Sometimes we think seeding doesn’t matter. It does. For Kennesaw State, it’s the difference between having a chance to win a Round 1 game and having a fighting chance.
When the Owls won the ASUN tournament final over Liberty, bracketologists inserted KSU into their fields of 68 as a No. 15 seed. Fifteenth seeds are 10-138 against No. 2s – a winning percentage of .068. Come 6:25 p.m. on Selection Sunday, CBS unveiled Kennesaw as a No. 14.
No. 14 seeds are 22-126 – a winning percentage of .149. Just like that, the Owls doubled their odds. Per BetOnline, the average point spread for No. 15 seeds is 14.1 points. The average for Nos. 14 is 11.2. The Nos. 2 in this tournament include UCLA, Arizona and Texas. No. 3 Xavier isn’t quite of that class.
No knock on the Musketeers. (Or “X,” as the program is known to Cincinnatians. And it’s pronounced ZAVE-ier. The “X” is silent.) Xavier has been a fine program for decades. Coach-wise, it has gone from Pete Gillen to Skip Prosser to Thad Matta to Sean Miller to Chris Mack and now back to S. Miller. This is its 23rd trip to the Big Dance. It has never, however, made the Final Four
According to Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, X is third-best of the four No. 3s. It finished second in the Big East regular season and lost to Marquette by 14 points in the tournament final. KenPom has the Big East as the nation’s fourth-best league, just behind the SEC and one spot ahead of the Pac-12.
Xavier opened as a 13.5-point favorite. Going by KenPom, KSU should have been a No. 15 seed. Three 15s – Princeton, Colgate and Vermont – are ranked above the Owls, who played only four Quad A games, losing all. The four came before Christmas. Only in a Dec. 12 game at San Diego – a No. 5 seed in this tournament – were the Owls beaten badly.
I’ve covered a few Xavier early-round games. One was against Georgia, coming off its stunning 2008 SEC tournament title under Dennis Felton. The 14th-seeded Bulldogs led by nine at the half and by 10 inside the final 14 minutes; they lost by 12. In 2015, the sixth-seeded Musketeers were tied with No. 14 Georgia State – two days after its epic rally over Baylor – inside the final 15 minutes. The Panthers lost by eight.
Kennesaw State is 16-2 since Jan. 5. It ranked 15th in College Insider’s mid-major poll last week. It ranks above the national average, again via KenPom, in offensive and defensive efficiency. It’s 33rd among 353 Division I in 3-point percentage, and when you’re searching for a Round 1 upset, the ability to make treys is the first checkmark. Though Xavier, it must be said, ranks No. 3 in 3-point percentage.
It has become an NBA truism that the pros play make-or-miss games. Every game at every level in the annals of basketball has been a make-or-miss game. Good shooting teams can have bad days. Bad shooting teams can make like Villanova against Georgetown and give us one shining moment.
KSU is stout enough to keep it close against Xavier, and when a double-digit favorite finds itself in a tight game and the “upset watches” get messaged to phones across the land … well, that’s when upsets happen.
One more number re: KSU. KenPom ranks it 58th in D-I experience. The Owls haven’t been to the Dance before, but they’ve played a lot of games together. Their five best players are seniors and juniors. Their floor leader, Terrell Burden, has played 93 collegiate games. He doesn’t get rattled. Amir Abdur-Rahim is a good coach. He doesn’t get rattled, either.
Calling it now. On Friday afternoon in Greensboro, N.C., it’ll be KSU 71, Xavier 70.
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