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Saturday, September 26, 2020

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Even without Richmond, Madness still a must-see

During the past year, I have written about everything from the opening of new and expensive stadiums, to the lack of Richmond football during Family Weekend, to the transgressions of professional athletes and the demise of Binghamton's basketball program.

I have tried to cover a wide range of sports topics and capture the attention of Richmond readers and sports fans. This will be my last column on the back page, and as I tossed around some topic ideas, there was only one that seemed appropriate - NCAA basketball.

The sports media has a a field day when the tournament begins, and this year has been no exception. It is almost as if reporters on SportsCenter force stories on the subjects of Tiger Woods, the NBA and the beginning stages of the baseball season.

March clearly is not the time to try getting sports publicity attention unless you are involved in what has been dubbed March Madness. So, as my farewell to sports writing for The Collegian, my final column will not be an attempt to go against the grain. I will take a shot at giving an impression of the tournament's first two rounds, not from the perspective of the top-seed winners, but rather from those unexpected winning teams and those who remain in the regional semifinals.

The tournament began last Thursday with 65 teams who had the chance to play in the Championship game. It would be no fun to talk about the expected wins and the teams who will play in the Sweet 16 games tonight and tomorrow. The upsets are far more interesting and make it clear why it continues to be called "March Madness."

For any Richmond fan, last Thursday's loss to Saint Mary's College during the first round may have been the biggest disappointment during the tournament thus far. Richmond finished the regular season in the top half of the Atlantic 10 and competed with force in the conference tournament.

Many brackets had the Spiders progressing to the second round, but these hopes were shot after Thursday's game. At least St. Mary's went on to knock out No. 2 seed Villanova University. Two upsets in a row - the second making Richmond's loss less painful.

The first round brought more upsets and some very close games. No. 13 seed Murray State University demoralized No. 4 seed Vanderbilt University when Danero Thomas shot in literally the final second of the game, which led his team to beat the higher seed 66-65.

Other big dogs that were sent back to their hotel rooms packing were Georgetown University, Marquette University, the University of Texas, Temple University and the University of Notre Dame. The Marquette, Texas and Notre Dame games were determined by no more than two points and were tense games to watch. Texas may have been the least favored of these teams, but the way the team lost was an upset nonetheless.

But at least those were close. Some of the teams expected to make it to the second round had their egos bruised more severely, with higher-margin losses. No. 3 seed Georgetown fell to No. 14 seed Ohio University 97-83, a 14-point spread in a game that should have been Georgetown's for the taking.

These teams would prefer not to have their postseasons cut short by mismatched competition, but a close game would lessen the sting for me. At least in that case, the game is exciting and players can walk away with some pride intact.

The upsets continued during the second round. Most notable was the demise of a No. 1 seed - the University of Kansas. Kansas was not just one of the four top-seeded teams in this tournament, it was the top seed. Kansas led the scoreboard for less than a minute of playing time and was dominated by the underdog University of Northern Iowa team.

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Villanova also felt the pain as St. Mary's pulled off its second upset in a row, defeating the No. 2 seed 75-68. The Wildcats looked nothing short of wishy-washy during their overtime win against No. 15 Robert Morris University during the first round, so this result was not truly baffling.

The University of Wisconsin, New Mexico State University and the University of Pittsburgh were also unexpected victims of the second round. Cornell University trounced the University of Wisconsin 87-69, New Mexico was equally embarrassed by its 82-64 loss to No. 11 Washington University and Pittsburgh had a nail-biting 71-68 loss to Xavier University.

Even though the upsets during the first two rounds were abundant, this is not uncommon to the NCAA Tournament. Each of the 65 selected teams were given the chance to prove itself worthy of tournament glory and the regular season does not hold much clout. There is a clean slate and motivation for the underdogs to pull off the unexpected against all odds.

The Cinderella stories and bracket busters continue, nonetheless, to shock and amaze us. They are also what keep this tournament interesting. Today the tournament becomes more intense. Only 16 teams remain, and the distance between these players and Indianapolis has shrunk significantly since the tournament commenced.

Can the underdogs continue the march to the championship, or will their luck run out? Make new predictions, re-arrange your brackets and don't forget that the potential for upset still exists. This round should be nothing less than eye-catching and will be sure to provide more of the same madness that has already transpired.

Contact staff writer Jessie Murray at jessie.murray@richmond.edu

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