The madness is missing.
After the opening four days of the NCAA Tournament, ratings are up but upsets are down.
According to the official March Madness Twitter account, First Round viewership “averaged a 6.1/14 metered market household rating/share,” tying it with the 2015 tournament, which is the highest rated First Round of the tournament since 1991. Friday’s primetime games also set 28-year highs, while First Round live streams were up 20 percent from last year.
But take a peek at the the remaining 16 teams, you will quickly realize that tournament has been chalk so far.
The 12th-seeded Oregon Ducks are the highest remaining seed after they beat a 13th-seeded UC Irvine team in the last game of the weekend on Sunday night to advance to the Sweet 16 where they will face No. 1 Virginia on Thursday. And besides 5th-seeded Auburn being scheduled to play No. 1 seed North Carolina on Friday night in Kansas City, after beating No. 4 Kansas last Saturday, every other matchup this week will feature chalk matchups where No. 1 seeds will face No. 4 seeds, as No 2 seeds will take on No. 3 seeds.
That doesn’t usually happen in this tournament.
According to NCAA.com, they have tracked millions of online brackets from ESPN, CBS, Yahoo, Sports Illustrated and FOX, and only one bracket is still perfect. A bracket named “Center Road” has somehow managed to correctly pick all 48 games so far, defying the odds which are 1 in 281,474,976,710,656.
If the tournament continues as it has, “Center Road” could still be perfect as they have picked the higher seed in all of the Sweet 16 games, and continues that trend into the Elite 8, except where they’ve picked No. 2 Kentucky to beat No. 1 North Carolina for a trip to the Final Four in Minneapolis.
To give some historical context, a tournament with this much chalk is weird.
Since 2010, the 2016 and 2017 Sweet 16s are the closest to anything that we’ve experienced so far, but they still weren’t as matter-of-fact as this tournament has been.
2016 Sweet 16:
No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 5 Maryland
No. 3 Miami vs. No. 2 Villanova
No. 1 Oregon vs. No. 4 Duke
No. 3 Texas A&M vs. No. 2 Oklahoma
No. 1 UNC vs. No. 5 Indiana
No. 6 Notre Dame vs. No. 7 Wisconsin
No. 1 UVA vs. No. 4 Iowa State
No. 11 Gonzaga vs. No. 10 Syracuse
The Final Four that year included No. 2 Villanova, No. 2 Oklahoma, No. 1 UNC, and No. 10 Syracuse, with No. 2 Villanova defeating No. 1 UNC in the national championship game.
2017 Sweet 16:
No. 8 Wisconsin vs. No. 4 Florida
No. 3 Baylor vs. No. 7 South Carolina
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 4 West Virginia
No. 11 Xavier vs. No. 2 Arizona
No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 4 Purdue
No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 7 Michigan
No. 1 UNC vs. No. 4 Butler
No. 3 UCLA vs. No. 2 Kentucky
That Final Four was made up of No. 7 South Carolina, No. 1 Gonzaga, No. 3 Oregon, and No. 1 UNC, with No. 1 UNC beating No. 1 Gonzaga in the title game.
Given the parity of the seeds in this year’s tournament, there are only two “upsets” that could happen down the stretch. After Duke barely survived against UCF on Sunday by 1 point, a loss to Virginia Tech on Friday would be an upset, given that the Blue Devils are the No. 1 overall seed. However, Virginia Tech beat Duke last month in Blacksburg 77-72, but the Hokies were without starting point guard Justin Robinson, while the Blue Devils were without the services of Zion Williamson.
That means that the 1/12 matchup between Virginia and Oregon on Thursday night is the only potential “true upset” left in the tournament.
Murray State, Liberty, and Oregon won opening round games as 12-seeds against five-seeds, and 13th-seeded UC Irvine knocking off a 4-seed. Every other time a lower seed has beaten a higher seeded team this tournament, there has only been a five-seeded difference between the teams.
And that’s just talking seeding. In the Round of 32, all 16 betting favorites won, often in blowout fashion — a first since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
In online brackets, Duke is the popular pick to win it all. Last year, that title went to Villanova, which wound up winning its second national championship in three years, as the second-ranked No. 1 seed of the tournament.
So what does all this mean?
Picking the favorites was, and is, the way to go this year. The only madness that has happened this year, the only madness that still could, is taking place among the brackets with limited imagination and copious faith in blue blood.