Breaking down the March Madness underdogs
There is no weekend in sports quite like the first weekend of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship. But sometimes the second weekend of the tournament comes pretty close.
Last weekend gave us several stunning upsets, setting us up with some intriguing matchups in the Sweet 16 on Thursday and Friday and, in turn, the Elite 8 on Saturday and Sunday.
Four real Cinderellas remain, and if you’re one of the dopes who had Georgetown University or Gonzaga University going deep into the tournament (“not that I know anyone who did that,” the author said as he slowly folded his bracket away into his pocket) and are looking for a storyline to follow, here’s our take on the four lowest seeds remaining in the tournament.
No. 9 Wichita State university
What they’ve done: The Shockers opened up their tournament run by beating up on University of Pittsburgh by a score of 73-55, but as an 8-9 matchup against a perennial choker, that didn’t make much noise. Their big moment, however, came on last Saturday night when they put on a second-half run to shock (pun not intended, I promise) the West bracket’s top seed, Gonzaga, 76-70.
Underdog factor: Medium. Not everyone is familiar with them, but the Shockers come from the Missouri Valley Conference, which has gained a fair amount of respect and popularity in recent years as an emerging conference. And a No. 9 seed beating a No. 1 seed, while exciting, is hardly unprecedented.
Final Four chances: Respectable. Wichita State faces another upstart low-seed in the Sweet 16 in No. 13 La Salle University and should be expected to win that game. If it gets that win, a little bit of help from No. 6 University of Arizona in the other matchup could bring the Shockers’ Final Four dreams even closer to reality.
No. 12 university of Oregon
What they’ve done: The Ducks pulled off your garden-variety 5-12 upset on the tournament’s first day when they beat Oklahoma State University 68-55, then managed to surprise a lot of people by suffocating our friends from Midtown, Saint Louis University, by a score of 74-57.
Underdog factor: Low. The Ducks are a power-conference team and put together a pretty strong regular season in the Pac-12; they were probably underseeded at No. 12. No one learned who they are last week, to put it one way.
Final Four chances: Very, very low. Oregon’s got the tournament’s top overall seed, University of Louisville, to deal with Friday night in a near-home game for the Cardinals. Pulling off that upset would be stunning, but pulling off that upset and then beating the winner of the Michigan State University-Duke University game two days later? Yikes. Tough draw for the Ducks.
No. 13 La Salle university
What they’ve done: Well, the Explorers are the only tournament team that’s already won three games. As one of the “First Four” teams, La Salle won a battle of 13-seeds against Boise State University before withstanding a late-game surge to beat No. 4 Kansas State University 63-61 and hitting a last-second shot to knock off No. 12 Ole Miss (University of Mississippi) 76-74.
Underdog factor: Very high. La Salle was one of the last teams in from the tournament bubble, it’s only the second “First Four” team to do anything of note since the tournament expanded to 68 teams (Virginia Commonwealth University, which made the Final Four in 2011, was the first), and it’s won all its games in very close fashion. Not to mention, the Explorers are from the lovable underdog city of Philadelphia. (Disclaimer: the author of this piece is from Philadelphia.)
Final Four Chances: Could be worse. They’re in the same bracket as Wichita State, so one of those two teams will be one win away from the Final Four. The Ohio State University-Arizona winner will be tough no matter what, but the Explorers have already topped one strong power-conference team and may have another one in them.
No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast University
What they’ve done: The darlings of the Atlantic Sun Conference pulled off the never-predictable 15-2 upset with a 78-68 win over Georgetown, alerting the entire nation to their existence as a school. Then the folks from what’s being known as Dunk City cemented their place in history on Sunday night by knocking off No. 7 San Diego State University and becoming the first 15-seed in history to reach the Sweet 16. Currently, they’re the only school in Division 1 that’s undefeated all-time in NCAA Tournament play (2-0).
Underdog factor: Through the roof. Don’t lie: unless you’re from Fort Myers, Fla., you probably hadn’t heard of these guys until you swiftly passed over them to pick Georgetown when you first filled out your bracket. They’ve gone where no 15th seed has ever gone before, making this run—even if it’s only been two games long—truly unprecedented.
Final Four chances: Pretty low. They’re facing their in-state neighbors, the third-seeded University of Florida, on Friday night. And if their run continues, they’ll have to face the winner of the game between two national powers in Kansas University and the University of Michigan. The odds of pulling off two more upsets are obviously not in their favor, but it’s hard to complain—they’re here, which is more than anyone expected, and are playing with house money. They may as well enjoy the ride.