Posted by Katie Peverada
Every year around this time, sports fans dutifully fill out a bracket for the NCAA tournament. Usually there's an upset or two, but by the Sweet Sixteen most of the teams that are supposed to be alive still are, and besides the expected 12 seed upset over the 5 seed, our brackets are in good shape.
But let's face it: this year, everyone's bracket is toast. We've been busted by teams we've never even heard of, or by teams that weren't supposed to win. How were we supposed to know a team that just started Division I competition a few years ago is going to pull off two upsets in a row? Or that a school known more for its non-athletic alumni would be victorious? That's the thing, though: we aren't supposed to know those things. And it's what makes having our brackets blown-up bearable, or even fun. But while this year seems like it's particularly mad, it really isn't.
Usually, these teams all have a similar blueprint. Take Virginia Commonwealth University in the 2011 NCAA tournament. They made a run all the way from the First Four, the play-in games, to the Final Four, becoming known for their young coach's
"Havoc" defense. Or take a look at the No. 5 seed Butler Bulldogs in the 2010 tournament. A school of just 4,500 advanced all the way to the National Championship under the tutelage of young Brad Stevens and his "Butler Way" system. Frankly, this year is no different than those before it.
On Dec. 22, 2012, the Florida Gulf Coast University Eagles lost to the University of Maine Blackbears 84-78 in front of 980 people in Orono, Maine. Now the No. 15 seeded Eagles have grabbed the spotlight and their Cinderella story is being shared across the country. After upsetting No. 2 seeded Georgetown, they went on to beat No. 7 seeded San Diego State. They are the first ever 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16. The Eagles are built like all the past Cinderella teams, with an upstart coach, Andy Enfield, and a certain style of play that is being broadcasted everywhere, "Dunk City." The Eagles have gone from losing to a team from arguably one of the least-competitive conferences in Division I Basketball to having their victorious smiles plastered all over the Internet.
And then there's No. 14, Harvard. While you might think Harvard has a stellar basketball program because of last year's Linsanity craze, it's not what you think. Harvard plays in the Ivy League, a conference whose schools don't even give out athletic scholarships. Harvard has the second-worst all-time win percentage in that conference, behind only Brown. It has to deal with tougher admissions requirements, as well as the stigma that they're just a team of nerds. That's what made their upset of No. 3 New Mexico, Harvard's first ever NCAA tournament victory, so great. The Crimson finally won somewhere else than in the classroom.
Meanwhile, three No. 12 seeds scored victories over No. 5 seeds, with the Cal, Ole Miss and Oregon defeating UNLV, Wisconsin and Oklahoma State, respectively. And No. 13 La Salle beat No. 4 seed Kansas State to move on. Doesn't it seem like a lot of upsets? Not really.
Take a step back, and look: most of the big names are still in it, with Indiana, Duke, Florida, Michigan and Ohio State still standing. All in all, there are still three No. 1 seeds, three No. 2 seeds, three No. three seeds and two No. 4 seeds.
So really, the only difference between this year and years past is that there is more parity in the earlier rounds. The country is simply getting to see smaller-market teams play good basketball, something that will most likely come to an end following this tournament. Hopefully it won't, though, and the Eagles will keep rolling.