We’re not trying to be grumpy old haters here. The NCAA Tournament is awesome, and few things are better than watching 12 consecutive hours of do-or-die basketball.
But man, did Thursday’s games fail to live up to the hype.
The opening day of the 2017 NCAA Tournament produced a whopping two upsets: No. 11 Xavier taking care of underachieving No. 6 seed Maryland, and Middle Tennessee State toppling Minnesota in the 12-5 upset that everyone predicted anyway.
Every other higher seed won — even the No. 8s and No. 7s. In fact, every team favored by two points or more advanced. If that trend continues Friday, it’ll be the first time no clear underdogs have won a first-round game since 2000.
Sure, Thursday had its drama. No. 5 seed Notre Dame survived an upset scare when No. 12 seed Princeton missed a potential game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer. Tournament darling Northwestern earned an exciting win over No. 9 seed Vanderbilt, thanks to a mind-boggling late foul.
But this is March Madness we’re talking about. You know, the tournament in which No. 13 seed Hawaii surprised California, No. 14 seed Stephen F. Austin shocked West Virginia and No. 15 seed Middle Tennessee stunned national title hopeful Michigan State — all in the same year (2016).
The first round of March Madness is meant to be the wildest. There were eight legitimate first-round upsets last year, not even counting wins by No. 10 and No. 9 seeds (of which there were five). The year before, two No. 14 seeds beat No. 3 seeds, the first time that’s happened since 1995. In 2012, two No. 15 seeds scored first-round wins, an NCAA Tournament first.
That kind of excitement just hasn’t happened yet this year. Only one No. 12 seed beat a No. 5 seed, the lowest total since 2011, and nine of Thursday’s 16 games were decided by 10 points or more.
There’s also this: Since 2007, the Big Dance has had at least one upset by a 13, 14 or 15 seed every year. Right now, that streak is in serious jeopardy — all four No. 4 seeds won Thursday, including one No. 3 seed and one No. 2 seed.
There’s “some” hope for the second day: No. 3 seed Baylor has been bounced from the first round in the last two NCAA Tournaments and could be ripe for the picking against No. 14 seed New Mexico State. We’ve seen Duke lose as a No. 2 seed before, and No. 3 seeds Oregon and UCLA could blow it. We also could see some more mild upsets when No. 11 seeds Rhode Island and USC hit the court.
But considering that all No. 12 and No. 13 seeds already have played, it’s hard to imagine the first round finishing as anything but a historic dud.
We’ll end on an optimistic note, though: Plenty of basketball still is to be played in this tournament, thus plenty of opportunity for March to resume its “normal” Madness.
Thumbnail photo via James Lang/USA TODAY Sports Images
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