Sports fans mark their calendars for four sporting events each year: the Super Bowl, the World Series, the Masters and NCAA March Madness. Bracket pools are becoming a national pastime. I have filled out three myself.
As the Sweet 16 picks up today on weekend number two of March Madness, the bracket shows three teams that arguably “shouldn’t” be there: tenth-ranked Xavier, eleventh-ranked North Carolina State, and the thirteenth-ranked MAC representative Ohio.
All three teams have won two straight games against teams ranked higher than them and will continue to do so until they get bounced from the tournament. Xavier plays a three seed in Baylor, N.C. State plays a two seed in Kansas, and Ohio is tasked with a top seed – and my bracket winner – North Carolina.
The greatness of the NCAA tournament every year comes with the Cinderella stories – the emergence of unlikely heroes. A school of 5,000 has the opportunity to take out a school of over 40,000 on a national stage. The university no one has ever heard of can upset powerhouses like Duke and Missouri, quite literally.
In the opening round, two fifteen seeds took down number two seeds. Norfolk State ended Missouri’s tournament just before Duke was defeated by Lehigh. Only four times since the tournament was expanded to 64 teams has a fifteen beaten a two prior to this year, and it happened twice in one weekend.
The University of Michigan came into the Big Dance on fire with plenty of momentum after rallying to a share of the Big Ten title. They were shown the door by Ohio, the representative of the Mid-American Conference that lost to Eastern Michigan earlier in the year.
One thing is for sure when it comes to March Madness: Expect the unexpected.
For most of these players, the NBA is not an option. They will go on to do something in life besides playing basketball. With the state of the NBA right now, that is probably a blessing in disguise.
The NBA has become a league dominated by prima donnas that form about a half-dozen super teams. Defense is scarce. Slam dunks are uncontested. Toughness is non-existent.
March Madness is the epitome of effort. 18-21 year-old kids are battling for the name on the front of their jerseys, not the one on their backs. It’s quite refreshing to see 40 minutes of a pure grind from basket to basket instead of a lazy, uncontested Blake Griffin dunk making the Top Ten night after night.
Whether it’s Norfolk State forward Kyle O’Quinn leading his team with 26 points and 14 rebounds in a win over Missouri, or a great team effort by Lehigh in their victory over Duke, the David-over-Goliath narrative is much sweeter than a Heat-Lakers game.
Everything is on the line for these college athletes. Everything. Norfolk State had never been to an NCAA tournament and may not make it back for quite some time. Talk about maximizing an opportunity.
The aforementioned Heat-Lakers game may make a good 30-second advertising spot for the four-letter-network, but Lebron James and Kobe Bryant will still exist after the fact. They will still go on to make millions in contracts, sponsorships and shoe lines.
Kyle O’Quinn will not. He will disappear into obscurity after this tournament is over and will become a footnote in March Madness first round upsets. That is the cold, hard reality of the American sports market.
That is why America loves this tournament though. The short-lived drama of the no-shots owning the big shots is why we still invest the time and money into brackets every year. It’s nearly impossible to predict the bracket
buster, but we still like to try.
Fasten your seat belts. Even if your bracket is busted, there is still plenty of tournament left to play.