The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year
Dustin Kerwood 03.16.2017
The last half of March has become my favorite time of the year for sports over the years. From the middle of the March until the first Monday in April, one thing is guaranteed, millions of sports fans, myself included, will be locked in front of a TV.
The opening round, this weekend, is my favorite sports weekend. There is no sporting event that shows you the love of sport like seeing kid’s, from a little-known school, knock off a national powerhouse in the first round and live out their life-long dream. Kid’s that will never suit up for an NBA team having their one shining moment for the basketball world to see. That is what makes this tournament so special, the fact everyone fills out a bracket is what makes the tournament so successful. Over the years there have been many first-round upsets with kid’s that have shocked themselves and the basketball world and this year’s tournament is sure to provide a few more moments that will be remembered for years to come.
In the year 1986, the NCAA tournament had not quite become the event that it is today with wall to wall coverage. In 1986 the tournament expanded to 64 teams from 48 and it would be in the first year of the expanded bracket that we would see a major upset that would change the way March Madness is viewed today. The fourteenth seeded Cleveland State Vikings, making their first ever tournament appearance rode their pressure defense to shock the third-seeded Indiana Hoosiers 83-79, coached by Bob Knight and featuring Steve Alford. Cleveland State was lead in scoring by forward Clinton Ransey with 27. The basketball world was shocked. Indiana had such a good team that their main core returned the next season and won the National title. Cleveland State would go on to win their second round contest against Saint Joes before losing to a David Robinson-led Navy team in the Sweet Sixteen. This is the game and the team that ushered in the first-round upset era for the NCAA tournament.
Going into last year I had high hopes for my bracket. I knew it was going to be the year that I break through and win the big money in the bracket that I compete in every year. That all came crashing down on the second day of the tournament as fifteen seed Middle Tennessee State took down two seed Michigan State. Michigan State had been hot prior to the tournament and given the tournament experience of their head coach Tom Izzo, the Denzel Valentine led Spartans were picked by many to win the National Championship. I was one of the many who drank the Sparty Kool-Aid. Michigan State’s 2016 March Madness run was over before it even started in hindsight. Middle Tennessee State jumped out to a 15-2 lead in the game and never looked back winning the ball game 90-81. In my mind, this is the biggest upset in tournament history. Michigan State was ranked fifth in the nation in the kenpom.com rankings, a metrics based ranking system that looks at the overall performance of a team throughout the season. Middle Tennessee State ranked 119th in the nation in the same ranking. Middle Tennessee is back this year to play the spoiler role as they are a twelve seed and face the fifth-seeded Minnesota Golden Gophers today. It goes to show you that anything can happen in March in College Basketball, that is what makes this tournament so fun and so frustrating, it’s unpredictability.
In 1993 Steve Nash became a household name before he ever played a minute for the Dallas Mavericks or the Phoenix Suns. His fifteenth seeded Santa Clara Broncos pulled off a huge upset of the second-seeded Arizona Wildcats featuring Damon Stoudamire and Khalid Reeves. Surprisingly it was not Steve Nash’s incredible offensive skills that won the game for Santa Clara, but rather it was their defensive performance. They held an Arizona team that had only lost 3 games all year to 25% from the field for the entire game. At the end of the game, Steve Nash came to the line with 7.3 seconds left, with a chance to ice the game for the Broncos. He missed both free throw but the rebound was secured the Broncos Kevin Dunne who then proceeded to miss his 2 free throws as well. Arizona’s Damon Stoudamire missed his last second 23 footer for the tie and Santa Clara survived and advanced and the legend of Steve Nash had begun.
My favorite March Madness upset came in the form of a father-son combo. It was 1998 and I was ditching school my senior year like I always did during the tournament to check the games out. Bryce Drew, the son of Valparaiso coach Homer Drew knocked down a three as time expired on a full court pass to send the Valpo Crusaders marching onto the next round and send the Ole Miss Rebels packing. This could very well be the most memorable first round upset there is. The play was incredible, a full court pass, Drew caught it and with time expiring, fading away, knocked down a miracle shot. Imagine being Bryce Drew, realizing a childhood dream of winning a NCAA tournament game and knocking down the winning shot, with your dad coaching, in such dramatic fashion. Incredible! Although you may think March Madness is about your bracket this is what March Madness is about. In the early rounds, it is a chance for the small school to shine.
No other game or team shows this more than the 1993 Princeton Tigers. When you think Princeton you think academics and not basketball. That is until March of 1993. The Princeton Tigers beat the defending champion UCLA Bruins 43-41 on a backdoor cut by Lou Ellis with 2.2 seconds remaining in the game to give their 29-year coach Pete Carril his first NCAA tournament victory in his last season coaching the Tigers.
The upsets are what make the first round of the NCAA tournament so entertaining, the moments that a kid will remember for a lifetime. What do you want to bet we are provided with another shining moment this weekend? Let the games begin!