While we debate whether that was the greatest championship game of all time (it probably was), let’s also ask: Was Villanova’s run through the NCAA Tournament the most impressive of the modern era?
A recap of Villanova’s path (opponent’s seed in parentheses):
Round 1: (15) UNC Asheville, 86-56
Round 2: (7) Iowa, 87-68
Sweet 16: (3) Miami, 92-69
Elite Eight: (1) Kansas, 64-59
Final Four: (2) Oklahoma, 95-51
Championship: (1) North Carolina, 77-74
Based on opponents’ seeds, only Villanova in 1985 and Connecticut in 2014 had a tougher path to a title since the Tournament expanded in 1985 than Villanova this year.* The seeds of the Wildcats’ opponents this Tournament totaled 29. The ’85 ’Cats faced seeds that totaled just 20; UConn’s total was 28.
*The linked reference mistakenly notes that the Tournament didn’t expand until 1986, and thus omits Villanova’s 1985 path.
As for average margin of victory, Villanova’s 20.67 mark ranks behind only Kentucky’s 21.5 in 1996 for highest since expansion. It ranks seventh all time. And, for me, margin is what factors most heavily into determining the most dominant Tournament performance.
The 1996 Kentucky team won its games by 38, 24, 31, 20, 7, and 9, against seeds that totaled 36. Both Wildcats had to play the No. 1 team in the AP Poll and blew out a top-10 team (Oklahoma was No. 7 this year; Kentucky beat No. 9 Wake Forest by 20 in the regional final).
There is no strict formula and my purpose was not to definitively crown the most dominant Tournament team ever. But the 2016 Villanova team is certainly in the conversation.
We’re (better than) No. 1!
I always enjoy looking at the teams that beat the national champion. This year, they’re all good teams. Villanova doesn’t have to apologize for losses to Oklahoma, Virginia, Providence, Xavier, and Seton Hall, all of which made the NCAA Tournament. That’s not always the case. Duke only lost to three teams last season, but one was Miami, an NIT team. The year before, eventual champ UConn lost to SMU (twice) and Houston (a 17-16 squad), neither of which made the field.
Worst team of the Tourney
My dad got me started on this many years ago. He determined the Tournament’s “worst” team by working backwards from the loser of the championship game. It’s easiest to explain through an example. This year, North Carolina lost in the title game. UNC beat Syracuse, which beat Virginia, which beat Iowa State, which beat Arkansas Little Rock, which Purdue. So Purdue is the “worst” team of the 2016 NCAA Tournament, because they lost to a team that lost its next game to a team that lost its next game, and so on. Given the way Purdue fell apart at the end of their game against Little Rock, I think they’re a fitting choice.