March Madness defined by bracket-demolishing upsets
March Madness is the time of year when the sports world stops what it’s doing and focuses on college basketball for three weeks. Office pools for the NCAA tournament destroy productivity and more employees can be found in bars than in cubicles watching a plethora of games involving teams no one has heard of, but that everyone suddenly has opinions about. This is the time of year when Cinderella underdogs steal the heart of the nation, except for the people whose brackets are ruined by an improbable upset.
This year has been no different. With competition at the highest it’s been in years, no real powerhouse team has dominated opponents and small unknowns have beaten the longstanding powerhouses during the regular season. The level playing field has been apparent throughout the first two days of the tournament.
After an uneventful first round, the second round opened on Thursday, and the University of Pittsburgh Panthers were quickly sent home. Pitt, an 8 seed in the tournament, was dominated by Wichita State University, a 9 seed. The game was a slug fest with the two teams combining to shoot only 3–37 from three-point range and both teams averaging less that 40 percent from the field.
Both 14 seed Davidson College and 16 seed Southern University came within a few minutes of overthrowing 3 seed Marquette University and 1 seed Gonzaga University, respectively. Davidson led for most of the second half and had a chance to seal the deal with five seconds left, but threw an errant pass out of bounds, allowing Marquette to make a quick game winning layup. Southern University took a brief lead in the first half only to turn into a down by one situation after missing several shots in the last two minutes of the game.
The traditional 12–5 upsets continued with the University of Oregon beating Oklahoma State University and the University of California, Berkeley beating the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in a buzzer beater. Oregon exerted its dominance early, taking the lead for good half-way through the first half. The game was not even close in the second half, with the Oregon lead slipping into double digits. California kept the game closer, but never trailed in the second half as they cruised to victory.
The real upset of the night came in one of the late games, with Ivy League champion and 14 seed Harvard University defeating 3 seed University of New Mexico with relative ease. Harvard shot over 50 percent from the field and 44 percent from three-point range.
Friday had many more upsets with 2, 4, 5, 6 and 7 seeds all losing to double-digit seeded opponents. Fifteen seed Florida Gulf Coast University knocked off the perennial basketball powerhouse Georgetown University in impressive fashion. This was only the seventh time since the tournament expanded to its current 64+ team format that so many upsets occurred; last year notable upsets included Lehigh University defeating Duke University, and Norfolk State University toppling the University of Missouri.
The 13 seed in the West Region, La Salle University, defeated the 4 seed Kansas State University, albeit in less convincing fashion than some of the other lower seeds. La Salle nearly choked, surrendering the lead late in the second half. They reclaimed the lead with 30 seconds to play and barely held on through a missed Kansas State jump shot that would have given them the lead with less than 10 seconds left.
Five seed University of Wisconsin-Madison fell to the University of Mississippi, winner of the Southeastern Conference (SEC) tournament. Mississippi is home to March Madness’s most animated player, Marshall Henderson. Henderson became known for his on-court antics after Ole Miss’ ran through the SEC tournament to earn their spot in the NCAA tournament. His most infamous move is the Florida gator chop sign, which he created after taking the lead against University of Florida in the SEC tournament finals.
Eleven seed University of Minnesota never trailed in their game against the historic basketball program of University of California, Los Angeles. They did it with lights-out shooting, making over 50 percent from the floor and over 56 percent from three-point range, ending the game with a 20-point margin of victory.
Iowa State University rounded out the double digit team success with its win over 7 seed University of Notre Dame. Iowa State scored early and quickly took control of the game, cruising to an 18-point victory.
As we go forward into the tournament, it appears that brackets will continue to get busted left and right. The upsets continued in the third round on Saturday, with first seed Gonzaga falling victim to Wichita State, and Oregon continuing to play bracket buster, this time defeating 4 seed St. Louis University.
This is the year of the unknown as parity reaches an all-time high in college basketball. While some of the traditional powers still remain (University of Louisville, University of Kansas, Indiana, Duke, Michigan State University), it seems just as likely that this year’s Final Four will likely consist of newcomers to elite college basketball.