Welcome to the strongest Sweet 16 “ever”


In a normal year, Auburn would be a 50th percentile Sweet 16 team. In 2019, however, the Tigers rank No. 13 among remaining teams. (Wade Rackley, Auburn Athletics)

We’ve suspected for weeks now that there’s an unusually dense concentration of big swaggering capital-letter Great Team behemoths roaming our hoops landscape in 2018-19. Pick your flavor and choose your boundary line, but, speaking generally, this field’s top 10 or 11 teams together constitute an oligopoly of hoops hegemony the likes of which we don’t often get within the confines of a single season.

Well, it just so happens that all of those teams, every one of them, won two games during the first weekend of the 2019 NCAA tournament. Not to be outdone, so, too, did the tier of teams right below the big guns.

When you put chalk together with behemoths, you get a Sweet 16 that fairly blows its predecessors out of the statistical water.


While we’re here, don’t hate on 2018 for having the weakest Sweet 16 of the bunch. The Final Four still turned out pretty well, and, anyway, a No. 16 seed winning in the round of 64 was a pretty big deal with considerable statistical consequences downstream.

Back to 2019. What, precisely, is the cash spectating value of having such a strong field? Excellent question. One might venture to say it means we must be in for a Thursday and Friday of great viewing, for example, but experience tells us that’s not necessarily a sure thing.

North Carolina and Gonzaga were both statistically blessed in 2017, after all, and the result was actually a rather unsightly title game. Conversely, Butler in 2010 was no one’s idea of a KenPom idol, but good luck prying that title game out of my all-time-best vault.

Basically, everyone’s particular taste is going to be sovereign in such matters, so I’ll go first with mine. To me, the best thing about having the strongest Sweet 16 ever (where “ever” starts at noon on November 1, 2001, sorry, old geezers) is simply that it increases the probability that we could get a Final Four worthy to place alongside the ones we had in 2008 and 2015.

More bar-chart cowbell….


There’s no one prescribed manner in which to have a great Final Four, and certainly the sport’s final weekend is a blank canvas of opportunity with a dizzying array of textures and moments. That said, one way a Final Four can be really good is if it has a lot of really good teams.

The 2015 Final Four was amazing in that respect. Some years we know in advance that a 2015 redux isn’t in the cards, but it’s very much still in play for 2019.

Assuming chalk continues for one more round, there may be some fixating on whether all four No. 1 seeds can get to Minneapolis. That’s intrinsically interesting, surely, but, if it comes to that, do keep in mind we can have one extreme outlier of a gathering even if one or two non-No. 1 seeds reach the Final Four.

The one piece of coach-speak that is absolutely true and indeed ahead of the curve is that a seed is just a number next to a team’s name. Preach, coaches: Michigan and, especially, Michigan State are No. 1 seed-quality teams lurking in the bracket with “2”s next to their names.

Regardless of those numbers, it will be great if four great teams make it to the Twin Cities. It could happen.