The Arizona Republic
Lessons from March Madness
The NCAA men’s basketball tournament has already packed a month of madness into a single weekend.
Surprises and upsets defined the first two rounds of tournament play, sending some of college basketball’s biggest names packing – including Kansas, Purdue, Duke, Virginia and Kentucky – as Fairleigh Dickinson beat Purdue and Princeton topped Arizona and Missouri to write two of the top Cinderella stories in recent tournament history.
Amid this flurry of unpredictability, what happens next is anyone’s guess. Even picking top seeds Alabama and Houston to end up in the Final Four seems premature; if the past few days are any indication, this year’s national champion might be a team that entered tournament play off the radar.
With the Sweet 16 set to begin Thursday, these are the the things we learned from the first weekend of the tournament:
Welcome to March Madness
Using the NCAA definition of a tournament upset – games won by teams seeded five or more spots below the favorite – there have been seven through the first two rounds:
● No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson 63, No. 1 Purdue 58
● No. 15 Princeton 59, No. 2 Arizona 55
● No. 15 Princeton 78, No. 7 Missouri 63
● No. 13 Furman 68, No. 4 Virginia 67
● No. 11 Pittsburgh 59, No. 6 Iowa State 41
● No. 8 Arkansas 72, No. 1 Kansas 71
● No. 7 Michigan State 69, No. 2 Marquette 60
While the number could grow, this isn’t yet the most upset-heavy tournament in recent history; there were 14 such upsets in both the 2020 and 2021 tournaments. But projected to be among the most unpredictable in years, this bracket has already lived up to expectations by sending several high-profile contenders packing and providing upsets certain to linger in tournament memory.
This list of unforgettable upsets begins with Fairleigh Dickinson, which joined Maryland-Baltimore County in 2018 as the only No. 16 seeds to defeat a No. 1 before falling to No. 9 Florida
Atlantic in the second round. Princeton is the fourth No. 15 seed to ever reach the Sweet 16 and the second in as many years after St. Peter’s last March.
Where does Fairleigh Dickinson rank among all-time upsets?
While UMBC was the first to make history, the Knights are in many ways the most incredible underdog story in tournament history despite getting knocked out in the second round.
Begin with the fact that FDU might’ve been the weakest team on paper in this year’s bracket. The Knights ended the regular season 301st in the NET rankings of all 363 Division I teams and lost 12 games to Quad 4 competition. One of those losses was to Hartford, which ended the year ranked dead last in the NET. FDU has the shortest starting lineup in Division I with an average height of 6-foot-1 and no player in the rotation taller than 6-foot-6 freshman Jo’el Emanuel. That didn’t stop the Knights from battling Purdue and 7-foot-4 center Zach Edey to a draw in the paint.
And then there’s this: FDU lost the Northeast Conference tournament championship game to Merrimack and only received the league’s automatic bid because Merrimack was ineligible for postseason play while transitioning up from Division II.
Bluebloods AWOL from Sweet 16
For just the second time since 1980, the Sweet 16 will not include at least one of Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and North Carolina. While the Tar Heels’ disappointing season ended almost two weeks ago, the Blue Devils, Jayhawks and Wildcats were jettisoned in the second round to leave an almost blueblood-free second weekend.
The bloodshed doesn’t end there for some of college basketball’s biggest brands:
● No. 1 Purdue suffered the historic upset against Fairleigh Dickinson despite the best efforts of center Zach Edey, who scored 21 of the Boilermakers’ 58 points.No. 2 Arizona headed into tournament play as the Pac-12 tournament champions but went just 3 of 16 from deep in the first-round loss to Princeton.
● No. 3 Baylor lost in the second round for the second year in a row after winning the 2020 national championship.
● No. 4 Virginia was knocked out by a double-digit seed for the third time in the past four tournaments, sandwiching the program’s championship in 2019.
Miami carries the flag for the ACC
For the second March in a row, the ACC sent five teams into the tournament. In contrast to last year, however, when the league put three teams in the Elite Eight and two in the Final Four, the ACC will have only a single representative in the Sweet 16.
Virginia and No. 11 North Carolina State lost in the first round. The Wolfpack made the tournament for the second time under coach Kevin Keatts but haven’t advanced to the second round since making the Sweet 16 in 2015.