by Patrick Gustavson
The first weekend of the madness has come and gone, and the field of 68 has already been cut to just 16 teams competing for the NCAA championship. Every year, your bracket is likely busted.
History was made on Friday night when Virginia, the number one overall team in the field, fell to the University of Maryland Baltimore-County in the first round, by an astounding 20 points. This marked the first time in tournament history that a one-seed lost in the first round.
It was nearly impossible for one to predict Virginia losing. Every year, people try and predict a number one going down. This year, the popular pick was to have Kansas losing to the University of Pennsylvania. After a slight scare in the first half, the Jayhawks pulled ahead and won the game by 16.
According to ESPN’s tournament challenge, 18.5 percent of people had Virginia winning the championship, while just 3.3 percent had them losing to UMBC.
The Cavaliers weren’t the only team that fell victim of an upset. Fourth-seeded Arizona was dominated by Buffalo on Thursday, meaning two top contenders were out after just the first round.
However, the upsets didn’t stop after the first round. Three other perennial contenders lost their second-round games. Cincinnati lost a 22-point second half lead against Nevada, falling by two points. North Carolina was on the wrong side of a beat-down against Texas A&M, with the Aggies moving on. Finally, third-seed Michigan State was blanked in the second half by Syracuse.
Overall, out of the top 10 most popular choices on ESPN, just six remain in the tournament.
Many tops teams still remain alive. Villanova took care of business, beating both of their opponents by at least 20 points. However, a tough road lies ahead for Villanova, facing final four teams such as West Virginia, Purdue and Texas Tech.
Kansas and Duke, the top two seeds in the Midwest region are two of the favorites. However, just one will have the ability to reach the final four in San Antonio.
In contrast, the south region has not gone according to plan. The highest seed remaining is fifth-seed Kentucky, and one of Nevada or Loyola (Chicago) will be in the elite eight.
The weekend showed that upsets are inevitable. There was not that much excitement in the first round. Besides UMBC and Buffalo, only three other double-digit seeds advanced to the round of 32: Loyola (Chicago), Syracuse and Marshall. Had you picked every team seeded one through four, you would have had 13 teams remaining. It shows that while it is fun to root for the upsets, the smartest strategy in the first round may be going with the safe choice.
It also showed the importance of picking a safe and reliable winner. After the first weekend, over 45 percent of participants in the tournament challenge are without their predicted champion. But depending on the rules of your pool, you might get a big bonus for predicting the correct champion. No matter how poorly you do in the first few rounds, your champion winning could easily propel you to win your pool.
The action resumes on Thursday when Cinderellas like Loyola (Chicago), Nevada and Syracuse will look to make the final four, while contenders like Villanova, Kansas and Duke look to show that they are the best team on the field.