By Sarah Fahey
A No. 16 seed has never beaten a No. 1 in the NCAA tournament since the field was expanded in 1985.
Of course, that was the year Villanova beat Georgetown 66-64 for the NCAA title even though the Cats were a 9 1/2-point dog!
So anything can happen, and Vegas thinks this could be that anything year.
As of early Tuesday, top-seeded Kansas was only a 14-point favorite over 16-seeded Penn after opening at -15½ in their first-round game tomorrow afternoon.
According to bookmaker.eu, the last No. 1 seed to have a smaller first-round spread was Memphis vs. Oral Roberts in 2006. The Tigers were 10½-point favorites and won 94-78.
Dating to 1996, only four one seeds were fewer than 16-point favorites: North Carolina (-15½ vs. Vermont in 2012), Syracuse (-15½ vs. UNC Asheville in 2012), Syracuse (-15½ vs. Vermont in 2010) and Memphis in 2006.
The top-overall seed, Virginia, is a 22½-point favorite — fellow No. 1s Xavier and Villanova await their opponents — while No. 2 seeds North Carolina (-19½), Duke (-20) and Purdue (-20½) are all heavier favorites. The fourth two seed, Cincinnati, is also a 14-point favorite.
What’s the catch with the Jayhawks?
The Big 12 champs have been ranked all year, never lower than 14th, but could have an interesting matchup with the Quakers in a clash of strengths.
The Ivy League champs have held opponents to 29.2 percent shooting from beyond the arc, good for second lowest in the country. That’s where Kansas has made its mark this year, shooting 40.3 percent from downtown (13th in the country).
Ivy League teams also have proven to be tough outs in recent years — usually as higher seeds. Princeton lost to Notre Dame by two in 2017, Yale upset Baylor and nearly Duke in 2016 and Harvard fell to North Carolina by two in 2015 after scoring first-round wins in 2014 and 2013.
There have been some close calls for top seeds in the first round. Fifteen 1-vs.-16 games have been decided by single digits — the last being Arizona 68, Weber State 59 in 2014.
The spreads for 1-vs.-16 matchups have soared as high as 46½ — which Duke failed to cover in 1999, only beating No. 16 Florida A&M by 41 points.