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Have Upsets In The NCAA Tournament Lost Their Luster?

Submitted by on March 18, 2011 – 8:25 amOne Comment

Used to be, upsets in the NCAA Tournament were few and far between. Not that they never happened, but when they did, they were really something to talk about. A No. 15-seeded Hampton team that produced no NBA players knocking off a No. 2-seeded Iowa State team that featured a tough NBA-bound point guard? A No. 15 Richmond team besting a No. 2 Syracuse team? A No. 11 George Mason team running through the tournament and landing in the Final Four? Now, those were upsets.

They’re still fun to watch—but upsets in the NCAA Tournament just aren’t what they used to be. When I sat down to watch the tourney yesterday, I didn’t hope for upsets to happen. I didn’t cross my fingers and wish my hardest and pray for them to happen. I just let them happen. Because that’s how it goes these days. Upsets aren’t a rare sight. And sure enough, No. 13 Morehead State upset No. 4 Louisville in the early afternoon before No. 12 Richmond busted a whole bunch of brackets by knocking No. 5 Vanderbilt out of the mix. But I wasn’t surprised, shocked, or left wondering how they happened. I sort of expected them to happen—and I have my bracket, where I picked Richmond to upset Vandy, to prove it.

Part of the problem is that the elite college teams, the ones that produce NBA players and get the high seeds in the tournament, aren’t as good as they used to be. Thanks to the fact that many of them bring NBA-bound talent into their programs for one year before they leave for the pros, the top teams in college basketball don’t have the chemistry they had just a few years ago. Meanwhile, the lower-seeded teams don’t have the NBA talent that the top tier-teams do, but they’ve got senior-laden squads with experience heading into the tournament. That makes a real difference.

That isn’t the only problem, though. Another issue I have is that it still seems like the schools with the well-known names get seeds that they might not exactly deserve. For instance, No. 12 Utah State was ranked No. 19 in the country heading into the NCAA Tournament this year—two slots ahead of No. 5 Kansas State who they played in the second round of the tourney last night. How does that make sense? If Utah State had the name “West Virginia” across the front of their jerseys, they’d be seeded higher. Instead, they entered the game with Kansas State as a one-point underdog.

The final problem is that we’ve all just become desensitized to amazing things happening in the NCAA Tournament. Maybe it’s just me, but after seeing George Mason’s truly magical run to the Final Four in 2006, am I supposed to be impressed by a low-seeded team producing an “upset” win? Am I supposed to cheer for the underdog when the truth is that the underdog might not actually be the underdog anymore? Am I supposed to go into the first day of the NCAA Tournament expecting that things will work themselves out according to the seeds of the teams involved?

Look, March Madness is still great. And the first day of the NCAA Tournament is still the best day of the whole year to me. But the upsets that go down in the opening round of the tournament just aren’t what they used to be. So we should all learn to act a little less surprised when they happen.

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