in 2000.
16. Top 100 NBA Draft prospects in the Final Four
The Final Four will feature 16 top 100 NBA Draft prospects, according to rankings by ESPN’s Chad Ford. Not surprisingly, Kentucky leads the way with seven top 100 players. Here is the full list and their rank in the top 100:
5. Julius Randle, Kentucky
15. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky
17. James Young, Kentucky
28. Chris Walker, Florida
31. Andrew Harrison, Kentucky
33. Aaron Harrison, Kentucky
35. Sam Dekker, Wisconsin
36. Patric Young, Florida
42. Shabazz Napier, UConn
51. DeAndre Daniels, UConn
52. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
61. Dakari Johnson, Kentucky
62. Alex Poythress, Kentucky
82. Kasey Hill, Florida
89. Michael Frazier II, Florida
91. Scottie Wilbekin, Florida
1. Team in the top 20 in both offensive and defensive efficiency on KenPom.com
Ken Pomeroy’s ratings have been a predictor of sorts for the national championship, but that may be put to the test this season. Every national champion since 2003 has ranked in the top 20 nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency, in other words, points per possession weighted against the schedule. Five teams are ranked in the top 20 in both, but Florida is the only one remaining in the Final Four. the other four are Arizona, Louisville, Tennessee and Wichita State. Here’s a look at how the Final Four teams rank in Pomeroy’s ratings:
108 minutes, 49 seconds. Game time since Scottie Wilbekin’s last turnover
Wilbekin has been Florida’s top scorer in the NCAA Tournament at 16.8 points per game, but he’s perhaps more impressive as a ball handler. Wilbekin didn’t turn the ball over in the regional against UCLA or Dayton and hasn’t lost the ball since 8:49 remaining in the first half against Pittsburgh in the round of 32.
3-2 Florida’s record against teams in the Final Four
Florida will be familiar with any opponent in the Final Four, starting with UConn on Saturday. The Gators’ only two losses this season have come against two teams in the Final Four — Florida lost 59-53 to Wisconsin on Nov. 12 and 65-64 to UConn on Dec. 2. The Gators swept the series with Kentucky, whom Florida could meet in the national title game, by defeating the Wildcats in Lexington, Gainesville and in Atlanta in the SEC Tournament.
74. Points scored by Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky in the NCAA Tournament, 11 more than his entire freshman season
Wisconsin’s 7-foot center has been one of the top surprises this season, continuing with a 28-point performance against Arizona, one of the top defensive teams in the country. In just four games in the Tournament, Kaminsky eclipsed is scoring output from his freshman season (63 points). Kaminsky’s 74 points in four Tournament games is more than half of his total scoring output as a sophomore (133).
5. Field goals by Marcus Lee in the Elite Eight, doubling his output since Nov. 27
This is what happens when you sign the classes John Calipari has over the last few seasons. McDonald’s All-Americans will sit on the bench, and sometimes in one of the last seats on the bench. With Willie Cauley-Stein out with an ankle injury, Kentucky turned to Marcus Lee to fill some of the minutes. Lee did that and more buy grabbing offensive rebounds and scoring at the basket. Lee finished with 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting against Michigan. Lee was 5 of 14 from the field in Kentucky’s previous 27 games, of which Lee played in only 14. Against Michigan, Lee added eight rebounds
3. Players returning to the Final Four
Wisconsin is in its first Final Four since 2000. Florida’s veterans came up short in three consecutive Elite Eights. And Kentucky’s team is loaded with freshmen and sophomores. All the Final Four experience resides with perhaps the unlikeliest team to reach the Final Four this season. UConn’s Shabazz Napier, Niels Giffey and Tyler Olander played on the Huskies’ 2011 national title team. It’s worth noting that senior Jarrod Polson was a member of the 2012 title-winning team, but he didn’t play in the NCAA Tournament.