If there’s one thing that’s great about March Madness, it’s all the chaos that comes with the top seeds going down early. There’s nothing like watching high-seeded teams lose to their lower-seeded counterparts. And while there are lower seeds that many people pick to pull an upset, a shocker that no one saw coming (like No. 15 Middle Tennessee over No. 2 Michigan State last year) is even better.
And yet, if you were to watch the first two rounds these last four days, you would notice a startling lack of upsets.
For starters, all teams seeded fourth or higher won their opening round games. And while it’s a bit too much to ask to see a 16 beat a 1 for the first time, a 14-3 or 13-4 upset should have happened. All 4 seeds advance for the third time in four years, and all 3 seeds advance for the first time since 2012. The lowest seed to advance was No. 12 Middle Tennessee, a team that deserved to be seed or two higher. And they beat No. 5 Minnesota, a team that should have been a seed or two lower. Not only that, but they were actually favored before the game.
So, what did we get instead of upsets? Lower-seeded teams hanging with the top dogs for a while before fading down the stretch. New Mexico State led Baylor by one at the half. Jacksonville State battled with Louisville in the first half. Even 16 seeds gave top seeds a scare, as South Dakota State and Mount St. Mary’s trailed Gonzaga and Villanova by less than five at the half. But the Wildcats and Bulldogs pulled away in the second half, both winning by 20.
For every “upset” that we got, there were twice as many near upsets. Princeton trailed Notre Dame by two late but shot an ill-advised three. UNC Wilmington had a big lead on Virginia in the first half, but the Cavaliers came back and ended up winning by five. In the second round, Arkansas led North Carolina late but could not get a bucket down the stretch. Rhode Island led Oregon for most of the game but could not withstand the Ducks’ rally. USC traded baskets with Baylor but faded in the final minutes. It’s not necessarily bad for a tournament to be mostly chalk, but the fact that so many underdogs are coming close to winning is incredibly frustrating.
And it’s not like we’re not seeing any upsets at all. Three of the more notable upsets came in the last 48 hours, as No. 7 Michigan continued their amazing run by beating Louisville, No. 8 Wisconsin stunned defending champion and top overall seed Villanova, and No. 7 South Carolina beat Duke, who was a trendy Final Four pick after winning the ACC Tournament. And while not many people had the Gamecocks beating the Blue Devils, Michigan and Wisconsin are both teams that are a lot better than their seeds indicate. The Badgers and Wolverines played in the Big Ten championship game and both deserved to be a seed or two higher (contrast this with B1G regular season champ Purdue, who got a 4). So while these upsets are welcome, it’s mostly due to the committee not giving teams enough credit rather than it being an actual upset.
So in a tournament full of near-misses, is there still hope for chaos? With many games left and one top seed already gone, there is still a chance we get some bigger upsets down the line. But at the same time, it would have been nice to see some more double-digit seeds go deep into March.