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How do underdogs fare after a 2-seed plays a close game? (and other thoughts)

Plus Fran’s interesting quotes, and fact-checking Admiral Schofield!

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round- Iowa Hawkeyes vs Cincinnati Bearcats Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

It’s Saturday morning and my mind is still reeling from another full day of basketball so I wanted to take this time to dive into some things which have me thinking.

2-seed performance post-close game

After seeing Colgate stick with Tennessee, I was immediately reminded of the Hawkeyes playing Gonzaga Bulldogs after a close 2-15 game in 2015. While a quick perusal of any win probability chart/game log shows that was not the case - the closest North Dakota State ever got it was 7 with about 9 minutes left - this question still lingered: how do 2-seeds perform after close games?

The definition for “close” is 10-points, in my view. Perhaps it’s too high, but I think it’s a fair indicator. Since expanding to 64 teams in 1985, there have been 35 games where the 2-seed’s margin of victory has been less than or equal to 10 points. This averages out to once a year (25% of games) and includes the seven 15-2 upsets.

Two Seeds after Close Games

Year School Diff Next Game Eliminated Location
Year School Diff Next Game Eliminated Location
2019 2 Tennessee +7 v. Iowa TBD Columbus OH
2017 2 Kentucky +9 W - 65-62 v. Wichita State Elite 8 v. UNC Indianapolis IN
2016 2 Michigan State -9 N/A First Round St. Louis MO
2015 2 Gonzaga +10 W - 87-68 v. Iowa Elite 8 v. Duke Seattle WA
2013 2 Georgetown -10 N/A First Round Philadelphia PA
2012 2 Missouri -2 N/A First Round Omaha NE
2012 2 Duke -5 N/A First Round Greensboro NC
2010 2 Villanova +3 L - 68-75 v. St. Mary's Second Round Providence RI
2008 2 Duke +1 L - 67-73 v. West Virginia Second Round Washington DC
2006 2 Texas +8 W - 75-54 v. NC State Elite 8 v. LSU Dallas TX
2006 2 Ohio State +8 L - 52-70 v. Georgetown Second Round Dayton OH
2006 2 Tennessee +2 L - 73-80 v. Wichita State Second Round Greensboro NC
2005 2 UConn +6 L - 62-65 v. NC State Second Round Worcester MA
2005 2 Kentucky +8 W - 69-60 v. Cincinnati Elite 8 v. Michigan State Indianapolis IN
2003 2 Wake Forest +3 L - 62-68 v. Auburn Second Round Tampa FL
2003 2 Kansas +3 W - 108-76 v. Arizona State Runner Up v. Syracuse Oklahoma City OK
2002 2 Oklahoma +8 W - 78-65 v. Xavier Final Four v. Indiana Dallas TX
2002 2 Alabama +8 L - 58-71 v. Kent State Second Round Greenville SC
2001 2 Kentucky +4 W - 92-79 v. Iowa Sweet 16 v. USC Uniondale NY
2001 2 Iowa State -1 N/A First Round Boise ID
2000 2 Iowa State +10 W - 79-60 v. Auburn Elite 8 v. Michigan State Minneapolis MN
2000 2 St. John's (NY) +5 L - 76-82 v. Gonzaga Second Round Salt Lake City UT
1998 2 UConn +8 W - 78-68 v. Indiana Elite 8 v. UNC Washington DC
1998 2 Cincinnati +3 L - 74-75 v. West Virginia Second Round Boise ID
1997 2 Duke +3 L - 87-98 v. Providence Second Round Charlotte NC
1996 2 Cincinnati +5 W - 78-65 v. Temple Elite 8 v. Miss. State Orlando FL
1995 2 UNC +10 W - 73-51 v. Iowa State Final Four v. Arkansas Tallahassee FL
1995 2 Arkansas +1 W - 96-94 v. Syracuse Runner Up v. UCLA Austin TX
1993 2 Arizona -3 N/A First Round Salt Lake City UT
1991 2 Indiana +10 W - 82-60 v. Florida State Sweet 16 v. Kansas Louisville KY
1991 2 Syracuse -4 N/A First Round College Park MD
1990 2 Kansas +8 L - 70-71 v. UCLA Second Round Atlanta GA
1987 2 Syracuse +6 W - 104-86 v. Western Kentucky Runner Up v. Indiana Syracuse NY
1986 2 Michigan +6 L - 69-72 v. Iowa State Second Round Minneapolis MN
1985 2 Georgia Tech +7 W - 70-53 v. Syracuse Elite 8 v. Georgetown Atlanta GA
Close game defined as margin of victory less than or equal to 10 points

Tidbits from the table

  • 2 seeds are 15-12 in these games. It’s actually closer to 50/50 than I expected.
  • In wins, the margin of victory is 15.5 points per game and just 3 games had margins inside of 10 points. This does align with the history I expected since Iowa is on this list twice and neither of those games were any sort of fun.
  • In the losses, however, the margin of defeat is 6.8 points per game with 9 games decided under 10 points. I suppose the takeaway between this point and the previous one is that if the game is close, it leans towards the underdog.
  • 13 teams shirk off the early close game and advance to at least the Elite 8, which is the natural conclusion of their seed.

