OK, so your bracket was blown to smithereens in a regrettable first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. It has more red ink than your calculus final. How could you show your face in the office after picking Arizona to win the whole thing … especially when you work for the University at Buffalo?
According to NCAA.com, which tracked tens of millions of brackets at five major websites, 4 percent had Arizona winning it all. ESPN reported that 90 percent picked Arizona to beat Buffalo. Considering how many people are employed by UB, it's safe to assume several (soon to be former) employees picked Arizona last Thursday.
More than 55 percent had the very first game wrong when Rhode Island beat Oklahoma in overtime. No. 11 Loyola-Chicago beating Miami, No. 13 UB taking down Arizona and No. 13 Marshall beating Wichita State left only a few hundred correct brackets. Before the first round was completed, there were none.
So don't feel bad.
The all-time bracket buster came Friday when UMBC knocked off Virginia, marking the first time in history that a No. 16 seed beat a No. 1 seed. It eliminated the 25 perfect brackets that remained through 28 games. Sure enough, UMBC was eliminated before the weekend was over.
Even in the NCAA's world of alphabet soup – where USC could mean Southern California or South Carolina and MSU could be Mississippi State or Michigan State – there is only one UMBC. You could practically hear casual fans flipping to the game and asking themselves the same question. Does that stand for University of Michigan Business College? University of Massachusetts-Boston Campus?
It's the University of Maryland-Baltimore County. The Retrievers finished second behind Vermont in the American East Conference, which was why 97.82 percent intelligently picked Virginia.
The other 2.18 percent were lucky.
Look, it was a matter of time before a 16th seed won a tournament game. Long before UB hammered Arizona and UMBC pounded Virginia, the gap had been closing between heavyweights from power conferences and good teams from mid-major or smaller conferences that supposedly stood little chance.
The game has changed dramatically over the past 30 years, shifting its focus from the low post to the perimeter and allowing teams with good shooters but less overall talent to neutralize bigger teams. On any given night, a presumptive inferiority can take down a college hoops royal that's having a bad evening.
UMBC gained confidence in the first half, gained momentum in the second, played lights out in the final 10 minutes and won in a rout. Jairus Lyles, who averaged 23 points per game in his career, had 23 points in the second half against Virginia. He finished with 28 points on 9-of-11 shooting for a team that did very little wrong while Virginia did very little right. UMBC won the rebounding battle, 31-21.It was bound to win.
Folks, that's why we watch.
The most shocking aspects of UB's and UMBC's upsets were the scores. UB blew out Arizona, 89-68, while UMBC pummeled Virginia, 74-54. Arizona and Virginia looked confused, as if they were uncomfortable playing a brand of basketball that's customary among mid-majors.
Power conferences are loaded with future NBA players, a number of whom (see: Ayton, DeAndre, Arizona) showcase their individual talent for one season and leap into professional ball. Players from mid-major conferences almost always stay in school, improve their games and become more entrenched in a team atmosphere.
For years, I've described the Atlantic 10 as the best 6-foot-10 and under conference in America. Mid-major teams generally are more fundamentally sound, more team-oriented and more experienced than the big boys. The A-10 has guards across the league that could play for numerous teams in power conferences.
Generally, mid-majors play the way basketball was intended. They rely more on one another when it comes to ball movement and setting screens. They tend to have a greater understanding of team defense. They're made up of players who were overlooked by bigger programs and therefore have something to prove.
It leads to upsets, if that's what you want to call them.
No. 11 seeds have a 19-17 record over No. 6 seeds over the past nine years in the Big Dance. Syracuse and Loyola-Chicago won first-round games this season en route to the Sweet 16. Syracuse became the sixth No. 11 seed in eight years to advance from the First Four to the Round of 32 or farther.
It wasn't exactly shocking when St. Bonaventure beat UCLA in the play-in game last week. UB beating Arizona was surprising because it was a No. 13 beating a No. 4, less so if you watched Buffalo this season. The Bulls had terrific guards, could play various styles, were experienced and had tremendous depth.
At risk of sounding like a homer, I had UB winning two games in the Big Dance. I took a flier on the Bulls against Arizona based partly on the idea a No. 13 seed was capable of beating a No. 4. I also believed UB deserved a higher seed and convinced myself Arizona was overrated.
Picking the Bulls to win a second game was based on Davidson beating Kentucky in a game Kentucky won by four. UB stood a very good chance of beating Davidson but never had the opportunity. Buffalo also gave Kentucky a good game before it stopped playing defense with about eight minutes left.
Never mind that I also had Virginia (toast) and Michigan State (see ya) reaching the Final Four and Michigan State playing Michigan in the final. So what if only eight teams I picked remain in the Sweet 16. You're miserable about your picks, but I have my own problems. Just look at my bracket.