There have always been a few constants in life: death, taxes, and a 16-seed in the NCAA Tournament losing to a 1-seed. It was the bracket equivalent of a free space for every person. The first thing you did, automatically, advance your four 1-seed teams to the Round of 32.
And then the University of Maryland, Baltimore County had to destroy that.
I have read so much about the UMBC Retrievers, and how they accomplished what they did that night. Let’s not forget, this wasn’t a miraculous buzzer-beater, or a stroke of luck with the clock winding down – this was a 20 point decimation of the top ranked team in the country and the Tournament. FiveThirtyEight noted how UMBC scored 53 points in the second half alone, while the Virginia Cavaliers defense held opponents to that on average all season. They also shot 54% from the floor, while Virginia usually held opponents to well below that. The slow pace also hurt the Cavaliers, who just couldn’t keep up with the wire-y, fast-paced offense that the Retrievers played with. Their offense was something else too. They looked like they were completely out of control with every dribble, and every pass, and yet everything worked to a precise and intentional effort – kind of like watching a Jackie Chan fight sequence.
Oh, and they were the doom-bringers too. Of course they were. Like I said, literally everyone advances their 1-seeds out of the first round. So it came as no surprise that the last remaining perfect brackets were defeated the moment Virginia was. CBS even tracked the last perfect bracket – which had a graze with defeat before Auburn pulled out a win – and saw the perfect bracket go down when UMBC won.
According to the NCAA, only 2.18% of all the brackets had UMBC winning. For reference, that’s the guy in the office pool who never has filled out a bracket and doesn’t know anything about college basketball, but he really likes dogs so decided to go with that. That is the type of logic that compels someone to picking a 16-seed over a 1-seed. And that logic prevailed.
Forget March Madness – this is Joker-levels of March now. This is the ‘world without rules’ that Batman’s arch-nemesis fantasied about in The Dark Knight. The two-boat blowing up plan? Small potatoes to what Mr. J could do with NCAA brackets.
At this point any sports fan who’s hedging their get-rich-quick plans on winning Warren Buffet’s bracket challenge should just save their money on printer paper and buy scratch-off lottery tickets or the Power Ball or something. You seriously have a better chance of winning than getting a perfect bracket.*
(*Note: I am not actually telling you to go out and gamble.)
And you know what? That’s only the lighthouse beacon of the insanity that has happened in these two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. While UMBC is immortalized in the history of college basketball, and Virginia has become a trivia question for every trivia board game and pub quiz night for eons to come, there’s been some other absurd bracket busters that have taken place.
Let’s take a look at what else has happened in this NCAA Tournament that’s worthy of ripping up your bracket and finding a new hobby:
Loyola Chicago’s Back-to-Back Buzzer-Beaters
Loyola beating 6-seed Miami in the Round of 64 was dramatic, complete with a buzzer beater finish from beyond the arc.
— Tyler Conway (@jtylerconway) March 15, 2018
The entire city of Chicago went nuts when it happened. I know – I was there. They were then sent to face 3-seed Tennessee two days later who saw the game footage (or probably just watched the game live) and said “if it’s a single possession game, don’t let them shoot the three.” To the Vols credit, they didn’t – instead, down one, the Ramblers got a two point shot off with three seconds left and then kept the Vols from hitting their own game winner as time expired. March now has it’s Cinderella team, and have learned they really like dramatic endings.
You know what’s just as exciting as a buzzer-beater finish? Coming back from double digits to take out a 2-seed. And that’s exactly what Nevada did in the Round of 32 to advance to the Sweet Sixteen when they beat Cincinnati 75-73. Sure, the top plays and the highlights always show the buzzer beaters, and those are great moments – but the comebacks are what separates a good basketball team from a great one. The discipline, focus, and execution it takes to rally back when you’re down that much is remarkable, and Nevada did it in March. Technically, they did it twice – they came back from being down by 14 to Texas in the first round, before beating them in OT.
Syracuse (Of Course)
Surprise, surprise – Syracuse in March wins games. No matter how bad the season, how much people will argue they don’t deserve to have been in the Tournament, there’s no denying that Syracuse earned their way to the Sweet Sixteen – and had to get through a tough TCU team followed by an even more talented Michigan State team to do it.
Texas A&M Obliterating UNC
The Entire State of Ohio
Gotta feel for Ohio in this Tournament. First Cincy loses to Nevada, and then Xavier – 1seed, Big East Regular Season Champs Xavier – blows it in the Round of 32 to a very beatable Florida State. When I go by the bus stop on Michigan Ave and see “Ohio will be eliminated” I always assume they’re just talking about the stop on Ohio Street – I had never considered this was a prophecy.
13 Is the New 12
The first rule of brackets is you always advance the 1-seeds to the Round of 32, but the second rule of brackets is you pick a 5/12 upset. It’s another one of those things you have to do because that’s how it’s always been – there’s always been a 5/12 upset. Not this year – this year it’s all about the 4/13, which is even more impressive – and bracket burning. 13-seed Buffalo destroyed NCAA Tournament contender Arizona, and then Marshall took it to newly-added AAC member Wichita St. Thing is, who picks 13-seeds? First of all, if you’re superstitious that’s risky enough, but typically the 4/13 matchups are unbalanced enough that 4’s are almost always favored.
Guess not this year though!