The upsets started tamely enough on Thursday with a couple of 9 seeds knocking off 8 seeds. Although the 9 vs 8 games are typically evenly matched, it's still an upset when the higher number beats the lower. And so 9 seed Butler took down 8 seed Texas Tech, while 9 seed Connecticut erased 8 seed Colorado. Butler's reward is 1 seed Virginia while Connecticut gets 1 seed Kansas. Another 9 seed, Providence, beat 8 seed USC late on Thursday to make it 3 out of 4 for the 9 seeds. Providence plays 1 seed North Carolina on Saturday.
Then came the 12 vs 5 match up between Yale and Baylor. You can count on a 12 seed to beat a 5 just about every year. The 5 line is what is considered the first of the "unprotected" seeds. A typical 12 seed is a mid-major conference champ that not only dominated its own conference, but also had a solid non-conference schedule with some quality wins against teams from power conferences. It's dangerous to be a 5 seed, as Baylor found out against the Ivy League champs. I'm already nervous because 12 seed Yale matches up with my 4 seed Duke today. Yikes.
That was the upset of the tournament on Thursday, until 12 seed Arkansas Little Rock forced 5 seed Purdue to double overtime before sending the Boilermakers home. One thing you have to do as a 5 seed is to understand that the kids you're about to play don't care that you come from a conference that has its own sports network on cable plus several guys who will play at the next level one day. Little Rock was happy to be in the tournament, but they also played with the same purpose as any other team in the field of 68...to win and advance. Well, the Trojans are going to play on Saturday while Purdue is done. 12 seed Little Rock gets a shot at 4 seed Iowa State today.
Then 11 seed Wichita State joined the double digit upset parade by taking down 6 seed Arizona. The Shockers opened the tournament in one of the First Four games in Dayton on Tuesday. They beat fellow 11 seed Vanderbilt for the right to give Arizona fits. Wichita State is led by a couple of savvy senior guards who have played in four straight NCAA Tournaments and gone to a Final Four. They squeaked into this year's field of 68, and are determined to prove it was the right choice. 11 seed Wichita State will try to make another round of 16 today against 3 seed Miami.
Gonzaga also was a bubble team, earning an 11 seed by winning the WCC conference tournament championship. The Bulldogs were clearly the more poised and prepared team on Thursday, playing in the last game of the day and ending an unexpectedly solid season from 6 seed Seton Hall. I thought the team Gonzaga had last year was loaded and likely Mark Few's best ever. That group went to the round of 8. This year's team is unpredictable. I'm interested to see the match up of NBA caliber front lines in the round of 32 against 3 seed Utah.
With a chip on its shoulder, 10 seed Syracuse joined the mayhem first thing Friday morning. The selection committee was roundly criticized for putting the Orange in the field with a 19-13 record and just 9-9 in the ACC, but none of that means a thing once the ball is tipped. Syracuse toppled 7 seed Dayton. The Flyers were 25-8 out of the Atlantic 10, but they were flummoxed by the match up zone defense that is the Syracuse trademark. I've never been a fan of Jim Boeheim, but his Orange will be half of a double digit match up in the round of 32 on Sunday.
Another 10 seed, Virginia Commonwealth, knocked off 7 seed Oregon State. VCU has a strong recent tournament history under former coach Shaka Smart, becoming the only team to go from the First Four games played in the field of 68 to the Final Four. The Rams have now begun a new era of success with head coach Will Wade. Wade is apparently the youngest head coach at the Division 1 level. The Pac-12 Conference was fairly well respected by the selection committee, with 7 teams represented at 1, 3, 4, 6, 7, and two 8 seeds, but so far only 1 seed Oregon and 3 seed Utah have advanced. 10 seed VCU gets 2 seed Oklahoma on Sunday.
Speaking of the poor showing from the Pac-12, 4 seed California lost one of its best players to injury in practice just prior to the start of the tournament. You don't just adjust in a couple of days to losing your point guard, who also happens to be your top scorer as well as a primary senior leader. It's a shock to everyone. So 13 seed Hawaii took advantage of that vulnerability to upset the Bears, and just that abruptly a young man's college career is over. That's the dichotomy of this tournament...the high of an upset balanced against the finality of the end of a career. Seniors don't get the promise to try again next year. Although neither will Hawaii, as the university is under a post season ban in 2017 for NCAA violations. Don't bother this year's 13 seed Rainbow Warriors with that little detail though...they'll be busy on Sunday when they face 5 seed Maryland.
If you fill out a bracket, which I do not, there are four sure things. You advance all of the 1 seeds, because no 16 seed has ever beaten a 1. You can pretty much advance the 2 seeds as well, because 15 seeds rarely upset the 2s since the expansion to 64 teams in 1985. I said rarely. Middle Tennessee became only the 8th 15 seed to upset a 2, toppling Michigan State. That's your upset of the tournament so far, as well as the end of another outstanding career. Denzel Valentine may be this year's Wooden Award winner as the national player of the year. He'll graduate and go on to a career in the NBA, and although he did play in the Final Four in 2015 and the Spartans were the sexy pick to potentially win it all this year, he won't be a national champion in 2016. Meanwhile, 15 seed Middle Tennessee is the other half of a double digit match up in the round of 32 on Sunday as they'll meet 10 seed Syracuse.
One of the more impressive upsets has been 14 seed Stephen F Austin over 3 seed West Virginia. It wasn't impressive because it was yet another mid-major beating a team from a power conference, nor because it was a 14 over a 3. It was impressive because SFA played as if it were actually the favored seed. The Lumberjacks committed only 6 turnovers to West Virginia's 22 and shot 39 free throws for 74% against 27 free throws for WVU. The Mountaineers made a living this season from the free throw line, shooting the second most in Division 1. SFA refused to be rattled and refused to be denied. They'll look to ambush 6 seed Notre Dame on Sunday.
Are you kidding me????? Our final double digit upset of the round of 64 comes courtesy of 11 Northern Iowa. UNI banked in a half court shot to beat 6 seed Texas at the buzzer after the Longhorns had tied the game with 2.7 seconds to play. Now that's the kind of wacky step over lip lock finish you expect to see when you start talking about double digit upsets. It's fun for everyone except the favored seed when a double digit wins a tournament game. But it's March Madness Memorable when it happens on a buzzer beater. Northern Iowa will play 3 seed Texas A&M on Sunday.
There were 12 upsets of favored seeds in the entire 2015 tournament. There have already been 13 upsets of favored seeds in 2016, and we've just finished the round of 64. It's the first time ever that a 13 (Hawaii), a 14 (Stephen F Austin), and a 15 (Middle Tennessee) have all advanced on the same day.
All the programs I follow have made it through to play on Saturday or Sunday.
Will madness and mayhem continue? Or will some kind of power conference order be restored in the round of 32?