Consider two things. First, our tendency as fans to align ourselves with teams rather than players is amplified by a magnitude of 100 when we watch college sports. The star players are often gone within a year or two, and aside from the coaching staff and, to borrow from Seinfeld, the laundry, there are no more than three or four years' worth of continuity.
Second, the NCAA Basketball Tournament, more so than even the World Cup or the Olympics, compels us to follow teams that aren't our own. We may perceive half the teams we're penciling into our brackets with emotional indifference, but we are putting a moment of thought into whether they'll win or lose, and we are watching their games.
It's no surprise, then, that an NCAA Tournament team's identity is often swallowed whole by its seed. In the 2010 tournament, St. Mary's reached the Sweet 16. Who were they? To most of us, a 10-seed and nothing more. When we split our attention 65 ways (and, starting this year, 68), we have an excuse to judge a team entirely on the merits of the number that precedes it in parentheses.
You'll be forgiven for finding this position untenable, but here it is anyway: concerning the tournament, there is no Duke or Kansas or Kentucky or UCLA or North Carolina. There are only 1-seeds that change their shirts every year. There is no St. Mary's, there is only the 10-seed that happens to be wearing St. Mary's blue this trip around.
The 64-team bracket format has been in place since 1985. This means that there have been 104 1-seeds, and 104 16-seeds, and 104 of every seed in between. Who are these seeds? What is their legacy, and what should we expect of them in the 2011 tournament?
In an effort to find out, I interviewed each and every one. Here is Part 1 of this series of interviews, featuring seeds 16 through 9.
The 16th seed's success rate in each round of the NCAA Tournament, 1985-2010
SB Nation. Thanks for sitting down with us.
16th Seed. Oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god. Oh. God.
SBN. I'm sorry?
16th. Thank you so much for letting me sit in your chair. I'm so happy. Where did you get this chair?
SBN. I'm not sure.
16th. I am so happy to be sitting in this chair. It's so neat! Gosh. [Stands up and inspects chair.] I bet there's all kinds of neat stuff you could do with this chair! You could play musical chairs with it! Or just sit on it like folks normally do. What is it that people like about sitting so much? Because obviously, you could stand all day if you really wanted to. Thanks again for letting me sit in your chair.
SBN. You're welcome.
16th. Here's a joke I just thought of. What's all this talk about Daylight Savings? I must have lost my daylight coupons in the mail!
SBN. Tell me about your school.
16th. Did you like my joke about time?
SBN. Just tell me about your school.
16th. We have an enrollment of 600 students and we are really expensive for no reason.
SBN. You've never, ever won a basketball game. How do you feel about that?
16th. Oh, goodness. You spend more than a day in a high-falootin' 24-hour megalopolis such as Kansas City or Indianapolis, you're gonna pay for it, buster! It's just so expensive. A Filet-O-Fish costs three dollars! In fact, I was telling my wife, Martha, about the time--
SBN. What's Duke like?
16th. F*** Duke.
The 15th seed's success rate in each round of the NCAA Tournament, 1985-2010
15th Seed. Want to know what really bothers me?
SB Nation. What's that?
15th. We're the only team to advance to the Field of 32, but no further. You know what we've done that a nine-seed has never done? Beat a two-seed. We've done it four times, but apparently we're not good enough for an alliterative nickname.
SBN. Like the Sweet 16 or Final Four.
15th. Exactly. "Field of 32"? Were they contracting the creative department on a per-colloquialism basis? They may as well call it the "second round."
SBN. Well, it's difficult to come up with an alliteration for "thirty-two" that really rolls off the tongue.
15th. Thirsty 32... Thrifty 32... Thespian 32...
SBN. What about, "The 32"?
15th. That's sort of cool, but I hear that and I picture either a John Grisham book about a hung jury, or a Tom Clancy book about some kind of elite task force.
SBN. A 32-member jury? I don't think juries are that large.
15th. Then it's about a jury in the future, or in space, or something. I don't ****ing know.
SBN. "Thankful 32"?
15th. For us, the second round simply means hanging out in Indianapolis for two more days and then losing. What the Hell would we have to be thankful for?
SBN. There are some outlet malls outside of Indianapolis.
15th. Is there a J. Crew?
SBN. I think so.
