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Penn Is History’s Best 16 Seed. Can It Pull Off The NCAA Tournament’s Greatest Upset?


There are just a few issues left in sports activities which have by no means occurred: five homers in a game, a sub-two-hour marathon, a quintuple double. In all probability probably the most well-known, although, is the knocking off of a No. 1 seed by a No. 16 seed within the males’s NCAA Event. (A 16 vs. 1 upset has happened once on the ladies’s aspect, when Harvard beat Stanford in 1998.) It’s actually kind of weird that it hasn’t occurred but; though No. 16 seeds are often fairly dangerous, you’d assume no less than one would have damaged by way of over the course of 33 years and 132 tries. The 133rd No. 16 to take a crack at it will likely be the Ivy Leaguers from the College of Pennsylvania, which faces Kansas on Thursday — and Penn’s probabilities of beating a No. 1 are among the many finest a No. 16 seed has ever had.

For starters, Penn is a lot higher than the standard No. 16 seed. In response to our Elo ratings — which measure a crew’s power based mostly on (amongst different elements) who it’s overwhelmed and by how a lot — the Quakers rank 76th within the nation, with a fair 1700 score. How good is that? By definition, the standard D-I crew charges round 1500, and since they first became a thing in 1985 (excluding this season), No. 16 seeds have had a mean Elo score of 1483.1 Earlier than Penn this 12 months, the highest-rated No. 16 seed of all time was Portland State, which carried a 1698 score heading into the 2008 match. (It ended up losing, to Kansas of all groups, by 24.) Penn is formally the primary No. 16 seed ever to interrupt the 1700 barrier in Elo:

Penn is the very best No. 16 seed ever (in line with Elo)

Highest Elo score for No. 16 seeds going into the NCAA Event, 1985-2018

YrCrewConf.Elomatch loss
2018PennsylvaniaIvy1700
2008Portland StateHuge Sky169861-85 vs. Kansas
2015ManhattanMAAC164364-74 vs. Hampton*
1985SouthernSWAC163659-83 vs. St John’s (NY)
2012LamarSouthland163559-71 vs. Vermont*
2012VermontAEC162958-77 vs. North Carolina
2006Oral RobertsMidCont162978-94 vs. Memphis
2017S. Dakota StateSummit162146-66 vs. Gonzaga
2012UNC-AshevilleHuge South161965-72 vs. Syracuse
2010VermontAEC161956-79 vs. Syracuse

* Play-in recreation

Supply: Sports activities-Reference.com

It’s additionally price noting that Ivy League colleges are often not relegated to being first-round cannon fodder. According to the NCAA, the Ivy’s 43 all-time NCAA Event wins makes it probably the most profitable convention exterior of the six main conferences and the highest mid-majors.2 Ivy groups have won three of their last five video games within the spherical of 64 (and that doesn’t even embrace Cornell’s Candy 16 bid in 2010). And the 2 first-round losses have been by a mixed four factors. A few of that could be a perform of seeding, however that’s additionally the purpose. The final time an Ivy League crew was seeded as low as 16th was 1989, when (coincidentally sufficient) Pete Carril’s Princeton squad got here the closest to knocking off a No. 1 seed of any 16-seed ever, dropping by just one level to Georgetown:

After all, even when Penn is the very best No. 16 seed ever, the Quakers aren’t enjoying one other No. 16 seed on Thursday; they’re enjoying Kansas, which simply earned its 14th No. 1 seed in program history. KU has wiped the floor with No. 16 seeds by a mean margin of 25 factors per recreation, with just one (Western Kentucky in 2013) preserving the ultimate rating inside single digits.

One piece of excellent information for Penn, nevertheless, is that this 12 months’s Jayhawks aren’t fairly as sturdy as they’ve tended to be of their different top-seeded seasons. With an Elo of 1985, Kansas is properly beneath the historic common (2071) for No. 1 seeds within the 64-team-bracket period. Solely 9 different No. 1 seeds have had a decrease pre-tournament Elo in that span than KU has this season.

So Penn-Kansas is perhaps the right storm we obsessive 16-over-1 hopefuls have been ready for: a mixture of the very best No. 16 seed in historical past and one of many weaker No. 1 seeds. In response to Elo, the 285-point hole between the Quakers and Jayhawks is the smallest for any 1-vs-16 recreation in match historical past.

Is that this the 16-vs-1 matchup we’ve been ready for?

Smallest differentials in pregame Elo scores for No. 16 seeds in opposition to No. 1′s within the NCAA Event, 1985-2018

No. 16 seedNo. 1 SEED
YrCrewEloCrewEloElo Diff.
2018Pennsylvania1700Kansas1985-285
2006Oral Roberts1629Memphis1931-302
1985Southern1636St John’s (NY)1948-312
2010Vermont1619Syracuse1986-366
1990Arkansas-Little Rock1607UNLV1990-382
2008Portland State1698Kansas2102-404
2017South Dakota State1621Gonzaga2029-408
2013James Madison1574Indiana1986-412
2011UNC-Asheville1594Pittsburgh2008-415
1985North Carolina A&T1544Oklahoma1963-420

Supply: Sports activities-Reference.com

There may be one huge catch, nevertheless. The sport will likely be performed in Wichita, Kansas, simply two-and-a-half hours down the street from the Jayhawks’ campus in Lawrence. As a result of our full-blown tournament model — which accommodates many accuracy-boosting bells and whistles that pure Elo differential ignores — takes journey distance into consideration, it offers Penn solely a 5 % shot on the historic victory. That’s nonetheless actually excessive by 16-seed requirements — the very best probability for the reason that present iteration of our mannequin rolled out in 2013 — however evaluating that to the standard No. 16’s win chance is like saying the Cleveland Browns had a greater profitable proportion in 2016 than in 2017. Positive, it’s true, however neither quantity is very good.

In different phrases, the Quakers in all probability gained’t win. Not like virtually each different 16-vs-1 matchup, although, this one ought to offer you a millisecond of doubt when filling out your bracket. We at all times say that, finally, a No. 16 seed will beat a No. 1 seed. For Penn, there is perhaps no time like the current.



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