By Nancy Armour |
This isn’t madness, it’s insanity. A watch-the-clocks-spin-backward, howl-at-the-moon kind of bedlam that’s as spectacular as it is inexplicable.
The chaos of the men’s NCAA tournament is why we watch, not really caring if our brackets get ripped to shreds so long as a few underdogs upset the natural order in the process. And never has there been so much upheaval so early.
Sure, the Sweet 16 seed total – 85 – is still four lower than the record set in 1986, a year after the tournament expanded to 64 teams. It wasn’t all that long ago that there was a Final Four featuring an eight and 11 seed.
But this year’s mayhem is so widespread it borders on anarchy.
There was, of course, UMBC’s upset of Virginia on Friday night that sent shockwaves around the world. Literally. Retrievers coach Ryan Odom heard from friends who were in Italy and South Korea and overheard talk of the first 16th seed ever to take down a No. 1 in the men’s tournament.
“We were a 16 seed. I think that’s where it all started,” Odom said Sunday night, after UMBC was knocked out in the second round by Kansas State 50-43. “Obviously when you have a big win like that and it’s so shocking, you know, people love to see that. They love to see the upset.”
And March Madness is being particularly accommodating this year.
Most years, enough of the top seeds get through the first weekend unscathed that order is pretty well restored by the end of the Sweet 16. That won’t be the case this year.
There was so much havoc in the first- and second-rounds that, by the time the dust settled, only two No. 1 seeds had advanced to the Sweet 16. It’s only the fourth time that’s happened since 1985, and the first time since 2004. There are as many 11 seeds still alive as there are No. 1s.
None of the top four seeds reached the Sweet 16 in the South Region, a first in tournament history. That’s right. Virginia will wear a scarlet No. 1 for eternity, regardless of what it does in future tournaments. Second-seeded Cincinnati is going to feel the sting of its early exit for a while, too, losing to Nevada on Sunday despite leading by as much as 22 in the second half.
In addition to losing its No. 1 seed, Xavier, the West Region saw second-seeded North Carolina go out in a 21-point rout by Texas A&M.
The South and West winners play each other in the Final Four, which means we’re guaranteed a team seeded no higher than third playing for the national title. And given that 11th-seeded Syracuse is on the other side of the bracket and Jim Boeheim appears to have some kind of voodoo hold on March Madness, the chances of an all-double digit championship game have risen dramatically, definitely more slim now than none.
“What you see happening in college basketball, it’s almost like a revolution,” said Florida State Leonard Hamilton, whose ninth-seeded Seminoles toppled Xavier. “And I really don’t think at this level that you can really call them as much upsets as it’s just what they call March Madness.
“See, sometimes the team that’s the most talented might not necessarily win the game. It’s the team that’s playing well at that particular time,” Hamilton continued. “I can’t say that we are much better than Xavier, but we were much better than Xavier in the last two and a half minutes of the game. Sometimes when the games are close, that’s all that’s important.
“I think that’s what you see happening there. There are teams that find a way in that moment to … make plays.”
Frankly, I don’t think most of us really care why or how the upsets happen. We’re just happy they do.
So much in life is predictable and orderly. For a few days every March, it’s nice to see all that go out the window and let chaos reign.
This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.