March Mayhem

The March Madness tournament never disappoints, giving viewers underdog triumphs and unexpected victories.

March is mayhem for college basketball fans. March madness never ceases to stun viewers, and the most recent tournament arguably produced the craziest round of the 64 in tournament history. The most unlikely upset was the takedown of the powerhouse Purdue Boilermakers by the 16-seeded Fairleigh Dickson Knights.

The underdog Knights won an impressive 63-58, pulling off one of the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history and becoming the second No. 16 seed to triumph in a March Madness match. The Knights (21-15), the smallest of the 363 Division I teams in the nation, had no problem crowding 7’4″ All-American center Zach Edey from the get-go; they outplayed the Big Ten champion Boilermakers (29-6). After the game, even the FDU coach Tobin Anderson said, “If we played them 100 times, they’d probably beat us 99 times…play them 100 times, we have one win. But tonight’s the one we had to be unique. We had to be unorthodox. We had to make it tough on them, just be different.”

Sean Moore led FDU with a tenacious defensive charge by a team everyone had their eyes on, scoring an impressive 19 points. The Knights pressed throughout most of the game, keeping Purdue on their toes and forcing them out of their comfort zone. Five years ago, after many close calls, UMBC finally led the way for the underdogs by dominating Virginia in the first 16-over-1 victory. Before FDU’s shocking victory, No. 16s had a 1-150 record against No. 1s, and were 1-151 overall. At the final horn, FDU players surrounded one another on the floor of Nationwide Arena, where the supporters from Florida Atlantic and Memphis came together to support the Knights in the tense closing minutes.

Despite having no players taller than 6’6,” the Knights managed to stun the squad controlled by a 7’4″ superstar. Watching the game, you wouldn’t know that Fairleigh Dickinson’s defense was horrible this past year during the regular season. FDU caused 15 turnovers while limiting the Boilermakers to a field goal percentage of 35.8. Fairleigh Dickinson’s defense controlled the action on every possession using traps and straight double-teams. As a result, Purdue turned down open looks throughout the second half and seemed afraid to shoot in crunch time. Throughout the game, Purdue made only five of their 26 three-point attempts. Compared to Purdue’s three steals, FDU had 10.

However, Star big man Zach Edey was no slouch, notching an impressive 21 points and 15 rebounds, leaving it all on the court for maybe the last time. Edey still needs to decide whether or not he will be returning to the Boilermakers next year or declaring for the NBA draft. Unfortunately, Edey received minimal help from his teammates throughout the game. The ball pressure from FDU was highly active and too much for Purdue’s perimeter players to handle. They had to work hard on most possessions to move the ball across halfcourt.

Instead, they settled for attempts from ineffective shooters, leading to a series of misses. In the final 12 minutes of play, Edey attempted just one field goal. Braden Smith, starting rookie guard, made just one of six threes below his usual average. Forward starter Mason Gilles also made only one of seven three-point attempts.

Another upset that shook the entire country was the no. 15-seeded underdogs, Princeton, beating the powerhouse Arizona Wildcats. The David versus Goliath matchup shocked the world and left everyone who watched it stunned and speechless. Nobody expected the prestigious Pac-12 tournament champions to be sent home this early. They finished the regular season with a remarkable record of 28-6 and earned the No. 2 seed in the tournament. President Joe Biden even picked them to win the entire thing. After playing their first game, which was supposed to be a warmup, they were sent packing. After a crucial 9-0 run to end the game, Princeton was able to come away with a 59-55 win. With 50 seconds left in the game, Princeton had its first lead of the contest, taking a one-point lead.

That marks the second time Arizona, who fell to Steve Nash and Santa Clara in 1993, has defeated a No. 2 seed. This is only the 11th time a No. 15 seed has defeated a No. 2 seed in the history of the Tournament. Princeton still prevailed despite only hitting a disappointing 40.6 percent from the field and 16 percent from the 3-point range. They did edge out the Wildcats with a 39-37 rebounding advantage. Arizona entered the contest as a heavy 14.5-point favorite, meaning Vegas also expected the game to be a blowout. Virtually everyone who made predictions for the game predicted Arizona would win, with many also believing the Wildcats would win the entire thing. Tosan Evbuomwan, a Princeton player, was the only one to reach double figures with 15 points, implying that everyone did their part in the team effort.

There are more upsets yearly due to the decreasing skill gap between collegiate basketball teams. The talent level between top and lower-seeded teams has shrunk due to an increased tendency toward a more fair distribution of quality among college basketball programs. Due to this, it is now easier for underdog teams to fight against higher-ranked ones. In addition, more and more players are leaving the Power Five schools to receive more playing time or financial aid/compensation.

Another reason is the one-and-done culture. Due to the growing trend in college basketball of elite players leaving for the NBA after one season, teams with less talented players have a better chance of winning games than teams with more capable, yet inexperienced players. Coaches and teams increasingly use analytics to find and exploit holes in their opponent’s game plans. This may level the playing field between lower-seeded and higher-seeded teams, facilitating more frequent upsets by underdog teams.

Due to the single-elimination nature of the NCAA tournament, losses are more likely because even one poor performance can lead to elimination. However, extreme pressure can result in unexpected results when performing in front of a large national audience. Therefore, it is fair to say that this trend of more yearly upsets will continue.

Joshua Shweiki, University of Maryland, College Park

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Joshua Shweiki

University of Maryland, College Park
Government and Politics

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