Friday, March 19, 2004

Rattlers not of the doubting mindset


But history is against them

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

No. 1 UK vs. No. 16
Florida A&M

Tipoff: 7:10 p.m. today, Columbus.

Radio: WSAI-AM (1530).

WCPO video

COLUMBUS - After Thursday's games, there are 48 teams still playing for basketball's national championship. That Florida A&M is one of them will not scare the other 47.

The 16th-seeded Rattlers (15-16) are perhaps the only ones believing they can beat top-seeded Kentucky (26-4) tonight in a first-round game at Nationwide Arena.

"It wouldn't shock me, but it would shock the world," FAMU senior guard Terrence Woods said.

Speaking of long shots: Among posted odds of each team winning the Tournament, UK is generally 5-1 or 6-1. FAMU, a 28 1/2-point underdog tonight, is such a long shot to win the Tourney that one can't even bet on it. An analysis done by TeamRankings.com, which gave UK a 6.78 percent chance to win the NCAAs, gave FAMU zero percent. It had a 0.8 percent chance of winning today.

All of which gives Gil Graybill a reason to root for the Rattlers. Graybill, a computer programmer and self-described "numbers junkie" in Raleigh, N.C., wrote a statistical analysis in 1997 of the odds of the average 16 seed winning the Tournament. His conclusion: 348 million-to-1.

Since the Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, creating 16 seeds in each region, a No. 1 seed has never lost to a 16. The record is 79-0 through Thursday.

"I would love to see a No. 16 win a game," Graybill said. "Just because that's what America roots for - the little guys with no chance coming up and beating the big boys."

Graybill got his idea when he read somewhere in 1997 that 16th-seeded Fairfield had a "5 gazillion to 1 shot" to win the Tourney. "Gazillion isn't even a number," Graybill said. "So I wondered what their odds really were."

He took the average margin of defeat for 16th seeds, which was 23 points, and calculated a standard deviation to determine how often a 16 seed should win: 2.5 percent, or 40-1.

Graybill had to add in some hypothetical values thereafter, as in what the odds would be of a No. 16 beating a No. 8 in the second round - he chose 10-1 - and so forth. Graybill knows his 40-1 first-round odds haven't shown up in the 0-79 mark.

"It does not indicate that the analysis is faulty," Graybill said. "(The 16s) are just on a bit of a bad run. I checked the formula for results of 2s-vs.-15s and 3s-vs.-14s, and the analysis came out smelling like a rose - almost a perfect predictor."

Now for what gives FAMU hope: Of the 79 1-vs.-16 games, five have been decided by four or fewer points - one in overtime and two others by a point. Most famously, Princeton in 1989 had two potential game-winning shots against top-ranked Georgetown blocked by Alonzo Mourning in the final six seconds.

"We just want to have a chance where in the last minutes of the game, we're close, and the pressure goes to them," FAMU senior guard Moses White said.

The Rattlers are No. 262 in the Ratings Percentage Index. The lowest team UK has played is Tennessee Tech, which finished 221 in the RPI. The top team FAMU beat before its play-in game victory over Lehigh was South Carolina State, with a 218 RPI.

"We've got to be ready, because history's going to be made someday," UK's Chuck Hayes said of the 16th-seed drought.

Said teammate Kelenna Azubuike: "We try to act like they're the No. 1 team in the nation. ... In this Tournament, you never know. We just can't let (a loss) happen."

E-mail nschmidt@enquirer.com




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