6 teams with 10 or more losses most ever to reach Sweet 16

Published 8:00 pm Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The NCAA Tournament has never had so many teams with so many losses make it so far.

Six of the regional semifinalists have 10 or more losses, including three with 13. The reaction around college basketball has been a collective shrug.

There simply are more opportunities to lose nowadays.

That’s because teams are playing more regular-season games than ever, and top programs are trying to schedule mostly high-caliber nonconference opponents which can enhance their resumes for NCAA Tournament selection and seeding.

“There was a time years and years ago where you’d feel like if you had 20 wins you’d get in the tournament,” North Carolina State coach Mark Gottfried said. “Now it comes down to who you schedule. You may lose some games because you’re playing a difficult nonconference schedule. And then in our league, it’s tough night in and night out with 18 games in the ACC.”

Gottfried’s Wolfpack, Xavier and UCLA all have 13 losses heading into this week’s games. Michigan State and North Carolina have 11 each and Oklahoma has 10.

The previous record for number of Sweet 16 teams with double-digit losses was five, last year and in 1985 and ’86, according to STATS. The only other time there were even two 13-loss teams was 2000.

The NCAA has allowed teams to play as many as 31 regular-season games since 2006-07. Before that the maximum was 28. With conference tournaments, some teams now play 34 or 35 games before the NCAA Tournament. As of this week, 58 teams had played at least 35 games. A decade ago, only 13 teams played that many.

Other factors, ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said, are that high major teams are beating each other up in conference play, and premier programs are sought out for made-for-TV nonconference games.

Beating a heavyweight can help a lot, and losing to one might only hurt a little in the eyes of the NCAA selection committee.

N.C. State (22-13), which plays Louisville (26-8) in Syracuse, New York, on Friday, used strong nonconference schedules to get off the NCAA bubble in 2012 and 2014. This season the Wolfpack played tournament teams Boise State, Wofford, Cincinnati and Purdue before losing twice to Virginia, splitting meetings with North Carolina and beating Duke and Louisville in ACC play.

Xavier (23-13), which plays Arizona (33-3) in Los Angeles on Thursday, lost nine games in the Big East. That conference sent six teams to the NCAA Tournament, and Xavier is the only one still standing.

“I think it’s great that the Big East has been able to test us with some really tough teams,” center Matt Stainbrook said, “and I think the fact that we’ve grown as a team together has made us really special at this point.”

UCLA (22-13), which plays Gonzaga (34-2) in Houston on Saturday, might be the most charmed of the 13-loss teams. The Bruins won their tournament opener over SMU thanks to a 3-point goaltending call on the final play, and in their second game they drew a 14th-seeded UAB team coming off an upset of Iowa State. A No. 14 hasn’t won more than one game in the tournament since 1997.

Double-digit loss teams meet in Syracuse on Friday when Michigan State (25-11) takes on Oklahoma (24-10). The Spartans lost to heavyweights Duke, Kansas and Notre Dame before they were beaten six times in the Big Ten. Oklahoma wouldn’t have 10 losses if it weren’t for, as Bilas said, “slipping on banana peels” against Creighton and Washington.

As for North Carolina (26-11), which plays Wisconsin (33-3) in Los Angeles on Thursday, there’s no shame in what it did against the nation’s second-toughest schedule.

“They played Kentucky, they played Virginia twice, they played Duke twice, they played Notre Dame twice. That’s why they have 11 losses,” Bilas said. “It’s not because they (stink).”