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Monday, March 22, 2004
Sweet 16 Bracket Madness


By Graham Hays
ESPN Fantasy Games


Beware the parity of March.

After four days of basketball, the WAC has as many remaining teams as the Big 10, and the Pac 10 can only wait for the College World Series.

It was an interesting weekend for bracket-minded folks across the country. All 16 protected seeds survived the opening round, but Saturday and Sunday proved unkind to some of Tournament Challenge's popular picks.

You may think your bracket is busted after losing Kentucky, Stanford, Gonzaga, Mississippi State, North Carolina State or Cincinnati, but unless you lost them all -- and some folks did -- it's never too late to mount a comeback behind Connecticut, Duke or even resilient St. Joseph's.

With nearly three million entries, ESPN's Tournament Challenge is a good measure of conventional wisdom -- even if it's conventional wisdom gone bad. So while you wait for Thursday's game, ponder some of the more interesting bracket stats to date.

  • Forget a perfect bracket; it's tough enough to come up with a perfect weekend. As was the case last year, not a single Tournament Challenge bracket includes all 16 remaining teams. Rob McVie's "Knoxville Tdawqizzle" is the unofficial leader, featuring 15 of the remaining 16 teams -- including UAB, Nevada and Xavier -- after correctly predicted 29 of 32 opening-round games. That's some impressive prognostication. For the record, McVie's bracket has Nevada, Xavier and Vanderbilt advancing another round and Kansas taking home the title.

  • Now that McVie's bracket has you feeling like a dunce, it's time to remember you have plenty of company. For the first time since 2000, two No. 1 seeds failed to reach the Sweet 16. And to the surprise of many Tournament Challenge entrants, St. Joseph's wasn't one of the upset victims. The week is off to a rough start for the 18 percent of entrants who picked Kentucky to win it all (tops among all teams) and the 12 percent of entrants who picked Stanford to cut down the nets, but pity the 47,686 (6.4 percent) entrants who picked Kentucky to meet Stanford for the title.

  • So just how bad is your bracket? You might be surprised. The average Tournament Challenge entry had 24 teams (75 percent) remaining after the first round, but that average fell to 7.9 teams (49.4 percent) after the upset-riddled second round. So if you're staring at a bracket with just six or seven teams still in the hunt, you're far from alone.

  • No. 10 Nevada, No. 9 UAB, No. 8 Alabama and No. 7 Xavier spoiled a lot of brackets, but not everyone was blindsided by these bracket busters. Here's a look at the number of entrants picking each team to advance to the Sweet 16.
  • Xavier: 338,218 (13.6 percent)
  • Alabama: 122,230 (4.9 percent)
  • Nevada: 51,696 (2.1 percent)
  • UAB: 29,123 (1.2 percent)

  • While just 162 entrants had all four schools advancing to the Sweet 16, more had faith in the SEC and Atlantic 10 representatives. In fact, 18,998 entrants (0.7 percent) had both Alabama and Xavier advancing to the second week. Just don't count on a prolonged run for those two schools, as a scant 257 entrants have the Musketeers and Tide meeting up in the Final Four.

  • Speaking of faith in the SEC, Kentucky and Mississippi State broke a lot of brackets -- 47,686 entrants (1.7 percent) had Kentucky and Mississippi State meeting for the title -- but the conference isn't without representation in the Sweet 16. Knowing what to make of the conference standings, 2,642 entrants have Alabama meeting Vanderbilt in the final of the Phoenix bracket.

  • That Phoenix (formerly and more conveniently, West) bracket was a place of misery for most Tournament Challenge entrants, dropping three of the top four seeds. How much misery did Alabama, Vanderbilt and Syracuse cause? A whopping 1,036,468 entrants (41.7 percent) had victims Stanford, North Carolina State and Maryland all advancing to the Sweet 16.

  • If your bracket survived the region-formerly-known-as West, chances are it imploded on the way to St. Louis. At the top of the bracket, 663,202 entrants (26.7 percent) picked Kentucky and Providence to meet in the Sweet 16. Oops. But that's nothing compared to the 920,396 entrants (37.1 percent) who tabbed Kentucky and Gonzaga to meet in the Elite Eight.

  • Are we headed for a Final Four rematch? By Marquette isn't around to meet up with Kansas in San Antonio, but Syracuse did their part to keep a date with Texas, beating No. 4 Maryland. Some folks believe lightning strikes twice, as 226,121 entrants (9.1 percent) have the Orangemen and Longhorns dancing all the way to the Final Four.

  • Just how little respect are Phil Martelli's Hawks getting? When it comes to the chalk, there are 303,007 entrants (12.2 percent) with Connecticut, Duke and Oklahoma State in the Final Four, but a mere 54,183 entrants (2.2 percent) have St. Joseph's joining Connecticut and Duke in San Antonio.

  • Sorting through the rubble of ruined brackets, here are the number of entrants picking each of the remaining teams to go all the way.
    Connecticut: 468,808 (16.2 percent)
    Duke: 383,250 (15.4 percent)
    Oklahoma State: 247,542 (10.0 percent)
    Pittsburgh: 147,383 (5.9 percent)
    St. Joseph's: 60,324 (2.4 percent)
    Georgia Tech: 38,960 (1.6 percent)
    Texas: 38,850 (1.6 percent)
    Kansas: 19,771 (0.8 percent)
    Wake Forest: 13,916 (0.6 percent)
    Syracuse: 11,320 (0.5 percent)
    Illinois: 10,361 (0.4 percent)
    Xavier: 2,418 (0.1 percent)
    Alabama: 1,819 (0.07 percent)
    Vanderbilt: 735 (0.03 percent)
    UAB: 320 (0.01 percent)
    Nevada: 296 (0.01 percent)