March once again full of madness

    Upsets galore reveal sign of closing gap

    More stories from Scott Procter


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    March Madness is known for upsets and wild finishes, but this year’s tournament exceeded all expectations.

    Another thrilling March has provided basketball fans with no shortage of madness. With the Final Four set for this weekend, let’s look at what made for a wild tournament.

    Perhaps the most thrilling upset of the tournament was also the first one: a three-pointer at the buzzer to lift No. 11 Loyola-Chicago over No. 6 Miami in the opening round. The prayer from near midcourt by Donte Ingram gave the Ramblers their first tournament win since 1985 and propelled them into this year’s Final Four.

    “It’s pretty simple to know why we call it March Madness,” Miami head coach Jim Larranaga told reporters after his team’s heartbreaking loss.

    This year’s tournament has not only been exhilarating, but also historical — the first No. 1 seed fell to a No. 16 seed. The University of Baltimore, Maryland County (UMBC) stunned top-seeded Virginia to etch themselves in the history books and bust millions of brackets nationwide. Almost everyone (98.1 percent of March Madness Bracket challenge users, according to picked Virginia to win the first round game. They were even the second-most popular national title pick.

    A tie game at halftime, UMBC’s Jairus Lyles went off for 23 points in the second half. The Retrievers shot 67.9 percent and scored one fewer point than Virginia scored the entire game in the second half en route to a 20-point drubbing. The only explanation is madness.

    The tournament saw another unfamiliar name completely dominate an NCAA powerhouse as No. 13 Buffalo blew past No. 4 Arizona in the opening round. Arizona (my pick to win it all), boasting the nation’s top college player, was manhandled by the Bulls in a 89-68 thumping.

    The madness didn’t stop there. No. 7 Nevada rallied from 22 points behind to send home No. 2 Cincinnati. Only seven top-four seeds survived to reach the Sweet 16, the fewest ever. The South region was especially chaotic, as the top four seeds were all eliminated.

    What are we to make of all the craziness and upsets this tournament has offered us? Is this the mark of a new trend or just a string of improbable events unlikely to happen again in this capacity?

    Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton knows exactly what he thinks about the madness, calling it “almost like a revolution.” His No. 9 seed Seminoles knocked off No. 1 Xavier last Sunday to punch its ticket to the Sweet 16.

    “What happens is, you start categorizing people by the reputation that their players get going into college,” Hamilton said after the game, via “But in reality, kids are playing basketball all over the country and teams are getting better. Just because maybe they might not be in one particular conference or maybe they’re not considered to be one of the more traditional rich schools, people are playing basketball.”

    Hamilton has a point. While the usual blue bloods like Duke, North Carolina and Kentucky will seemingly always be near the top, mid-major teams like UMBC and Loyola-Chicago are closing the gap. With each upset, unheralded teams see their chances of knocking off powerhouses and becoming the next “Cinderella” increasing.

    We’ve seen plenty of close early-round tournament games in years past, but the time has come that teams like Buffalo can not only hang with the likes of teams like Arizona, but actually beat them; badly.

    Adding in the factor of a single-game elimination format with the quickly closing gap between top and mid-major teams, the perfect storm is continuing to evolve; pure madness.