15th. Big-city clothing at low, low prices? "Thankful 32" it is!
The 14th seed's success rate in each round of the NCAA Tournament, 1985-2010
SB Nation. You're...
Wofford. Wofford. We're Wofford.
SBN. You're kind of ruining the idea here.
W. The idea being?
SBN. That there are no specific teams and that seeds govern identity.
W. Yes, well, we're the 14th seed every year.
SBN. All four 14-seeds?
W. All four. Every year. Look it up.
SBN. That can't possibly be accurate... oh Lord. You're right. How come no one has noticed?
W. I'll give you three guesses.
SBN. Hmm. Well, perhaps it's--
W. It's because nobody gives a s***.
The 13th seed's success rate in each round of the NCAA Tournament, 1985-2010
SB Nation. I'll have to admit something. I've never, ever heard of your school.
13th Seed. Well, it's a pretty interesting story. At some point in the 1800s, there were these two guys who started a university. Everyone was like, "you should give your university a normal name." But they were like, "balls to that. We're just going to put our names on the front of the building and put a hyphen between them. Boom! Now nobody knows which state our university is in and we're going to be super-tiny forever."
SBN. It's very confusing for everyone whenever you reach the Sweet 16.
13th. Yeah, that was a great year. I really don't know whether another dental school will ever make it that far in the tournament.
The 12th seed's success rate in each round of the NCAA Tournament, 1985-2010
SB Nation. 2002 was quite a year for you!
12th Seed. Indeed. It's funny to look back on that tournament. We're wearing those god-awful Missouri jerseys in all those old photos...
SBN. Those were the good old days!
12th. [chuckles] Indeed. Those were the aughts.
SBN. Reaching the Elite Eight still stands as a phenomenal achievement. What do you think it means for low seeds such as yourself to get that far, if only once?
12th. The 14th seed, the 16th seed... I'll tell you, they were all so happy for me. They were so proud. I remember their phone calls, and it was just... it was awful.
SBN. Awful? Why?
12th. It's like... well, imagine you're trying to break out of prison. You know it's a long shot, but you've got to try. You keep digging at your cell wall, bit by bit, for years. And then one day you're picking away at it and a little of it comes loose and you see through to the other side. You stick your hands through it. You can't believe it. You're in a state of delirium, putting down whatever crude implement you were using to peck away at it in your own patient way, just clawing away at it like a rabid mouse until your fingertips start bleeding. And then you crawl through and you're in another cell.
SBN. I see.
12th. We didn't advance because we beat 1-Seed. We advanced because 1-Seed was beaten before they even got to us. And the 8-seed beat us anyway. That's what the other low seeds don't know. That's what I can't bear to tell them. They hear tell of the coast, and they see the glimmering ocean in all those postcards. But they don't know about the mountains. They don't see them, but those mountains are between here and there, just waiting to wear out their horses and eat their wheels to bits.
The 11th seed's success rate in each round of the NCAA Tournament, 1985-2010
SB Nation. I understand that you and 2-Seed have something of a friendly rivalry.
11th Seed. Ha! Yes, we do. He's always lording his five national championships over my head, but every time he does, I just remind him that I have a better success rate in the Elite Eight than he does.
SBN. Tell me about that 2006 season.
11th. That's a great story... okay, before I start, have you watched through Season 2 of 24?
SBN. Of course.
11th. You're sure? I don't want to spoil anything.
SBN. Yes, yes. [SPOILER ALERT. -ed.]
11th. Okay. Well, as you know, in the first two seasons, Jack Bauer has this bureaucratic asshole boss named George Mason. At the start of the second season, George Mason gets radiation poisoning and finds out he's going to die within a couple of days, but he refuses to tell this to anyone he works with, even though he has to go to the bathroom and throw up once per episode.
11th. Well, you know, they finally find the nuclear bomb, and they find out that it's impossible for them to defuse, and they only have like an hour left. So Jack Bauer decides to fly it out of Los Angeles via this crap-ass propeller plane, thereby sacrificing his life. And remember, the show was new, and the writers had shown us that they were crazy enough to actually kill off Jack Bauer. But then--
SBN. Yeah, but then Jack hears rustling in the back of the plane and who is it? It's George Mason!
