2018 NCAA Tournament: Picking No. 16 Penn over No. 1 Kansas is madness
Penn can make a compelling case, but no, this isn't the year for the fabled 16-1 upset
WICHITA, Kan. -- By the time you get done reading this Penn may be in the Final Four.
At least in the eyes of the analysts, metric bosses and Twitter slugs who have latched onto the Quakers. They have been both trending and the trendy pick of this year's tournament.
Well, at least for a day.
It is generally believed -- if not altogether proven -- Penn is the "best" No. 16 seed in history headed into its first-round game Thursday here against No. 1-seeded Kansas. That could make the Quakers the bracket grenade that has never detonated. Sixteen seeds are 0-132 against No. 1 seeds since the bracket expanded in 1985, losing by average of almost 25 points.
Keep telling yourself that because the narrative won't let go. It cannot be argued the Penn-in-an-upset crusade has taken on a life of its own.
That's Ken Pomeroy whose deep, precise, respected analytics have been used to make Penn's case. The Quakers won the Ivy League this season as the No. 2 team in the nation defending the 3. They led the Ivy League in field-goal percent defense.
Reason to believe?
"I think every team that's a 1-seed, in the back of their mind would say, 'Oh geez, this hasn't happened before. It can't happen to us,' " Kansas coach Bill Self said.
KenPom gives the Quakers an 11 percent chance to win. Don't be fooled. That is by far the best chance for any 16 seed this opening week. The same can be said of CBS Sports' Bracket Games participants -- 1.5 percent of users are picking the Quakers to beat the Jayhawks, compared to less than a full percentage point picking any of the other 16 seeds.
"They've [coaches] been talking about it to us," Quakers forward Max Rothschild said, "but we try to keep that as distant as possible."
The Ivy League was responsible for the only 16-1 upset in NCAA basketball history. That came in the 1998 women's tournament. Harvard, with the nation's leading scorer in Allison Feaster and two years of NCAA Tournament experience under their belts, beat a Stanford team that had lost two key players to injury in the leadup to the game.
This year's Quaker men won only their second Ivy League title since 2007. One of the shortest teams in the country (276th at an average of 6 feet, 4.1 inches) tends to play half-court style that suits the demeanor of coach Steve Donahue.
The 55-year-old coach somehow adopted the philosophy of Whanau -- a Maori-language word from New Zealand meaning extended family.
How a bunch of kids bought into the vibe of a New Zealand rugby team is an upset in itself.
"You talk about Bill Self and 14 straight (Big 12 titles)," Donahue said. "We're talking almost 100 years of success (with the All Blacks)."
They've already got a cause. The Quakers were shoe-horned into a locker room so small here at Intrust Bank Arena it would insult a high school team.
Donahue is sure to remind his current team of his former team. In 2010, Cornell walked into Allen Fieldhouse against a Kansas team that included at least five future NBA players. Ivy player of the year Ryan Wittman missed a game-tying 3 with 15 seconds left. KU won 71-66.
"As we walked off the court, the fans gave us a standing ovation," Donahue said.
Donahue certainly isn't intimidated. He echoed what a lot of experts said -- the Quakers are under-seeded. The Ivy's 43 all-time wins in the tournament make it the most successful conference beyond the seven major conferences and top mid-majors (Atlantic 10, West Coast, Mountain West, Missouri Valley, Conference USA).
"If you crunch the numbers a little bit, it doesn't look like we're a 16," he said.
Perception isn't reality on the other side, either. This isn't a classic Kansas team. It's.
It lost three at home for the first time in 19 years. There's depth but not the depth Kansas is used to. Backup posts Mitch Lightfoot and Silvio De Sousa combined for 48 points and 36 rebounds in the Big 12 tournament. Center Udoka Azubuike and his sprained MCL are expected to see action against Penn only in an "emergency situation," according to Self.
"I hope there's an emergency situation, [but in] some ways I don't," Donahue said.
The world loves an upset. That's why the analytics, metrics, trolls and, well, fans have gravitated to this game.
In some astronomic way, it seems possible. KU isn't invincible. A year ago, it lost to Oregon on its virtual home floor -- Kansas City's Sprint Center -- with a chance to go to the Final Four. That venue had just as much home-cookin' as Intrust Bank Arena.
Wichita is 163 miles from Lawrence. If the Jayhawks make it out of here, the Midwest Regional is up the road in Omaha. The road to the Final Four is literally a drive for legions of KU fans.
But you know a 16 is going to beat a 1 someday. Against those overwhelming odds what would that look like?
"I don't want to find out," Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot said.
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