The NCAA Basketball Tournament—aka ‘March Madness’ is famous for its unpredictable results and major upsets. That has definitely been the case this year with several high profile programs meeting their tournament demise at the hands of little known upstarts. On Thursday’s opening day the unlikely winners were Harvard and Summit League champion North Dakota State. That only set the stage for an even crazier series of results on Friday:
–In arguably the biggest upset of the tournament so far the Macon, Georgia based Mercer Bears eliminated perennial powerhouse Duke 78-71 , winning outright as a +13 point underdog. In all fairness, this is the sort of game that is considered a much bigger ‘upset’ by the mainstream sports media than by Las Vegas college basketball experts. Many of the ‘wise guys’ had Mercer circled before the tournament began, citing their mature, well disciplined team and highly efficient offense.
–Stephen F. Austin also pulled a big upset, eliminating Shaka Smart’s Virginia Commonwealth team in overtime. This wasn’t a huge upset despite the disparity in the ‘name recognition’ of the two teams. Upsets in the 5 vs. 12 games have become very common (the #12 team won 3 of 4 matchups this year) and SFA got a big assist from some brain dead play by VCU. Down by 4 points with 3.6 seconds remaining, Stephen F. Austin’s Desmond Haymon was fouled on a 3 point shot—the shot went in and he nailed the free throw to send the game to overtime. VCU had closed a -6 point favorite in this game.
–In a couple of minor upsets Gonzaga beat Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State, winning 85-77 as +4′ point underdogs. This was a game that split the ‘sharps’ and ‘squares’, with the public all over the favorite and most of the ‘wise guy’ community in Las Vegas backing the underdog. In other action Pac 12 entrant Stanford eliminated Mountain West champion New Mexico by a 58-53 score as a +4′ point underdog.
Now the question becomes: “Do these upset teams have a second act in them?”. At one point the conventional wisdom was that any team pulling a big upset in the first round was a likely candidate for a loss in the second round. That is no longer the case—in recent years lower profile programs like VCU, Florida Gulf Coast, Wichita State and Butler have made deep runs into the tournament. I also found an article on TopBettingReviews.com for march madness picks and they have listed Stephen F. Austin to win over VCU. That’s a good call, but it could be a huge upset as well.