Tiny Mercer sent the mighty Duke Blue Devils home in this years NCAA basketball tournament. Dayton’s defeat of Syracuse that put them into the Sweet Sixteen surprised everyone except its team members. These were huge upsets, true, but in NCAA basketball, many unlikely teams have cut in for a chance to the Big Dance.
It is the first time in 30 years that Dayton has made the Sweet Sixteen. They earned it when Syracuse’s star freshman point guard Tyler Ennis missed his three pointer from the top of the key and the ball bounced off the rim. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said he had no problem with Ennis’ shot, though. He called the last shot “a great shot.” Unfortunately for the third-seeded Orange, it didn’t drop in. With the loss, Boeheim has the dubious distinction of losing to more double-digit tournament seeds (six) than any other coach.
The Dayton win will not even go down as the biggest upset so far this year. That achievement belongs to tiny Mercer who defeated Duke in the tournament opener. The Bears, who were seeded 14th beat third seeded Duke 78-71 as the Blue Devils offense seemed to collapse in the game’s closing minutes.
Surprising as these upsets were, they aren’t the biggest in tournament history. In NCAA basketball history a number of unlikely teams have cut in for a chance to go to the Big Dance, as the NCAA Championship game is called. A memorable upset came in 2005 when the Kansas Jayhawks entered the year-end tournament after being ranked number one in the country at one time during the season. The Jayhawks’ plans for a long run took a sharp turn, though as they fell to lightly regarded and 14-seeded Bucknell in the very first round. Most fans blamed the loss on a one for 11 shooting performance from behind the arc.
Kansas fell again in the 2010 NCAA tournament and for some the result was even more shocking. The Jayhawks had gained the number one overall seed in the tourney and were expected to have an easy march to the finals in Detroit, where they planned to gain their second national title in three years. They didn’t see ninth-seeded Northern Iowa coming, however, and lost in the second round. Kansas squandered opportunities to win late in the game, and a three-pointer by Northern Iowa in the closing seconds proved to be the final straw.
What some regard as the number one upset of all time, though, happened in the 1985 national championship. No one gave number eight-seeded Villanova much of a chance against the heavily favored Georgetown, lead by Patrick Ewing. The defending champion Hoyas were cut down by incredible shooting during the second half when Villanova missed only one shot during the final 20 minutes.
Upsets like these are the reason the NCAA tournament is known as “March Madness.” The most highly favored teams don’t always win, and at times, fall shockingly. When March rolls around and NCAA basketball begins, some very unlikely teams have been known to cut in for a chance to the big dance.
Commentary by B. David Warner