The upsets started on the first day of March Madness. Morehead State, a No. 13 seed, upset No. 4 Louisville, No. 12 Richmond upset No. 5 Vanderbilt, and No. 11 Gonzaga beat No. 6 St. John’s.
Who can forget last year’s run by Butler to the Final Four? Duke just barely got by as Butler had the winning shot in the air that just missed from half-court. Butler has continued on that theme this year as an eighth seed beating No. 1 Pittsburgh Saturday. Other upsets include Virginia Commonwealth coming from the play-in round to upend No. 3 Purdue on Sunday after beating No. 6 Georgetown on Friday. Also, No. 10 Florida State upset No. 2 Notre Dame, and No. 11 Marquette beat No. 3 Syracuse.
One 12, two 11s, a 10 and an 8 are going to the Sweet Sixteen.
Who can forget Princeton’s upset of UCLA and its two-point loss to Georgetown several years back under coach Pete Carrell?
These upsets happen because the mid-major teams that pull off these upsets have veteran players, seniors and juniors, going up against the top teams that usually have freshmen and sophomores as their mainstays.
Experience, more physical and mental maturity, having NCAA Tourney experience as underclassmen and having less pressure to win help these teams get the upsets. Wanting to prove that they belong in March Madness is also a big motivating factor.
Problems that higher-seeded teams face are that they too often live or die by the 3-point shot, have more pressure placed on them and know they still may make the tourney with an at-large bid if they don’t win their conference tourney. The mid-majors play more pressure-packed games in their conference tourneys as they know it’s a one-and-done situation.
Another factor which often helps the mid-majors in in the NCAA Tourney is that the fans at the neutral sights are looking for upsets, and they root for the underdogs, which energizes them.
A look at the Maine high school tourney shows some upsets over the years, and the Eastern Maine Class A boys quarterfinals have some examples with No. 8s beating No. 1s: 1966, John Bapst over Stearns; 1968, Presque Isle over Old Town; 1971, Brewer over Bangor; 1972 Bangor over Houlton; 1976, Old Town over Stearns; 1988, Presque Isle over Lawrence; and 2005, ninth-seed Hampden over Bangor.
This season, there was also another No. 8 beating a No. 1 as the Messalonskee of Oakland girls upset Morse of Bath.
Having been on both ends of these upsets, I can tell you that it is much harder on the No. 1 seeds as they have the most to lose, especially if they are undefeated. They not only have their undefeated streak snapped, they lose their first game of the season and they lose their chance to win the tournament that they are favored to win.
They are in a no-win situation. If they win the tournament, then many say they should have, and if they lose, then they have to take the heat and criticism.
The eighth seed is in a nothing-to-lose and everything-to-gain situation, there is no pressure. Also, as in the NCAA, the low-seed teams usually have had to play must-win games just to make the tourney whereas the No. 1 seeds have been in since early January and have not played in any must-win games.
In high school I never liked to see upsets, because when you go to the state championship game, you do not get your best representative to meet the West’s winner, especially if the West team is the No. 1 seed.
In all the upsets I mentioned above, only Hampden went on to win the Eastern Maine boys A championship and then the state championship.
Bob Cimbollek is a retired high school basketball coach and is a basketball official.