Has time come for a No. 16 seed to win a game in the NCAA Tournament?

SHARE Has time come for a No. 16 seed to win a game in the NCAA Tournament?

Everybody with a heart loves the underdog.

Everybody loves the small guy in the fight, the farmer against the bank, the Little Match Girl against the extreme cold.

How can you root for Goliath?

That’s why I dream of the day a No. 16 seed beats a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

It never has happened, with No. 1 seeds a ridiculous 132-0 against No. 16 seeds since the tournament went to a 64-team format in 1985.

But there’s always hope.

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Some of us remember 1989, when No. 16 Princeton lost by a point to No. 1 Georgetown and No. 16 East Tennessee State lost by one to No. 1 Oklahoma.

We remember because we were told as kids that nothing is impossible, that good beats evil and that eating spinach gives you muscles.

Sure, we found out half of what adults told us was wrong. But they were right about the anything-is-possible propaganda. We lived to see the Cubs win the World Series, didn’t we?

Several No. 15s have beaten No. 2s. (You’ll recall Middle Tennessee upsetting Michigan State in 2016.) And No. 14s have beaten No. 3s in four of the last five tourneys alone. From No. 13s on up, there are upsets galore.

But that No. 1 dominance over No. 16 is absolute, like an iron fist.

Why even celebrate making it to the tourney, all you No. 16s, if you’re just so many cheese snacks?

For No. 16s this year, we’ve got Maryland-Baltimore County against Virginia, Pennsylvania against Kansas, Radford against Villanova and North Carolina Central or Texas Southern against Xavier.

Should all those No. 16s have their return-trip tickets set for the morning after their likely one-and-done games? Probably.

But we in the United States believe in miracles, remember?

There’s still hope the Kardashians will spontaneously combust and airplane food will become edible. We think drones someday can save us from pizza pickups and Sarah Huckabee Sanders will tell the truth.

Villanova was a No. 8 seed when it won the championship in 1985, and Wisconsin was a No. 8 seed when it made it to the Final Four in 2000. Aberrations? Yes, but also dents in the armor of the absolute.

Others cracks were No. 13 Princeton upsetting No. 4 UCLA in 1996 and No. 14 Cleveland State upsetting No. 3 Indiana in 1986.

‘‘You’ll see a 16-seed beat a top seed some year,’’ giddy Hampton coach Steve Merfeld said after his No. 15 Pirates beat No. 2 Iowa State 58-57 in 2001.

Maybe Merfeld was delirious. Sure, he was. The little potbellied guy got lifted from behind by a player, and as his legs and arms thrashed in the air with joy, he looked like a june bug that had bounced off a screen door and landed upside down on the floor.

What would it take for a No. 16 to beat a No. 1? First off, the No. 16 would have to be jacked out of its collective mind, and the No. 1 would have to be bored, unable to take its foe seriously.

The No. 16 would have to be red-hot on three-pointers, and the No. 1 would have to be ice-cold from everywhere.

The No. 16 would have to keep the No. 1’s rebounders off the boards and make almost all its free throws.

The No. 16 would need one or two players having career games, making plays they never had made before. (I’ll give you San Francisco’s Bill Russell and his 27 rebounds against Iowa in the 1956 final or Duke’s much-detested Christian Laettner going 10-for-10 from the field and 10-for-10 from the line in a victory against Kentucky in the Elite Eight in 1992.)

It would help if the underdog got off to a fast start, if the favorite had to travel a long way to a dull place, if the underdog had played against big teams before and wasn’t afraid and if the favorite’s star got in foul trouble.

Critical, too, would be something that disarmed the favorite, such as Princeton’s backdoor offense or a gunning freak in the style of Indiana State’s Larry Bird.

The shot clock was reduced from 45 seconds to 35 in 1993 and to 30 in 2015, and that doesn’t help underdogs who might want to slow things down or just breathe.

But I recall well No. 15 Lehigh beating No. 2 Duke in 2012.

Someday, a No. 16’s day will come.

Follow me on Twitter @ricktelander.

Email: rtelander@suntimes.com

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