Time for No. 16 to beat No. 1?

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Other losses stay with the old coach more. Like the one at Pauley Pavilion, when his team had John Wooden's wildly talented 1969 team on the ropes only to lose by one point.

Or worse, the 1966 state championship game at Reading High School, when his team led Nanticoke by five with two minutes to play and still managed to lose.

"That one," Pete Carril remembered, "bothers me more, maybe more than all of them."

To the general public, Carril is known for another defeat, a game billed as an epic David versus Goliath then, a result that even now, on the week of its 25th anniversary, still stands the test of time:

March 17, 1989: No. 1 seed Georgetown 50, No. 16 Princeton 49.

In that same 1989 NCAA tournament, East Tennessee State would also lose by one to Oklahoma. A year later, Murray State and Popeye Jones would take Michigan State to overtime in another 1 versus 16 game.

But the Tigers' near miss, in a battle of geeky hoops nerds versus tradition-rich basketball behemoth, remains the ultimate almost-Cinderella moment. Since that 1989 season, 24 more sets of No. 16 seeds have tried to knock off a No. 1 seed. All, like those before them, have failed, adding up to an impressive 116-0 record for those resting on the top line.

And for the most part, it hasn't even been close. Just 14 of the 1-16 games have been decided by single digits; the two in 1989 were the only ones decided by a single point.

The average gap? A Grand Canyon-like 24.8 points per game.

"I thought for sure someone else would do it by now," said Carril, now 83, who recently sat down at an on-campus spot to reminisce about the game. "I never thought we'd be the last to come so close."

He's not alone. Most people close to the game are stunned that the ultimate Cinderella moment hasn't happened, especially as parity has become the game's biggest buzzword.

And most think it's not too far away.

"I think it can happen anytime," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Really, it's just a matter of time."

If there is a sign that we're closer, look no further than one line beneath those No. 1 seeds.

After an 11-year hiatus, a No. 15 seed has claimed victory three times in the past two years: Norfolk State over Missouri and Lehigh over Duke in 2012 and Florida Gulf Coast's Dunk City over Georgetown en route to the Sweet 16 last year.

There have been narrow escapes lately. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Syracuse's seven-point victory over UNC Asheville in 2012 was the first single-digit margin of victory by a No. 1 over a No. 16 seed since 1997. Last year, Western Kentucky lost to Kansas by just seven and Southern made it scary for Gonzaga, falling by six. So it would seem the climate for the shiniest of shining moments has to be changing.

"Well, I would say, yes, we're close," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "But that's a large part because we're a 1-seed and Western Kentucky had us down at halftime. But seriously, I do think we're a lot closer. A lot."


So why, after nearly 30 years without the ultimate bracket buster, do folks think we're suddenly near a hoops apocalypse?

Plenty of reasons, some statistical, some subtle and some slightly sociological.

Start with the numbers, since most everything starts and finishes with the numbers.

"It's because of the 3-point shot," Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. "If you make a lot of 3s and you defend the 3, you're going to have a chance to win. It doesn't matter how much more or less talent you have. People ask me all the time for a more sophisticated answer, but that's it. If you make 3s, you have a better chance of winning."

Count Ken Pomeroy among the skeptics who think we're not as close to the big upset as everyone else does. The stats guru thinks there is actually less parity than people think and that the committee is doing a better job than ever seeding the tournament. In his eyes, Princeton in 1989 -- with its 19-8 overall record and 11-3 conference mark -- was a decent 16-seed, maybe better than you would see today.

But if there is a gap closer, he does agree it could be the 3. Look at the three near-misses in the past two years: Southern went 10-for-23 against Gonzaga from beyond the arc, UNC Asheville sunk nine 3s against Syracuse. The outlier, Western Kentucky, hit only three, but that was still three more than Kansas.

"There's no doubt that can be an equalizer," Pomeroy said. "Look in the Patriot League at a team like Colgate that shoots 40 percent from 3, a team like that, anything can happen if they get hot."

Hot, of course, can take on many forms in a one-and-done basketball tournament. Self wonders if the change in the tournament structure might give a team an advantage.

Three years ago, the NCAA introduced the First Four. Two of those winners slide into a 1-16 game.

