There are few great pairs in this world: Peanut Butter and Jelly, Batman and Robin, Mac and Cheese, but one pair stands far higher, at least for me, and that is March Madness and upsets.
Whether its VCU’s run to the final four, or Florida Gulf Coast beating Georgetown, or Lehigh beating Duke, the NCAA tournament is simply better with upsets. When David knocks off Goliath as Georgia State’s RJ hunter splashes a 28 foot three pointer to beat #3 Baylor as his dad, the coach, falls off his stool in ecstasy, nothing can compare. But when #3 Oregon drains a late three to beat #11 Rhode Island, we just sit back and think “what if?”
This year were eating jelly sandwiches and plain macaroni. The 2017 March Madness Tournament has been starved for upsets since its very first game. Princeton was taking on Notre Dame; Princeton coming off winning the first ever Ivy League Tournament had some momentum, but nobody truly picked them to win. The game was close late and when Notre Dame missed a free throw up 2 with nine seconds to go, it looked like Princeton could maybe pull off a miracle. The tigers ran it into the front court and launched a three that hit the rim rolled off and game UND the win. “OK,” so we thought, “plenty of time for upsets.”
Only six lower seeded teams won in the first round; #11 USC over #6 SMU, #11 Xavier over #6 Maryland, #10 Wichita St over #7 Dayton, #12 Middle Tennessee over #5 Minnesota, #11 Rhode Island over #6 Creighton, and #9 Michigan State over #8 Miami. Of these one was a 9 over 8 “upset” which is basically just a battle between even teams so that one can be crossed off. Wichita State finished 29-5 compared to Dayton’s 24-8 and was given a 72% chance of winning so that one is not really an upset.
Rhode Island was ranked 16th at the beginning of the year, started terribly but than started to realize their potential late in the season, Creighton on the other hand started fantastic but sputtered when they lose their best player, Maurice Watson, for the year. Again, not an upset. Xavier, admittedly, had fallen off the horse as they were the overall 7th ranked team at one point but finished with 13 losses. But the potential is clearly there so it was again not a huge surprise when they beat Maryland in the first round and stomped Florida State in the round of 32.
The only true upset was Middle Tennessee over Minnesota and even then this was the upset everyone picked as 31-4 Middle Tennessee had shown last year that they can beat big 10 teams and Minnesota was a super generous 5 seed even though you would be hard pressed to find anyone who thought they were better than 8 seeded Wisconsin. All in all, the first round was very conventional (“cough cough cough” boring).
The round of 32 made it a little more fun as #8 Wisconsin proved my last statement by beating reigning champs and overall #1 seeded Villanova, #7 South Carolina did the gods work and knocked Grayson Allen and #2 Duke out of the tourney, #7 Michigan stayed hot by beating #2 Louisville, and #11 Xavier did unspeakable things to #3 Florida State.
But this tournament was perhaps epitomized by Northwestern vs Gonzaga. Powerhouse 31-1 #1 Gonzaga opened a 20 point first half lead vs Northwestern, the ultimate Cinderella first time tournament team and it looked over. But slowly and surely the Cats cut the lead in the second half when Vic Law had a rim-rattling- putback slam to cut the lead to five. Northwestern blocked a shot on the other end on offense seemed have a shot blocked by a Gonzaga player whose hand was through the rim (HINT: his hand was through the rim). The coach argued it and got T’ed up and next thing you know the Zags were back up 9 and it was over. Not very March-like for the underdog to lose like that.
All we can do know is sit back and watch and hope that the miraculous finishes and upsets are late, not gone and that something left in the tournament can put the madness back into March.