No hyperbole here. This is already the greatest NCAA tournament we’ve ever seen.
The first Thursday and Friday of the tournament always offers the best stretch of excitement, but this year was really something else. A whopping 10 double-digits seeds pulled off upsets to advance to the Round of 32. One of those upsets is being hailed as the greatest tourney upset of all-time – that being Middle Tennessee upending No. 2 seed Michigan State. The case for it is that Michigan State was basically a No. 1 seed, given that it had the second best odds to win the national championship and that it lost to a school that did not have a single top-90 RPI win all season (according to CBS Sports).
For reference - in the most prominent gambling pool I am a member of, an unbelievable 17-of-19 people picked Michigan State to reach the Final Four and nine of the 19 picked the Spartans to win the whole damn thing. Really, top overall seeds don't get that much respect most years. So we really did just witness a No. 1 seed lose in the first round, even though the NCAA history website won’t say so.
And then there were the buzzer-beaters. The glorious, glorious buzzer-beaters. Paul Jesperson’s Stephen Curry-worthy halfcourt score to beat Texas was stunning. No way, on no planet, is that shot supposed to go in. But by the time the ball left the hands of Wisconsin’s Bronson Koenig late Sunday night, you knew exactly where it was going.
By Sunday night, everyone expected more miracles.
Without even discussing Texas A&M’s historic rally against Jesperson and Northern Iowa, it is for sure that this is the best NCAA tourney of all-time.
Now, basketball snobs will surely scoff at that idea. They’ll say that the overall talent level in the college game is at an all-time low. They’ll also say that there are zero powerhouse teams in this year’s field.
And yeah. That’s true.
But, so what?!
The NCAA tournament is not as popular as it is because of its particular talent level year-to-year. It is popular because it is the most unpredictable sporting event, year-to-year. It is popular because David beats Goliath. Like, a lot, year-to-year.
The popularity of the event is justified in this case, too. Sure, the NFL is great, but damn there were there a lot of boring games this past season (Example A: Super Bowl 50).
Admittedly, the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 will not be as exciting for the general fan. Mainly because all of the teams left are highly regarded college basketball programs and the David v. Goliath element is mostly lost.
But because of the unprecedented parity in this particular Big Dance, we are guaranteed three or four Northern Iowa-level finishes the rest of the way.
Many of us (myself at the top of the list), get far too caught up in sports storylines and scandal these days. Peyton Manning and the Tennessee scandal, Deflategate, Adam LaRoche vs. the White Sox, Hulk Hogan v. Gawker. Those are the type of stories that get the most attention.
But sometimes, once in a great while, the games themselves grab top billing.
Looking forward to what the final two weekends of the greatest tournament we’ve ever seen has to offer.