With just 37 seconds left in the game, and ninth-seeded University of Northern Iowa clinging onto a one-point lead against top ranked Kansas, UNI’s Ali Farokhmanesh found himself standing wide open at the three-point line. Instead of holding onto the ball and letting the time run out, he quickly launched a three, his fourth of the night, and effectively busted the hundreds of thousands of brackets that had Kansas winning the whole tournament.
While Kansas failing to qualify for the Sweet 16 was arguably the biggest surprise of the opening weekend, it was far from the only upset. Forty per cent of Yahoo users had Georgetown advancing all the way to the Elite Eight, but they conked out in the first round against lowly Ohio. Over 80 per cent of Yahoo users had predicted Vanderbilt would easily get by Murray State, but they eventually lost to an unbelievable buzzer beater.
Villanova, picked heavily by Duke haters everywhere to reach the Final Four, almost lost the 15-seed Robert Morris in the opening round. After missing two shots in the waning seconds of regulation, the Wildcats needed overtime to eventually put away the inferior Colonials. Nova’s feelings of shame (the other two-seeds won their opener by an average of 21 points) must have carried over to the next round, because they fell hard to 10-seed St. Mary’s.
In the East Region, two double-digit seeds (Washington and Cornell) managed to sneak their ways into the Sweet Sixteen by pulling out two victories apiece against much higher-ranked teams. Cornell (yes, the Ivy League school) absolutely crushed Temple and Wisconsin, while Washington squeaked by Marquette before blowing out New Mexico. Their Cinderella stories will likely end, however, with upcoming match-ups against Kentucky (Cornell) and West Virginia (Washington).
Despite being given a pretty high four-seed, Purdue was widely picked to be upset early, either by Siena or Texas A&M. The Boilermakers took care of business, though, and now face a tough Duke team as a reward.
Going forward, the Ohio State Buckeyes look like the high-ranking team (they’re a two) with the toughest road. Though they shouldn’t have too much trouble with Tennessee, the Bucks could run into a very tough Michigan State or Northern Iowa team blocking their way into the Final Four.
Even before the tournament started, it was widely agreed that Duke had the easiest path to the Final Four. Now that Villanova and Texas A&M are out, that path should be even easier. Baylor could still be a threat though, if they can get past pesky Saint Mary’s.
Not too many surprises in the fourth and final region, the West, with no huge upsets aside from Murray State over Vanderbilt in the first round. Syracuse could run into some trouble against a very strong Butler team, while early Final Four favourite Kansas State faces Xavier. Both favourites should advance, but you never know in the month of March.
As for my predictions last week, let me first apologize to you readers. Like hundreds of thousands of people, I was drinking from the Kansas Kool-Aid. Historically, in any sporting prediction, I usually stay far away from the favourite, but for some odd reason I stuck with Kansas. I guess I couldn’t ignore my biases, because I tried so hard to avoid Syracuse, Duke, or Ohio State advancing too far (I hate them all… so much).
Though my picks haven’t turned out to be so great, you can’t fault me that much for picking Kansas as national champions. In retrospect, I probably should have stayed clear of Villanova’s horrid defense and Georgetown’s inconsistent offense, but hindsight is 20/20.
Before you leave and vow to never listen to my predictions again, know this: West Virginia, my favourite team, could very well win the whole thing. I’m not just saying that because I bleed Old Gold and Blue, but the Mountaineers have real talent. They should be able to take care of Washington, and might struggle against the best point guard in the country, Kentucky’s John Wall, but other then that there’s a pretty good chance we’ll be hearing “Take Me Home, Country Roads” deep into April.