That's when the real March Madness sets in. There will probably be an upset involving a 5-seed vs. 12-seed game. There might be another with a 4-13 game, a 3-14 game, or at best a2-15 game. Maybe it will happen at the buzzer. Everybody will scream. It might distract co-workers. We'll either say we had that upset picked all along or bitch about a busted bracket. We'll Google the winning school, then watch that school get dusted in the second round.
That's an admittedly soulless and succinct description of the first two days of March Madness, but it's also true. This tournament is prepackaged with wings and beer into the perfect tease, and all it takes is one or two upsets to make it a success. It's time to ask for something more.
"There are upsets every year in the first weekend," ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said on a teleconference last week. "Every year. There's never a time when there aren't upsets. So we talk about how crazy it is, and, ‘Oh, my God, look how wide-open, anybody can win, unbelievable.' Then the second weekend it normalizes, and there are usually like 13 major conference teams and three mid-majors, and two of them are usually Gonzaga and Wichita State or somebody like that."
Sporting Newsranked all the first-round upsetsby teams seeded No. 13 or lower since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. Of those 55 teams, only nine advanced to the Sweet 16. None of those schools advanced to the Elite Eight. The greatest trick the devil ever pulledwas convincing the world he didn't exist, but TV executives one-upped that by convincing us all that Cinderella does exist.
"Every once in a while somebody is going to catch fire and you're going to have a VCU thing happen and all that," Bilas said. "But usually we have upsets [on just] the first weekend."
That "VCU thing"would be the Cinderella story. A total of 21 teams seeded lower than fourth have reached the Final Four in the expanded bracket era, and most of those teams arefrom major conferences.
VCU (2011) is one of three No. 11 seeds to reach the Final Four, along with LSU (1986) and George Mason (2006). Along with Butler's back-to-back runs to the championship game as a No. 5 in 2010 and a No. 8 in 2011, those are the best Cinderella stories, and they are really good ones. The only other schools seeded lower than No. 8 to make it were Wichita State (2013) as a No. 9, and Syracuse (2016) as a No. 10.
We're not taking away from any of that. We've seen great tournament runs like that, and we've seen two 2-15 upsets on the same day. We just want the next step. Here are the three upset scenarios worth rooting for:
Cinderella upsets worthy of March Madness
A No. 1 seed losing in the first round
No. 1 Georgetown escaped No. 16 Princeton 50-49 in 1989, and there's a reason that game is held in such high esteem. It almost happened. No. 1 seeds are 128-0 since the start of 1-16 games. The first time it happens will be legendary.
A No. 13 seed or lower reaching the Final Four
These are the teams designed not to get out of the first weekend no matter what happens. We mentioned that nine teams ranked No. 13 or lower have advanced to the Sweet 16. That list includes No. 13 seeds Richmond (1988), Valparaiso (1998), Oklahoma (1999), Ohio (2012), La Salle (2013) and Bradley (2013); and No. 14 seeds Cleveland State (1986) and Tennessee -Chattanooga (1997). The darling here is Florida Gulf Coast (2013), the lone No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16. Imagine if those schools made the Final Four. Imagine the legend around Bryce Drew had that happened. As a graduate of one of the schools on this list, I can tell you a Sweet 16 feels like a Final Four. A Final Four would feel like a national championship.
A No. 9 seed or lower winning the title
Villanova set the bar high as a No. 8 by knocking off No. 1 Georgetown in the first 64-team tournament in 1985. No. 6 Kansas (1988) and No. 7 UConn (2014) also pulled it off, but are those big-time programs really underdogs?
If one of those scenarios isn't happening, then we're simply rinsing and repeating with the first-weekend upsets. Remember last year when No. 15 Middle Tennessee State knocked off No. 2 Michigan State, a favorite to win the tournament?
"We talked about how crazy it was, Middle Tennessee and all that, and when we got to the Sweet 16 it was 15 major-conference teams and Gonzaga, and the Final Four were the usual suspects," Bilas said.
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The usual suspectsare the way to go this year.Imagine a South Region Sweet 16 with chalk that includes North Carolina, Butler, UCLA and Kentucky. The Bulldogs belong in that group now, even if they have just two of those combined 55 Final Four appearances. Who doesn't want to see No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchups such as Duke-Villanova, Kansas-Louisville or Gonzaga-Arizona in the other three regions? I'd rather have the heavyweight fight with the intact bracket, unless we get one of those three upset scenarios above.
That's when we'll know that the slipper really fits. That's when we'll know Cinderella really does exist.