Both No. 1 seeds held serve and advanced to the Sweet 16, but a double-digit Cinderella busted some brackets as the final three games of the Saturday slate of the men’s NCAA tournament came to an end.
Let’s start with the upset. Gonzaga, the Midwest’s No. 11 seed, posted a very impressive victory over 3-seed Utah to secure a spot in the Sweet 16.
This is the fourth time the Zags have entered the tournament with a double-digit seed and wound up in the Sweet 16. It’s the seventh time the Bulldogs have won multiple games at the Big Dance.
Out of the 13 million entries to ESPN’s Tournament Challenge, 42 percent predicted the Utes and Bulldogs would meet in the second round, and just over 37 percent of those who projected this matchup saw the Zags moving to the Sweet 16. Overall, 19.4 percent of entries picked Gonzaga to advance to the Sweet 16.
Utah was the least popular pick among 3-seeds to make it to the Sweet 16, picked in only 52.3 percent of brackets to reach the second week of the tourney. The Utes were also the least selected 3-seed in the Elite Eight, Final Four and championship game. Still, 6.8 million entries were submitted with the Utes in the Sweet 16, slightly more than 1 million of those brackets picking Utah to move on to the Elite Eight.
The Zags, on the other hand, were the most popular double-digit seed among Sweet 16 selections and Final Four picks. Gonzaga was picked to go to the Sweet 16 and Final Four (but not the Elite Eight) more often than seventh-seeded Iowa and 9-seeds Butler, Cincinnati and Providence.
Gonzaga is guaranteed a matchup with a double-digit seed in its next game, as 10-seed Syracuse and 15-seed Middle Tennessee State meet Sunday for the right to face the Bulldogs in Chicago. If the Orange can defeat the Blue Raiders, it will bring about a matchup predicted by only 1.3 percent of users, with 0.6 percent (just under 80,000 entries) picking Gonzaga to move on in that situation. If the Blue Raiders win against Syracuse, only 19,585 brackets (0.15 percent of all entries) will have correctly predicted a Gonzaga/MTSU tilt, with 11,337 (58 percent) of those entries picking the Bulldogs to advance.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Kansas moved on to the Sweet 16 with a victory over UConn.
The top-seeded Jayhawks are the most popular pick to reach the Sweet 16, as well as the Final Four and title game. They’re also the most popular national champion. So without a doubt, quite a few Tournament Challenge players were happy to move on to the second week with their champion still in the running after the chaos of the first two days of the tourney.
This particular matchup of NCAA men’s basketball powerhouses was projected in more than 9.1 million brackets, with approximately 8.3 million of those picking Kansas to move on to the next round.
The Huskies were a popular first-round pick, moving on in 71.1 percent of brackets despite being a 9-seed, but they were also a popular sleeper pick for the later rounds. No team seeded lower than fifth was a more popular pick to win it all than UConn. The Huskies were crowned champions in more brackets than Iowa State, Cal and Utah, as well as every team seeded sixth or lower.
Up next for Kansas will be either Maryland or Hawaii. Plenty of Tournament Challenge players will be happy if Maryland is the opponent (the Terrapins are in 55.2 percent of Sweet 16s), while only 3.9 percent of entries will have correctly predicted a potential Kansas/Hawaii contest. Nearly all of those brackets pick the Jayhawks to advance (94 percent pick Kansas over the Warriors).
And in Saturday’s finale, No. 1 seed North Carolina held off ninth-seeded Providence.
Just under 7.7 million brackets called these two teams meeting in the second round, and 93 percent of those players correctly tabbed the Heels to win.
Entering the game, UNC was the second-most-popular pick to win it all among teams still alive in the tourney. With Michigan State out of the running, the Heels assume the role as second favorite behind Kansas, trailing only the Jayhawks and the eliminated Spartans as the most popular picks to the Sweet 16, Final Four and championship game (and to win the title).
Providence, on the other hand, was predicted to move on to the Sweet 16 in only 4.9 percent of brackets. The Friars had the sixth-lowest popularity among single-digit seeds in Sweet 16 selections. They were a popular first-round pick, with just over six out of 10 entries correctly clicking their name and advancing them to the second round, but the faith in Providence ended before the second week of the tourney.
UNC advances to play Indiana, a matchup picked by surprisingly few participants (since most backed Kentucky to advance over the Hoosiers). The Heels are big favorites according to Tournament Challenge players, as just over 2.5 million of the approximately 3.3 million entries to feature this Sweet 16 matchup have the Heels moving on to the Elite Eight.
Fun facts from the Midwest region
Gonzaga’s trip to the Sweet 16 means it will be very difficult for Tournament Challenge participants to have correctly picked the Midwest region. Only 6.4 percent of brackets have the Bulldogs paired with Iowa State and Virginia in the round of 16.
Add in the fourth team from this region and the odds get even slimmer, as Syracuse paired with the three teams mentioned above can be found on only 37,213 entries, or 0.3 percent of brackets submitted.
But if you’re looking for virtually impossible odds, consider how many brackets would be correct if we see a second victory for Middle Tennessee State. At that point, just 1,848 entries, or 0.014 percent of all brackets, would have correctly predicted the four Sweet 16 teams in this one region.
One bracket stands alone with 39 correct picks so far, meaning only one of its selections has fallen flat over the first three days of the tournament. However, that one pick was Michigan State, and the user who submitted the bracket had the Spartans running the table and winning the national title. As a result, this participant currently leads the bracket challenge but has a very slim chance of finishing with the top score with the champion eliminated.
Thirteen brackets feature 38 correct selections, and seven of those 13 have a national title winner other than Michigan State or Kentucky (four picks for Kansas, one for Oklahoma, one for Oregon and one for Duke).
Overall, 53,787 brackets correctly picked all eight of Saturday’s games, while 102,037 struck out on every game and ended Saturday with zero points in the second round.
President Obama’s bracket: The President hasn’t had as good of a run in the second round as he did in the first, ending Friday in the 84th percentile but tumbling to the 76th percentile overall after Saturday’s games. President Obama picked five of eight games correctly, missing on Indiana’s upset over Kentucky while automatically losing out on points thanks to first-round upsets to Seton Hall and Purdue. Those picks blocked him from being able to correctly select Gonzaga and Iowa State, respectively, as Sweet 16 participants.
The President did correctly pick Kansas, North Carolina, Miami, Duke and Virginia as round-of-32 winners, and his championship game selections (KU and UNC) are both still alive.