The NCAA Tournament has been full of almosts – at least for the underdogs.
After 49 games, we’ve seen a grand total of 11 upsets, but most of those 8/9 and 7/10 match-ups don’t really count.
The only non top-four seeds to advance to the Sweet Sixteen: Arizona, a 12th-seed from the PAC-10 that beat Utah and Cleveland State, and Purdue, a 5th-seed who “upset” 4th-seeded Washington. Those are this year’s Cinderella stories. How boring.
The truth is, the 2009 tournament has been less than satisfying, though my Duke Blue Devils did make the Sweet Sixteen, “phew”. Sure, games like Virginia Commonwealth-UCLA and Western Kentucky-Gonzaga were exciting, but where were the buzzer-beating heroes? Eric Maynor tried. So did Orlando Mendez-Valdez. They couldn’t do it. Neither could most of the underdogs.
Watching East Tennessee State, Siena, Oklahoma State and LSU blow chances to upset no. 1 seeds drove me crazy. Eastern Tennessee State shot 50 percent from the foul line against Pittsburgh. Come on, Buccaneers. You’re in the NCAA Tournament, attempting to become the first-ever 16-seed to beat a 1-seed, and you shoot 50 percent from the free throw line? Ouch.
It hurts when underdogs like ETSU, VCU, North Dakota State and Akron lose close games.
Watching basketball, for me, is basically stress relief. I yell at the TV, pace the room and get way too into it. So when Western Kentucky let Gonzaga freshman Demetri Goodson drive the length of the floor for a game-winning layup, you bet I was mad. And I don’t want to talk about ETSU blowing a chance to tie Pittsburgh at 59-59, or Oklahoma State going ice-cold when it counted in the second round against the Panthers.
Teams like Western Kentucky, ETSU and Oklahoma State can’t afford to make mistakes against superior opponents. Most of their mistakes – an ill-advised pass or a forced shot — were expected, given their competition. But at the same time, those mistakes were frustrating, especially for people who want upsets.
Thankfully, nine-seed Siena beat eight-seed Ohio State in double-overtime, 13th-seed Cleveland State dominated four-seed Wake Forest and 12th-seeded Western Kentucky held off five-seed Illinois. That’s the NCAA Tournament at its best. When the little guys — like the Richmonds, Valparaisos and Princetons of years past — shake things up and ruin brackets.
That’s what I love about the tournament, watching the little guys beat up on the big guys. The David versus Goliath storylines — I love them.
Even if this year’s tournament continues with few surprises and a Final Four featuring four no. 1 seeds, I’ll have over 15 years of NCAA Tournament memories to revisit.
I remember staying up late with my mom and watching Duke’s Christian Laettner beat Kentucky in 1992. I was only five years old. Other personal favorites: Davidson’s Elite Eight run in 2008, George Mason’s Final Four appearance in 2006, Richmond’s upset of South Carolina in 1998 and Bryce Drew’s buzzer-beating three against Ole Miss in 1998.
That’s the NCAA Tournament at its finest. That’s why I watch.
And that’s also what this year’s tournament is lacking — a little madness.
Andrew Pike always roots for underdogs. Unless the underdog plays Duke. E-mail him at email@example.com.