It’s funny, I wasn’t sure what I’d find with this but it has left me simultaneously uneasy and weirdly confident? Is there anything y’all are taking from this table?

Glass house

Fran had some ... interesting quotes in this presser:

Q. You point for the tournament, you look up and it’s 18-5. What do you say to them at that point?

COACH MCCAFFERY: I think the most simple approach is -- the most logical one is it was 35 minutes to go. So no time to panic. It could have easily been we were up and we have to keep playing well.

So we made some adjustments. We changed the defense. We changed some personnel a little bit. You start pushing some different buttons. But I think the critical thing is that the players maintained confidence. You don’t start screaming and yelling at them, blaming them because they didn’t rotate and block out. We talked about blockout; they had nine offensive rebounds in the first half for 11 points.

If I’m spazzing and yelling at everybody for that they’re not going to lock in on what we need to do with offense, what defense are we in, who is on the floor for them, where is Cumberland, who do we need to get the ball to.

And then this exchange...

Q. What you said before about keeping your poise on -- you’re a hot-blooded guy, a Philly guy?


Q. -- was there a point in your career where you learned how valuable it was to keep your poise under those kinds of circumstances, 18-5, that kind of thing?

COACH MCCAFFERY: Very definitely. One of my mentors, John MacLeod, he was the best at that. And he would always say, when it gets sticky, you can’t yell at them. That’s what he would say.

So when you see me get hot blooded, there are various reasons for that, and it happens despite what some people might think, very rarely. It doesn’t happen very much in practice. It doesn’t happen much in the locker room, at halftime. Oh, that coach went in there and yelled at them. No.

But at crunch time and in key moments of the game, you can’t lose your mind and start yelling at them. It’s only going to lead to more mistakes. At that point you need to build confidence.

Now, I agree with Fran’s overall assessment that he doesn’t typically blow up at his guys. Iowa beat writers are very quick to point out every “Fransplosion” so it makes sense for it to feel like it happens more often than it actually does. Reading between the lines, his point is that he uses his temper to try to fire everyone up and not get on someone for a mistake.*

Not reading between the lines, this is a shot at Tom Izzo.

Still, it’s funny to see it come from a guy who’s gotten suspended multiple times for his temper.

* A moment which stuck out to me yesterday was when Nicholas Baer airmailed a pass to Tyler Cook during a press break. Obviously Fran could have gotten angry - it was a huge turnover while Cincinnati was trying to come back - but he simply, and calmly, reminded his team that they have three fouls. Use them if necessary.

Iowa’s closing lineup

Speaking of that finish, Iowa had Jordan Bohannon, Joe Wieskamp, Nicholas Baer, Tyler Cook, and Luka Garza in to close the game. To me, this checks the biggest question of a closing lineup: Who are your best 5 guys?

And that group really closed the game well. They attacked on offense, gummed up Cincy’s offense, got rebounds, and made enough free throws to keep the game at bay. We’ll probably need to see more of that group tomorrow if Iowa has any chance of winning.


Somehow, this is the weirdest tweet from yesterday.

Fact check #1: “I’m from Chicago”

According to his team page, he graduated from Zion-Benton Township High School. Fun fact about Zion-Benton Township High School: it is 1 hour away from downtown Chicago. It is also 47 minutes away from downtown Milwaukee.


Fact check #2: “my brother played at Wisconsin”

O’Brien Schofield played for Wisconsin’s football team through 2009. Though Iowa went 2-2 against Wisconsin during O’Brien’s time there, the average margin of victory was Iowa by 6.25. That stands to reason for why you might hate Iowa!

Fact check #3: “their players were already talking in the tunnel after our game”

I would just like some receipts on this. Why on earth would Iowa and Tennessee players be in the tunnel after the Vols game? It certainly makes sense after Iowa’s game that there might be some interaction but is Iowa not allowed to celebrate a win? Is that what constitutes smack?

Go Hawks!