2016 Syracuse is 2015 UCLA, and other NCAA tournament notes after a wild weekend

So much more will be said about the 2016 NCAA Tournament today and in the coming days before the Sweet 16, but as we empty out the notebook after the first of three weekends, let’s start with a word about Syracuse.

The 2016 Orange are to this tournament what UCLA was to the 2015 edition of the Big Dance.

Go through the checklist of details, and they’re hugely similar.

First, neither team deserved to be in the tournament. No, Syracuse fans, you shouldn’t care what pundits think. Your team got an opportunity and has made the most of it. You shouldn’t feel guilty. Enjoy the ride. Don’t allow outside opinion to drag you down, okay?

Nevertheless, Syracuse didn’t deserve to get in… much as UCLA didn’t deserve to make the field last year.

Jim Boeheim and Steve Alford — neither man particularly beloved on a larger scale — have been able to maximize fortuitous NCAA tournament inclusions, parlaying each into a second-weekend stay on the Dance floor. Life can have a nasty sense of humor, right? Moreover, their journeys to the Sweet 16 both featured uncommonly remarkable strokes of good fortune.

Syracuse merely benefited from what Michael Grant of Comeback Media viewed (and I agree with him as long as it’s confined to the shot-clock era) as the greatest upset in NCAA tournament history.

In the 2015 Big Dance, UCLA merely benefited from THIS:


Remember, the goaltending call against SMU was correct. The RULE, however, was awful (and remains awful, because it has not been changed). UCLA received luck on top of luck on top of luck.

Syracuse and UCLA, both double-digit seeds, wore home whites in the round of 32 due to upsets in their opening-weekend pods. They both faced Conference USA’s automatic-bid qualifier. For Syracuse, it was No. 15 Middle Tennessee. For UCLA, it was No. 14 UAB, which beat third-seeded Iowa State in the round of 64 last year.

Think the parallels are done? Not quite: Gonzaga was (is) the next opponent for each, in a Sweet 16 game including an 11 seed.

Last year, UCLA was the 11, playing Gonzaga in the South Regional semifinals. This year, Syracuse is the 10, playing the 11th-seeded Zags in the Midwest Regional semis.

2016 Syracuse and 2015 UCLA — minus the SMU goaltend of a three-pointer, the journeys are ridiculously similar.


More assorted notes linked to NCAA tournament history:

Is this tournament like the 1981 NCAA Tournament?

Consider: When Northern Iowa’s Paul Jesperson banked in his halfcourt winner on Friday, he did so on the same day that Saint Joseph’s won and Oregon State lost in the NCAA tournament.

On March 14, 1981, the same trio of events — halfcourt winner, Saint Joe’s winning, Oregon State losing — unfolded. The halfcourt shot artist was U.S. Reed of Arkansas against Louisville. Where was that game (Arkansas-Louisville) played? On the home floor of the University of Texas.

What team did Northern Iowa and Jesperson defeat with that halfcourt banker on Friday? The University of Texas.

More parallels to 1981: Indiana will play North Carolina in Philadelphia… just like 1981, though not for the national title. North Carolina will wear home whites as the higher seed, as was the case 35 years ago.

A possible future parallel to 1981: Virginia and North Carolina could meet in the national semifinals. They did so in The Spectrum, way back when.

Perspective on both 1981 and Mike Krzyzewski: Coach K had just finished his FIRST season at Duke University.


Enough about 1981 — what about 1984? Virginia is in perfect position to make its first Final Four since that season. A member of the Cavaliers that year? Current Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle.


The other big parallel to 1984 is that Indiana and North Carolina (UNC in the home whites again) will reunite in the Sweet 16. The last Sweet 16 game they contested occurred 32 years ago in Atlanta. Current ESPN commentator Dan Dakich spearheaded a defensive clinic which knocked off what might have been Dean Smith’s most talented Carolina team ever.

Remember, this was not the age of the one-and-dones. North Carolina had Michael Jordan in his third season. Sam Perkins was still there from the 1982 national championship team, as was Matt Doherty. Kenny Smith was a freshman then, and Brad Daughtery was a sophomore. All except Doherty became hugely productive NBA players at minimum. Jordan became one of the three best players who has ever lived (arguments will be accepted for Bill Russell and LeBron; Steph Curry, maybe in a few years). Perkins became a key cog for multiple NBA Finals teams, and Smith won his two NBA titles in Houston with the Rockets.


