I’m going to be the wet blanket. After everything, we have to say it was the best ever. The last four days of NCAA Tournament action produced some truly great moments. If you happened to be tagging along at Northern Iowa games, you would have seen one of the most dramatic two-game stretches of elation followed by dejection, since probably 1990, when Connecticut beat Clemson on Tate George’s shot, only to be crushed by Christian Laettner’s a round later.
Was it the best ever in total? I’ll dispute that. But that stretch on Friday night that included the Northern Iowa half-court shot and Cincinnati losing to St. Joseph’s, as well as the Sunday night five-minute spurt of the Northern Iowa collapse and Bronson Koenig’s game-winner, were March Madness at its finest.
In addition, we had the massive upset of Middle Tennessee over Michigan State, and the Indiana-Kentucky slugfest on Saturday.
After the smoke cleared, we had 8 total games decided by 3 points or less, and/or in overtime. You know where that rates? The average since 1985 is 9 such close games in the opening week. The high was 1990, when 17 games, more than double what happened this weekend, were close nail-biting affairs at the end.
Buzzer beaters? That’s a different story.
I suspect, when the smoke clears, that Paul Jesperson’s half-court heave will be remembered fondly, but behind things like Bryce Drew when it comes to early round buzzer shots. (After all, most have U.S. Reed’s half-court shot behind those, and that one reversed a loss to win, not prevented overtime from happening). Bronson Koenig’s will be remembered, in the same vein as Drew Nicholas or James Forrest.
What about “upsets”? Yeah, if you go by seeds, there were a lot of them, but not if you go by the Vegas lines. While the better seed only went 19-13, a lot of that was in the 6-8 seed range and favorites generally won. Every single person in a pool I was in got more wins than just picking the better seed, which tells you how unpredictable some of these were.
And going into the Sweet 16, it’s a fairly chalky group remaining. For the third straight year, there is no 12 seed or lower advancing. Only 4 teams are seeded 6 or lower this year, and of those, three of them were in the Elite Eight last year. Syracuse, I guess, is your Cinderella. On average since 1985 we have had 5 teams seeded 6 or lower advance.
The record for teams seeded 6 or lower advancing to the Sweet 16 is eight, in both 1990 and 2000. I wrote about the 1990 tournament a few years ago, and I still think it was the wildest first week, and it continued for another week with more buzzer-beaters. That tournament featured the #1 team in the country losing on a last-second shot. It had 17 close games the opening weekend. And it had the Loyola Marymount storyline. Shortly after their teammate Hank Gathers had died on the court, the Loyola Marymount team took the court and put on some incredible performances. Bo Kimble shot left-handed. They came out and handled New Mexico State then crushed defending National Champ Michigan 149-115. That’s not a typo. It was appointment viewing.
This year was fun. The highest highs and lowest lows were extreme. There were also long stretches of games where it wasn’t as compelling. Do you really want to re-live most of Thursday, and do I need to plug in tape of Villanova-Iowa?