"It may sound like a minor thing," Self said, "but it could be an advantage from a nerve standpoint."

That hasn't happened yet. All 16 opening-round winners that were 16-seeds have been pretty well handled in their next game. But VCU and La Salle rode that momentum to a Final Four and an Elite Eight, respectively. So it's not out of the question to think a 16-seed could do it.

Maybe the biggest thing the underdogs have in their favor, though, is that which you can't quantify.

Not too long ago, No. 16 seeds were happy to be in the field, their season reaching its apex on Selection Sunday.

In 1993, Rider needed a game-winning buzzer-beater to win its conference tournament. The Broncs played Jamal Mashburn-led Kentucky that year.

There was no real expectation of winning, just a hope of not being treated, as one fan memorably yelled from the stands, like lambs to the slaughter. For the record, they were. Kentucky won 96-52.

Rick Byrd once felt the same way. He first took Belmont to the NCAA tournament in 2006. The Bruins played UCLA, and Byrd remembers thinking, "I don't know if I'll ever get back here, so I am really just happy to be here."

But as the years have worn on and the appearances have piled up, his attitude has changed. In 2008, the Bruins were a No. 15 seed against heavily favored Duke in Washington, D.C.

Forget that the Bruins had never won an NCAA game or that the Blue Devils owned three titles. Belmont was leading by one with two minutes to play. Not until Gerald Henderson hit a driving layup with 11.9 seconds left could Duke exhale.

"Inside of eight minutes, we were always within striking distance," Byrd said. "We felt like we belonged in the game on that day. Two days later, they might have beaten us by 30. But at some point a team starts to believe. We felt like we belonged."

That feeling, at least a little, dovetails into the last part, the at least pseudo-sociological portion of things.

You aren't going to see many one-and-done players on a 16-seed. In fact, you're more likely to see those decrepit dinosaurs called juniors and seniors. Believe it or not, there is still a value in experience.

"When you get guys who are 22, 23 playing for an established coach, a lot of times these teams have won," Krzyzewski said. "Maybe this is their first NCAA tournament, but the kids have won and they're men more than boys. They're confident in who they are. They aren't giddy about being there. They're not in awe of high-ranking teams. And now the high-profile team usually has younger guys. That's when it will happen."


In the years leading up to Princeton's game against Georgetown, the Ivy League schools as No. 16 seeds had fared especially poorly. The four Ancient Eight automatic qualifiers before 1989 lost by an average of 35 points. So lopsided were the scores that there was even talk about rescinding the Ivy's automatic bid altogether.

No surprise, then, that Vegas set the early line at 23 points.

"We had a good team, but Georgetown wasn't the No. 1 team in the East; they were the No. 1 team in the country, so that scared my team," Carril said. "When they were having their pizza party [on Selection Sunday], it all of a sudden turned to mush when they saw their draw."

But Carril, a son of a steel mill worker who never had anything handed to him, told his players that he didn't believe in playing for anything but to win. He reminded them that they were older -- mostly juniors -- and had played plenty of big games and won more than their share.

By around Wednesday, after he had "chewed their tail about it pretty good," the players started to believe him. As the game wore on, they believed in their old coach even more. The Tigers, using every second of the then-45-second shot clock, led by eight at the half, a raucous St. Paddy's Day crowd firmly on their side. ("I didn't know we had that many Irishmen on our team," Carril joked.)

In the final seconds, freshman Alonzo Mourning rose up not once, but twice, blocking Bob Scrabis and Kit Mueller in the final seconds, preserving the win and order in the basketball universe.

"What happened after the game was over, there was a sense of euphoria on the part of the players and not to be blamed because it was such an accomplishment," Carril said. "But I told them, 'You're going to feel good for about three days, and then it's going to hit you on the fourth day like a ton of bricks, that you could have won this thing.' And that's sort of what happened."

Seven years later, Carril would finally get his elusive NCAA victory. The Tigers beat UCLA, the team that had haunted him since that 1969 loss. But those Bruins weren't those Bruins, and Princeton was a No. 13 seed, still an underdog but not the ultimate underdog.

Carril retired after that one, his Hall of Fame career wrapped up with 525 wins and 273 losses.

And one loss no one will forget, even if it doesn't bother the old coach so much.

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