If not 1984, could this tournament parallel 2002 more than any other?

Indiana is a 5 seed in the Sweet 16, facing a top-seeded ACC school. This year, it’s North Carolina. In 2002, it was Duke. Indiana pulled off that upset and played an Elite Eight game as a higher seed. Since Notre Dame-Wisconsin is a 6-7 game in the East Regional, Indiana would indeed be the higher seed if it makes the Elite Eight this next weekend.

Also in 2002: Kansas played Maryland. The two schools play their first NCAA tournament game against each other since this contest at the 2002 Final Four:

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Also in 2002: Oklahoma made the Final Four. Could this be the year the Sooners return to college basketball’s biggest stage?

If they do, the path will be similar to 2002.

OU was a 2 seed 14 years ago. The Sooners played a 3, Arizona, in the Sweet 16 in a California site (San Jose then, Anaheim this year). OU was the higher seed in the Elite Eight, though no double-digit seed is part of the West Regional this year. Back then, OU drew Missouri — a 12 seed — in the regional final.


Is this the 2007 NCAA Tournament?

Texas A&M is in the Sweet 16 as a 3 seed, the same as 2007. The Aggies play a 2 seed in the regional semifinals. The 1 seed in A&M’s regional owns a top seed for the first time under its current coach. Ohio State owned a 1 seed in 2007 for the first time in Thad Matta’s tenure in Columbus. This year, Oregon is a 1 seed for the first time in Dana Altman’s tenure in Eugene. (The Ducks are, of course, a 1 seed for the first time in school history.)

In 2007, a 2 seed from the Big East made the Final Four — Georgetown made the journey. Could Villanova be that team this year?

North Carolina was a 1 seed in the East Regional under Roy Williams in 2007… as it is now.

Oregon made the Elite Eight in 2007 — the Ducks are one win away from returning to that point.

Lon Kruger made the Sweet 16 in 2007 with UNLV. He’s done the same with Oklahoma this year.

Kruger met Oregon in 2007. He and the Ducks are one win away from facing each other this year.

Kansas was a 1 seed under Bill Self in 2007, and it reached the Elite Eight. The first two facts are already in existence in 2016. KU can get back to the Elite Eight with a win over Maryland this year.


A few other items to make sure the notebook is drained in full:

* Mike Brey has now made Sweet 16s in consecutive seasons for the first time in his tenure at Notre Dame.

* Mark Few has now made Sweet 16s in consecutive seasons for the second time at Gonzaga… and for the first time since 2001. Yes, it had been that long.

* Tom Crean and Roy Williams coach against each other this Friday. They coached against each other at the 2003 Final Four when Crean was at Marquette and Roy was at Kansas.

* Of the 16 schools left in the Sweet 16, Wisconsin is the ONLY ONE to make three straight Sweet 16s.

* In the Midwest Regional, the seed grouping is 1-4-10-11. The same grouping existed in the 2014 South Regional. In that regional, the 11 beat the 10 (Dayton over Stanford) and the 1 beat the 4 (Florida over UCLA). Most will expect an 11-1 regional final between Gonzaga and Virginia this week.

* Two regionals have one team from four separate conferences: The West has Duke (ACC), Oregon (Pac-12), Oklahoma (Big 12), and Texas A&M (SEC). The South has Kansas (Big 12), Villanova (Big East), Miami (ACC), and Maryland (Big Ten).

* Two regionals have at least one if not two conferences with multiple teams: The East has two from the Big Ten and the ACC (Indiana/Wisconsin; Notre Dame/North Carolina). The Midwest has two from the ACC, Syracuse and Virginia.

About Matt Zemek

Matt Zemek is the managing editor of The Student Section, covering college football and basketball with associate editors Terry Johnson and Bart Doan. Mr. Zemek is the editor of Crossover Chronicles, covering the NBA. He is also Bloguin's lead tennis writer, covering the major tournaments. He contributes to other Bloguin sites, such as The AP Party.