Tournament upsets make office pools interesting

Aaron Kirscht

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — With the first 32 games of the NCAA tournament in the books, one thing has been made irrefutably clear.
It’s not just who will play in the Sweet 16 next weekend, and it’s not that one team can now lay claim to being the dominant force of the tournament.
It’s that picking winners at tournament time is nearly impossible. Already, office-pool gamblers are wringing their hands, wishing they would have followed their guts rather than their common senses.
Surprise teams are nothing new; one or two sneak through every year. But what makes this tournament special is that more high seeds than ever before have been pushed to the limit — and in some cases eliminated — by overmatched, less-talented teams.
For the first time since the tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, two No. 10 seeds, Providence and Texas, have advanced into the Sweet 16. And for the first time in 11 years, a No. 14 seed (Tennessee-Chattanooga) made it through the first weekend. Two No. 2 seeds and two No. 3 seeds are out.
This makes for one of the most exciting tournaments ever. But what does it say for the Gophers, who have thus far managed to avoid the jinx? Minnesota will take on Clemson in the region semifinals this week.
The Tigers looked far from impressive in beating Miami of Ohio and Tulsa. Meanwhile, with a pair of convincing wins, the Gophers cruised into the Sweet 16 with the largest margin of victory in the tournament, winning by an average of 25 points. Kentucky is the next closest, winning their first two by an average of 19.
Kentucky and the Gophers, which could meet in the Final Four, have been the only top seeds to avoid any real trouble. Kansas, the overwhelming favorite to win its first national title since 1988, allowed No. 16 Jackson State — one of two teams in the field with a losing record — to hang around for much of the game before pulling away late in the second half to win 78-64. Fairfield, the other sub-.500 team, nearly shocked No. 1 North Carolina but ran out of gas and lost by eight. Both top-seeded teams recovered to win their second games handily.
But the upsets had just begun. On Sunday, Coppin State came within a point of becoming the first No. 15 seed to win two games in the same tournament, losing to Texas 82-81. Twelfth-seeded College of Charleston also missed out on the round of 16 by a point, falling to Arizona 73-69.
Players won’t admit to being nervous, but fans aren’t settling comfortably into their seats until the game is well in hand.
That happened early for Minnesota in the first round on Friday, when it took a 13-0 lead en route to a 78-46 laugher over Southwest Texas State. The Midwest Region, where Minnesota is placed, made it through the first weekend without any major upsets. No. 6 Iowa State’s win over Cincinnati is the lone exception. The Gophers were true to form on Sunday, beating Temple by 19 points.
But when scores from other games around the nation started scrolling over the Kemper Arena scoreboard, Dan Thomas of Roseville, Minn., shook his head in disbelief. He wasn’t alone.
“That is just crazy,” he said. “If it can happen to (other high seeds), it can happen to anyone. It can happen to the Gophers.”