Home > Uncategorized > With perhaps its greatest upset, the NCAA Tournament spits in the face of conventional wisdom once again

With perhaps its greatest upset, the NCAA Tournament spits in the face of conventional wisdom once again

We think we know. We should have known better.

In an exceptionally enjoyable game for the eyes but not for everyone’s brackets Friday, Middle Tennessee State became the eighth No. 15 seed to knock off a No. 2 seed in NCAA Tournament history, winning 90-81 over Michigan State.

The Spartans, as head coach Tom Izzo said after the loss, played well. The Blue Raiders were just better. They hit 11 of 19 3-pointers and shot nearly 56 percent overall. Michigan State’s defense was fine for the most part; the likes of Giddy Potts, Robert Upshaw and Jaqawn Raymond just put on a ridiculous display of shot-making. MTSU grabbed more offensive rebounds and committed fewer turnovers. They stormed out to a 15-2 advantage — Izzo even admitted that his Spartans might have underestimated their opponents early on — and they never gave up the lead. Michigan State made it a one-point contest a few times, but Middle Tennessee State wouldn’t let them get over the hump.

In an honest and emotional interview with CBS just minutes after losing, Izzo said that this may be the toughest defeat of his coaching career because of how talented this team was and how many seniors were leading it, especially Player of the Year candidate Denzel Valentine, sharpshooter Bryn Forbes and glass-crasher Matt Costello. When talking about his seniors during the postgame press conference, Izzo understandably struggled to keep it together.

Izzo also said the Blue Raiders hit some shots that he’s never seen on film.

“We knew they could shoot them, but I’m not sure that I thought they could shoot 30-footers falling down getting fouled.”

And that description is not too far from the truth. It was one of those games where certain things needed to go right, and they certainly did for MTSU.

Thus, the bracket public in general was left with this:


The worst part: We all knew this was coming. A crazy season with an unheard of number of losses from the big boys was most likely going to beget an even crazier NCAA Tournament. If there was any year to stray from the pack, this was it.

That’s not saying anything about Friday’s game. Michigan State should have been the heavy favorite, and everyone should have chosen them to win. It goes beyond today. In a season where no team has looked all that dominant, we shouldn’t trust the top seeds. 

But I didn’t listen even though I knew the facts — I went with Michigan State winning it all. And I was certainly not alone. The Spartans were the favorite or the co-favorite to take home the trophy at many Las Vegas sportsbooks. In ESPN’s Bracket Challenge, 22.3 percent of all brackets placed Sparty in the national final, behind only Kansas at 25 percent. No team was expected to make to make the Sweet 16 more than Michigan State (80.9 percent).

If you combine the picks from the college basketball experts at ESPN, CBS and NBC’s College Basketball Talk, 45 of those 49 people had Michigan State advancing to at least the Final Four, and 29 of them picked Michigan State to win the championship.

It’s that kind of confidence from people supposedly in the know that helps the argument that this is the greatest upset in the history of the Tournament. And remember, this is a Michigan State squad that many believed should have been a No. 1 seed after claiming the Big 10 Conference Tournament. I think this is the closest we have ever come to witnessing a 16 actually take down a 1.

The Spartans had plenty of company in the category of surprising early exits too. Friday saw No. 3 seed West Virginia, a short-handed No. 4 seed California and No. 6 seed Texas vanquished. The Round of 32 will consist of 10 double-digit seeds, a tournament record. Because, of course. Of course this was going to happen. And it will keep happening because that’s the year it has been.

The Final Four in many brackets consisted of Michigan State, Kansas, Oklahoma and then either North Carolina or Kentucky. All pretty safe bets. But of all years, why did so many of us play it safe?

Because we thought that we were smart and went with what made sense. We had watched college basketball this year and believed that we had a pretty good idea of what was going to take place, understanding that some underdogs are always going to rise up.

Not even close. The NCAA Tournament teaches us every time that we don’t know anything. Many games are decided by the vagaries of luck. Based on this year’s regular season, we should have expected a development like the one Friday brought us, with so many higher seeds getting kicked out of the dance. Hardly anyone had Michigan State departing so soon, but we should have expected them to run into trouble at some point since trouble has found the top teams in college basketball more often in 2015-16 than ever before. Most brackets didn’t reflect that, however. Those are now kindling. 

With three rounds still remaining until the Final Four, which Goliath will fall next? At this point, I think the better question is: By the time we get to Houston, which one, if any, will be left standing?


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