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Tournament Upsets

   by Bryan Leonard - 03/27/2010


Are you upset that there have already been plenty of college basketball upsets? Don’t be. Think about how upset the players and coaches of Kansas and Villanova are today. Kansas is the first No.1 seed to lose before the Sweet 16 since Kentucky and Stanford both accomplished the feat in 2004. How did they do it? Holding Kansas to 44% shooting and just 26% from beyond the arc.
Villanova barely won their opening game against a No. 15 seed, then got smacked around by St. Mary’s in a loss. This is nothing new. A few years ago, the Big Ten Tournament champion Iowa led by 17 with 8½ minutes left against tiny Northwestern State. In the blink of an eye, the 14th-seeded Demons came back and stunned Iowa, 64-63. Upset is the appropriate word. Think how upset all the sports bettors with tickets on Iowa are!
That’s because it’s a dog’s life during March tourney play. Each season we see surprising upsets all the time. Everyone remembers the Final Four and the championship game participants, which almost always features big name programs. But because the March tourney moves so fast, it’s very easy to forget all the upsets along the way.
Iowa’s loss to Northwestern State was one of many examples….this March! Remember when Bucknell put its game face on and beat Arkansas? That same season Wisconsin Milwaukee upset Oklahoma, Tennessee survived over Winthrop by a basket, and Pacific took Boston College to two overtimes before the Eagles survived. A couple of No. 12 seeds upset No. 5 seeds, as Texas A&M beat Syracuse and Montana upset Nevada.
It’s all part of what makes the Madness great. One reason is that smaller schools can be so fired up to get to the Big Dance, that they give everything they have. They know a national TV audience is watching, so they want to play their best, and if they lose, the season is over to. So why shouldn’t a team give it their all? After all, they’ve been together for many months and have enjoyed many great wins, and victories in the tournament. A team good enough to get this far clearly has drive, pride and talent.
Another factor is that smaller schools don’t get to the party very often, and nowhere near as often as schools like Kansas, Duke and Florida. NCAA tournament berths are singularly special to a school, like bowl games for college football programs. Players and coaches know that they are representing their school and since small schools get here so rarely, they know that for years they will represent a special place in the school’s history.
Another factor to keep in mind is that oddsmakers have to give more respect to larger, well known schools. Their purpose is to attract money on each side of a game, they don’t care who is going to win, just that they get equal action. So if Kansas is playing Belmont or Northern Iowa, they have to shade a point or two toward Kansas knowing that the majority of bettors are going to be far familiar with the Jayhawks than a school like N-Iowa. There are plenty of live dogs that offer good wagering value this time of year.
Finally, the main reason there are continually upsets in the tourney is that these small teams are very good. They have talent, or play strong defense, or have an excellent coaching staff. Some have all three. Some even have eventual NBA talent. You may see players like St. Mary’s 6-foot-11 Omar Samhan playing very well in the NBA soon. He’ll certainly be a better NBA player than Pacific’s Michael Olowakandi! So don’t be shocked, surprised or upset when you see upsets like Northern Iowa dramatic 69-67 win over Kansas Saturday in the NCAA Tournament. And it won’t be the last big upset, either!

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