The Art of the Upset

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Spring break means different things to everyone. For some it means relaxing in the sun in exotic locations, or chilling by the poolside with a fruity drink in hand. For some it means the start of a new sports season and the beginning of practices. But one thing everyone thinks about when they think of March is MADNESS. Even if you aren’t a sports fan, you still know what March Madness is. Commercials flood the television, with former college hoops stars in featured roles. Even some players who can’t act (Sorry, Charles Barkley) are shoved into the spotlight in March. And the biggest, most exciting part of March Madness is UPSETS.

 

Ripped brackets scattered the floors of office buildings everywhere on March 19th, 2016. The heavily favored Michigan State Spartans had just become the 8th number 2 seed to lose in the round of 64 to a number 15 seed. Michigan State had 9-2 odds to win the national championship, according to the Westgate SuperBook. Middle Tennessee, the number 15 seed that took down the Goliath of Michigan State, has much worse odds of winning the title; they stood at 2,000-1. William Hill’s Nevada sportsbook took 78 money-line bets on Middle Tennessee, the largest of which was $265. Just by winning one game, that $265 wager netted a $5,300 profit. Someone who bet $150 on Michigan State would have been very disappointed; their poor choice would have given them $2.15.

 

Upsets are the best part of college basketball, but nothing compares to a “Cinderella Story”. For those of you who do not understand this metaphor, 68 teams are “invited” to the NCAA Tournament each year. Teams get their “tickets punched” by winning their conference tournaments or by performing well enough to be one of the 32 or so teams selected by the selection committee. Often referred to as the “Big Dance”, the NCAA Tournament is seeded into 4 divisions, with seeds ranked #1-16, with 16 being the weakest team and 1 being the strongest. “Cinderella teams”, such as 15 seed Middle Tennessee, are teams that “dance” for longer than most expected them to, just like how Cinderella was not expected to come to the ball in the classic children’s tale. In the children’s story, Cinderella dances all night, loses her slipper, etc. In NCAA translation, that is a lower seeded team winning more games than people expected them to and taking down some pretty good teams on their way.

 

The “Cinderella” in the 2017 NCAA Tournament has been the Xavier Musketeers from Cincinnati. Xavier is a small school; they only have 4,572 students in their student body. This is how their size compares to the schools that they have beaten on their way to the Elite 8 (According to WikiPedia).

University of Maryland: 38,140 students (8.34 times bigger than Xavier)

Florida State University: 40,830 students (8.93 times bigger than Xavier)

University of Arizona: 43,088 students (9.42 times bigger than Xavier)

 

Small schools surprise basketball fans all the time. For example, in 2013 Florida Gulf Coast (15 seed) defeated Georgetown (2 seed) in the first round of the tournament. Last year, Villanova (10,842 students) won the tournament on their way to the #1 overall seed in this year’s tournament. Even local small schools are getting in on the fun. Mt. St. Mary’s made it into the tournament this year, and Ryan Gomes ‘16 got to play on national television against the Villanova Wildcats. Gomes and the Mountaineers gave Villanova a good game before falling to Nova’s late rally 56-76.
You can’t have a complete NCAA tournament without upsets. Without upsets, what fun would March be? March is for basketball, not for the beach. March is for madness, not for relaxation. March is for competition, not for peace. All of those things will still be available in the summer months. But March only comes around once a year.

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The Art of the Upset