Upsets Abound in First Two Rounds of March Madness

“It’s March, expect the unexpected!” exclaimed the CBS announcer as No. 15 seed Oral Roberts University upset No. 2 seed Ohio State in the first round of this year’s NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament. Commonly known as March Madness, the tournament is one of the most popular and exciting athletic events in the United States, with even non-sports fans tuning in to watch each year. 

Sixty-four of the country’s best teams vie for the chance to be crowned national champion. The bracket is split into four divisions of 16 teams each, with teams in each division ranked from one to 16 based on record, schedule difficulty and other variables. In the Round of 64, the No. 1 seed plays the No. 16 seed, the No. 2 seed plays the No. 15 seed, and so on across all four divisions. The winning teams move forward through theRound of 32, the Sweet 16, the Elite Eight, the Final Four and finally, the National Championship Game where the final two teams battle it out. The tournament is so popular in part because it has become notorious for upsets, with lauded basketball programs falling to lower-ranked upstarts. Anything can happen, and it seems like every year there is another Cinderella story — a little-known basketball program makes an unanticipated run, prompting nationwide discussion. 

Officially, an upset occurs when a team beats another team that is seeded two spots higher. The tournament averages about 12 upsets each year. So far this year, there have already been 14 upsets through the round of 32 alone. This year’s unprecedented number of upsets  has a chance to beat the all-time March Madness record of 19 upsets in 2014. 

The first of the eight upsets in the Round of 64 occurred when No. 15 seed Oral Roberts, a private Christian college in Oklahoma, defeated No. 2 seed Ohio State. Prior to the game, Oral Roberts was a 15.5 point underdog. They entered the tournament strong, though, riding a five-game winning streak. Ohio State’s defense was unable to adapt to Oral Roberts’ game plan, which was based around quick ball movement to find the open man and consistent three-point shooting. The result was an exciting overtime win — Oral Roberts’ first ever victory in NCAA tournament history. 

No. 13 seed Ohio University got hot at the right time, too, winning the Mid-American Conference tournament to qualify for the NCAA tournament. They also have a talented shooting guard in Jason Preston. Basketball powerhouse Virginia, despite being favored by nine points, was unable to handle Ohio’s selfless passing and knockdown shooting. In another shocking upset, No. 14 Abilene Christian defeated No. 3 Texas. It was expected that Texas’ size and relentless rebounding would be insurmountable for Abilene Christian. However, as often happens during March Madness, the predictions were wrong and little-known Abilene Christian pulled off a remarkable upset in only their second-ever tournament appearance. Other teams that pulled off upsets in the Round of 64 included Maryland, North Texas, Oregon State, UCLA and Syracuse. 

As the tournament entered the Round of 32, higher-ranked teams continued to struggle against their underdog opponents. There were six additional upsets, which is above average for the Round of 32. Loyola Chicago, Oregon State, Syracuse, Oral Roberts, Oregon and the University of Southern California (USC) each managed to defeat a higher-ranked opponent. No. 8 Loyola Chicago, known for its historic run to the Final Four back in 2018, had a great win over No. 1 seed Illinois. However, some observers were not surprised with this upset, believing that the Ramblers’ seeding was not reflective of their play. But there were other upsets that left fans completely shocked. Oral Roberts proved to be the story of the tournament so far, as they kept their victory train moving, defeating No. 7 Florida by three points. Another unexpected upset was No. 7 seed Oregon, who many believed would see an early exit. However, they proved the doubters wrong, utterly overwhelming No. 2 Iowa and winning by 15 points. Despite an impressive offensive performance, Iowa star Luka Garza, who scored 36 points, was not able to stop the gritty Oregon players from tearing up the Iowa defense.

With all these upsets, March Madness has lived up to its name once again. Who will go down next? Will it be a No. 1 seed? Will Oral Roberts continue its record-breaking run? Will Loyola Chicago be able to demonstrate they are a much better team than their seeding indicates? 

Only time will tell.