SBN. And he's like, "listen, Jack, I brought you a parachute. I'm about to die anyway. Jump out, and I'll fly this plane the rest of the way. You need to fix your relationship with your daughter." Et cetera, et cetera.
11th. I know! And then the episode ends with the President looking out of Air Force One and seeing the giant mushroom cloud from a distance in the desert. It was really incredible. He was our favorite character on TV, so we thought it would be funny to sneak into the tournament with jerseys that said, "George Mason." And there you have it.
SBN. So you weren't George Mason, the school.
11th. Oh, certainly not. What a bunch of losers.
The 10th seed's success rate in each round of the NCAA Tournament, 1985-2010
SB Nation. So! You're a notoriously dangerous seed in the tournament, but you've never quite been able to break through to the next level.
10th Seed. Right. 0-for-7.
SBN. In 1987, you lost in the Elite Eight. 1-Seed beat you, 77-76. What happened?
10th. Both teams wanted it. I suppose they just wanted it more. I couldn't be prouder of these kids.
SBN. In 1990 you lost the Elite Eight game, 88-85. Why?
10th. Well, I told them before the game to score 85 points. It's my fault as a coach for not telling them to score 89 points.
SBN. 1991. 1-seed 75, 10-seed 72. Go.
10th. We learned a tough lesson that day. Points are great, but you can't score points without first performing other tasks such as dribbling and passing.
SBN. 1997. 4-seed 96, you 92, overtime.
10th. Great group of kids that year.
SBN. Please rank all groups of kids in order of greatness of the group of kids.
SBN. [clears throat] 1999. 1-seed beat you, 67-62.
10th. Basketball's a funny game. Sometimes things happen in basketball. Other times, other things happen. In other words, I strongly believe that things happen sometimes.
SBN. Prove it.
SBN. 2002. 5-seed 81, you 69.
10th. It would be impossible for me to be prouder of those kids.
SBN. What would happen if you tried to be prouder of them?
10th. I would probably barf.
SBN. 2008. You lost to 1-Seed, 59-57.
10th. We decided to try out the zone defense that day, and it backfired.
SBN. Explain the zone defense.
10th. Basically, you just send five guys on the court and tell them to just kind of take care of things. It's really free-form.
SBN. Ha! I knew there was nothing to it!
10th. Yeah, the fancy TV people are always talking about it like it's some big important thing. You just kind of go on the court and do whatever.
SBN. Will we see you employ the zone defense in the tournament this year?
10th. Well, this year we're focusing on the triangle offense, which, wouldn't it always be a pentagon offense? Still have to figure that one out.
The 9th seed's success rate in each round of the NCAA Tournament, 1985-2010
SB Nation. Do you think the NCAA Tournament is fair?
9th Seed. In the same way that dropping a mouse in a snake terrarium is fair, I suppose.
SBN. So it's not fair, then.
9th. No, no, it is. The snake doesn't cheat. It's just a snake, that's all.
SBN. The structure seems a bit off, though. You've been in the tournament 104 times, and you've made the Sweet 16 only four times. If your goal really is to advance far in the tournament, then you aren't as good as a 10-seed. Hell, you aren't as good as a 12-seed.
9th. Hmm. How often do they make it?
SBN. 17 times. Over four times as often as you have.
9th. Obviously, facing 1-Seed in the second round has a lot to do with that. And it is the 1-seed waiting for us, every single time.
SBN. But you have beaten 1-Seed before.
9th. Yeah, but it's empty. You ever play a video game, like Zelda or something, when you beat a level boss? It takes you forever, and then you finally beat him. But then you find out that the level isn't over yet, and you have to escape the dungeon before it collapses on you and kills you. And you only have, like, two hearts left.
SBN. So that's what it is. You find your treasure in the second round, and you spend the rest of the tournament trying to get out alive.
9th. We're like the Nine in Stratego. You know, the Scout. It doesn't matter how far we go. We're gonna die.
SBN. Do you see any other similarities between college basketball and Stratego?
9th. Not really. College basketball is an even mix between every game you played in the car as a kid during a long road trip.
SBN. So it's a find-a-word, a Mad Lib, license plate bingo, and a cheaply-made Travel Connect Four knockoff where the pieces don't fit in the slots correctly.
9th. Yes. Mix all those things with basketball, and you have college basketball.