If you crack open the March Madness history books, here's what you'll find for 15-seed performances in the Sweet 16:
As you've no doubt heard by now, Florida Gulf Coast is the first 15-seed ever to make it past the first weekend. Tournament history says nothing about their chances against Florida tomorrow except that they shouldn't even be in this game.
After all, here is how 15-seeds have fared in the second round:
|1991||Richmond||10 Temple||L, 77-64|
|1993||Santa Clara||7 Temple||L, 68-57|
|1997||Coppin State||10 Texas||L, 82-81|
|2001||Hampton||10 Georgetown||L, 76-57|
|2012||Lehigh||10 Xavier||L, 70-58|
|2012||Norfolk State||7 Florida||L, 84-50|
|2013||FGCU||7 San Diego St.||W, 81-71|
Coppin State in 1997 was the only 15-seed prior to FGCU to come close to the Sweet 16; the rest fell by more than 10 points. You can see that the core of this veteran Florida team has already taken down a 15-seed that got past the first round, although that Norfolk State team was truly awful with a Pomeroy rating in the 200s before the tournament began (sorry to bring it up, Mizzou fans, I'll throw you a bone later). FGCU started as No. 126 and has worked its way up to 92 with its pair of wins.
So while we don't have a track record to look at for 15-seeds in the Sweet 16, we can look at how 13 and 14-seeds have done. It's not exactly the same, but it's the best we've got. How have they done when they've reached the second weekend? Not well:
|1986||14 Cleveland St.||7 Navy||L, 71-70|
|1988||13 Richmond||1 Temple||L, 69-47|
|1997||14 UT-Chattanooga||10 Providence||L, 71-65|
|1998||13 Valparaiso||8 Rhode Island||L, 74-68|
|1999||13 Oklahoma||1 Michigan St.||L, 54-46|
|2006||13 Bradley||1 Memphis||L, 80-64|
|2012||13 Ohio||1 North Carolina||L, 73-65 OT|
They've not won a game, though there are at least a few more close calls here than there were with 15-seeds in the second round. The 1986 Cleveland State team lost to future NBA hall of famer David Robinson by one, and more recently, Ohio fell to North Carolina in overtime just last year. Only one of these seven got its doors completely blown off, and only one other lost by more than 10. Of course, three of the close games came against 7-seeds or worse, and one of the others was by a Big 12 team.
Even with all of the chaos we've had both lately and in the past, only one team seeded on the bottom five lines has ever made it past the Sweet 16: 2002 Missouri. S-E-C! S-E-C!
It's not hard to guess as to why 12-seeds and worse just don't make it to the Elite Eight. For one thing, not many ever get the opportunity because they fall out ahead of time. You've seen what 13 and 14-seeds have done. Only 19 total 12-seeds have made it to the Sweet 16, and thanks to the way the bracket works, they end up playing (and losing to) 1-seeds in the round of 16. Not coincidentally, the only 12-seed to play someone other than a 1-seed in the Sweet 16 was that '02 Mizzou team. It beat 8-seed UCLA to get to the regional final.
FGCU has more accomplishments to its name already than most, if not all, of those other teams. It has wins over a pair of 2-seeds, thanks to a regular season win over Miami (FL), and over a 7-seed as well. That's not too shabby. Of course, it also has double-digit losses from the regular season against 2-seed Duke, 5-seed VCU, and 10-seed Iowa State. And also to St. John's and ETSU. And it lost to Mercer and Maine. And 12-18 Lipscomb swept it.
Dunk City is a high variance team. The same outfit that was throwing lobs on the way to beating Georgetown couldn't beat mighty Stetson in DeLand. It's like what I said before this thing began: just because an event is unlikely, it doesn't mean it's impossible. FGCU getting this far was immensely unlikely heading in, and yet here it is in the Sweet 16.
The other side of that coin though is that just because something happened, it doesn't mean it was likely to begin with. FGCU was the better team on both of its tournament days so far, but that doesn't mean it would beat Georgetown or San Diego State on most days. In fact, it wouldn't.
History says FGCU will probably lose tomorrow. So do the advanced stats. Billy Donovan is 3-0 against 15-seeds with an average win of 82.7-52. In fact, he's never lost in the Round of 16, aside from his first tourney in 1999, or in the Round of 4 for that matter. If Donovan gets past the first round and has time to prepare, he's 10-1. Nothing points to FGCU having much of a shot.
But, as they say, that's why they play the games.