Remember when the Exxon Valdez spilled millions of gallons of oil into the Pacific? Remember when the first Russian (er, make that “Soviet”) hockey players came to the NHL? Remember when Eastern Airlines went bankrupt?
Nope, neither do I, because all of that happened in March 1989 … when I was four, which is also why I don’t remember the last time the Kansas Jayhawks didn’t make the NCAA Tournament. The Jayhawks have been in March Madness for 27 consecutive years and are a lock to make it 28 this season.
Not every perennial power can breath as easily, however, and the 2017 tournament could see some long streaks come to an end. On the bright side, one of the nation’s longest March Madness-related droughts could be staunched, as well. (Here’s to you, Northwestern!)
In a few weeks, after the bracket is set, I’ll be looking at odds for in-tournament streaks and droughts, like Mark Few (Gonzaga) and Sean Miller (Arizona) finally reaching the Final Four. But for today, here are the odds on the longest streaks and droughts pertaining to getting into the dance and seeding.
March Madness’ Longest Streaks/Droughts
Odds Kansas makes its 28th straight tournament: 1/10,000
The Jayhawks are probably going to be the no. 1-overall seed. The only way they don’t make the tournament is if the entire basketball program gets shut down before Selection Sunday.
You can put the same odds on Duke (21 straight appearances), Gonzaga (18 straight appearances), and Wisconsin (18 straight appearances).
Odds Michigan State makes its 20th straight tournament: 2/7
The Spartans can thank 2017’s hyper-soft bubble for their short odds. Early in the season, Tom Izzo’s streak was in serious jeopardy as Sparty lost four of their first nine games. A few of their losses really stick out: Northeastern (81-73 at home), Penn State (72-63, neutral site), and Michigan (an 86-57 blowout on the road) specifically. But they’ve gone 10-6 in the Big Ten, which is good enough this season given that so few mid-majors are making convincing cases for at-large bids.
Jerry Palm, Joe Lunardi, and Stuart Mandel all have MSU as a no. 9 seed right now. If they take one of their last two regular season games (at Illinois, at Maryland), that should seal the deal. Even if they lose both, a decent showing in the Big Ten tournament will punch their ticket.
Odds VCU makes its 7th straight tournament: 1/4
The Rams have an impressive 23-6 overall record and are 13-3 in the A10. Any other year, that would be the resume of an at-large lock. But the A10 is weak this year, and no team (other than the eventual tournament champ) is safely in the field. (It could conceivably be a one-bid league.)
While VCU didn’t score quality non-conference wins, unless you count Middle Tennessee, they’re in the field in all major bracket projections right now, hovering around a no. 9/10 seed. But a poor finish could find them on the outside looking in. The Selection Committee loves those top-50 wins, and the Rams only have two (Middle Tennessee and Dayton).
Odds Northwestern makes its first-ever tournament appearance: 2/5
Northwestern is the last power conference team to have never qualified for the tourney. That is primed to change this season. The Wildcats are 20-9 overall and 9-7 in the Big Ten with wins over Dayton (67-64, neutral site), Wisconsin (66-69 on the road), and Wake Forest (65-58 at home). Palm, Lunardi, and Mandel have them as high as a no. 8 seed and no lower than no. 10.
There is still some cause for concern, though, as the team has lost five of its last seven and has tough games against Michigan and Purdue to close the regular season. If they drop them both and lose early in the Big Ten tournament, this may just be another “what-might-have-been” year for the school.
Odds the Big Ten receives a top-four seed for the 17th straight year: 5/4
When the Selection Committee released its first-ever mid-season rankings of the top 16 teams in the country, many were surprised that there wasn’t a single Big Ten team in the bunch. I don’t know if anyone will be shocked if that proves true on Selection Sunday, as well. The conference’s best teams – Purdue and Wisconsin – are ranked 16th and 21st respectively in the Coaches Poll.
Wisconsin has dropped four of its last five and waved goodbye to a potential top-four seed in the process.
Purdue had been on a six-game winning streak before falling to Michigan last time out. If they don’t win out and at least reach the Big Ten tournament final, they won’t be a top-four seed either.
You have to go all the way back to 2004 to find the last time the Big Ten didn’t have a team on one of the top-four seed lines. (Illinois, the Big Ten’s regular season champs, were a no. 5 that year.)
Odds the ACC receives a no. 1 seed for the 4th straight year: 1/2
The ACC has had a(t least one) team on the one-line in three straight years. That’s the longest active streak in the nation. It’s in real jeopardy this season. The ACC is widely acknowledged to be the strongest conference but that could be its downfall. No team has fewer than four conference losses, and leaders North Carolina just got absolutely shut-down by Virginia (53-43), a team that had lost four of its last five games.
If the Heels, who have already guaranteed at least a share of the ACC regular season title, don’t reach the finals of the conference tournament, as well, there’s a real chance no ACC team winds up as a one-seed. Kansas and Villanova already have the no. 1 seeds in the Midwest and East regions locked up. The one-line in the West region is going to be filled by Gonzaga, UCLA, or Oregon. So that’s three of four gone, but still leaves (likely) the South region. Pencil in the best ACC team? Not so fast.
If Gonzaga and UCLA both win out, they could both get one-seeds. Conference tournament wins by Kentucky (SEC) and/or Baylor (Big 12) would also give those teams one-seed arguments.
That said, at the end of the day, I see the committee putting the best team from the best conference on that South region one-line.
Will my predictions pan out? I’ll be sure to assess my own performance after the bracket comes out (March 12) when I delve into the odds on in-tournament streaks and droughts. Don’t forget to comeback and hold me accountable!
Photo credit: Max Goldberg (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/].