Oh, those fabulous 15s. Did they leave your bracket in shambles? Join the club.
And sit back and enjoy this one. Because 10 – or 15 – years from now, they still might be talking about Friday the 16th as the day the 15s rose up and produced one of the greatest episodes in NCAA tournament history.
First, 15th-seeded Norfolk State knocked off Missouri. Later, No. 15 Lehigh, beat Duke. And, just for good measure, No. 13 Ohio beat Michigan 65-60. It’s the first time three teams seeded 13th or higher all won on the same day.
“We messed up some brackets! We messed up some brackets!” Norfolk senior Kyle O’Quinn exclaimed after he spearheaded Norfolk’s 86-84 upset over Missouri. And then, in a moment of exhilarated candor: “We even messed up my bracket.”
He didn’t know the half of it.
Because while the Norfolk celebration was winding down, Lehigh – enrollment 4,700 and based in Bethlehem, Pa. – knocked off a team you might have heard of: Duke. Final: 75-70.
Before Friday, there had been a total of four 2-15 upsets since the bracket was expanded to 64 teams in 1985. Now there are six.
“I told them they needed to suspend disbelief,” Lehigh coach Brett Reed said. “Because there are so many naysayers, so many prognosticators.”
None of them could have guessed this. And, in fact, none of them did.
According to ESPN, there were 4,728 perfect brackets out of 6.45 million early in the day Friday before the upsets began. After: Not a single one.
But this day was about more than the brackets and office pools that drive so much of the madness each March.
There’s another element to it: America loves an underdog.
When Michigan plays Ohio State, millions of fans watch, thousands of alumni show their passion and bragging rights are on the line. But there’s nothing too cute and cuddly about watching two behemoth powerhouses collide.
Now, when Michigan plays plain ol’ Ohio? That’s a different deal. That’s a chance for everyone outside of Ann Arbor to pull for the little guy – a chance for sports fans to watch five players who didn’t wind up at the big school have their day on the floor with five who did and see how things really stack up.
“This game will take you to incredible highs, and it will also take you to incredible lows,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “That’s the name of the game, and today is one of those incredible lows.”
A day like this seems all the more fitting this year – one that’s been plagued by scandal, conference-shifting money grabs and a general sense that college sports don’t have much to do with college anymore.
Make no mistake – the NCAA certainly doesn’t put on the best tournament around for free. It’s a $10.8 billion enterprise, bankrolled by CBS and its partners – an enterprise that feeds directly into many of the problems that won’t go away.
But those five guys on the floor for Norfolk State or Ohio or Lehigh – well, on days like this, it’s hard to imagine they’re part of those problems.
Coming up, they’ll try to become the “Next Small Thing” in college basketball.
They’ll hope to follow the lead of underdogs from Final Fours past – Butler or VCU or George Mason.
How did those teams get there? Maybe Lehigh forward John Adams put it best.
“We thought we could match up very well against them,” he said after the win over Duke. “We all believed it, and we showed it on the floor. Everybody bought into that idea. And the rest is history, as they say.”