Let’s Have a Bracket Bonfire

When the month of March rolls around, filling out a bracket is something you almost have to do as an American. The wistful longing for a perfect bracket, bragging rights over friends, coworkers and family, and the joy of rooting for a school you previously could have mistaken for an insurance company, all lend itself to some of the most exciting few weeks in sports.

On March 16, 2001, the No. 2 seed Iowa State Cyclones of the Big 12 conference played the No. 15 seed Hampton Pirates of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The Pirates accomplished something that had only occurred three times from 1985-2000: they upset a two seed. The image of the Hampton coach being carried by one of his players after the victory is a classic Tournament image, and a significant portion of Americans most likely proceeded to strike a match and burn their brackets. They wouldn’t be winning their office pools now thanks to the Hampton Pirates.

11 years later, also on March 16, the No. 15 seed Norfolk State Spartans of the MEAC defeated the No. 2 seed Missouri Tigers of the Big 12. Fans of college basketball were treated to an incredible upset on the exact same day, 11 years apart, thanks to a team from a traditionally black university, from the exact same conference that is unknown to the casual fan.

A 15 seed never beats a two seed. In fact, if you calculate the percentage of how many times this has happened since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, up until 2011, it amounts to a whopping .037 or about 3.7%. A large portion of Americans fill out brackets across the country, and if you are a betting person, why in the world would you choose a No. 15 over a No. 2 with that historical information? Nevertheless, many Americans learned about the existence of Norfolk State the hard way: by ripping their bracket in half and throwing it in the fire.

A No. 15 seed winning a game in the tournament is a wonderful story, but the day could not have gotten nuttier after Norfolk State. Everything else would be underwhelming from here on out, right?

(Two hours later….)

Wait, DUKE LOST?????

It is hard to believe, but this day of the tournament became crazier just hours after the Norfolk State upset. Lehigh, a team that yours truly cleverly dismissed in his tournament preview, upset Coach K and his arsenal of underachieving stars. C.J. McCollum of Lehigh, ranked fifth in the country in individual scoring, dropped 30 points on the Blue Devils to help cement March 16, 2012 in Tournament history. After 11 years of waiting for another 15-seed upset, we see two in one day?

This is why brackets cause people so much anxiety. But, this is also why we love March Madness.

Why would anybody in their right mind choose two No. 2 seeds to lose in the first round? Lehigh and Norfolk State beat Duke (4 national championships) and Missouri (30 wins on the year)? Let’s just say that there are a choice few in the country who chose these two schools to win, and I will be bowing down to them (as lucky as the picks are!) when the tournament ends. Until then, how about you all join me for a nice bonfire. I think most of us can provide our own kindling once again!


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