Well-written article: Why are there so many NCAA tournament upsets?


Addicted Member
[The following was written by Yahoo Sports columnist Jay Busbee]


Since the NCAA tournament brings together students from 68 universities, let's use the favorite literary technique of sophomores who forgot that they have a paper due in their English Comp 101 class in two hours: the lame-ass "definition" starter.

The dictionary defines "upset" as "a state of being unhappy, disappointed, or worried." The dictionary, in the case of the NCAA tournament, is half wrong, because while one team is surely unhappy, the other team is most definitely not disappointed, and they're only worried because they'll have to find hotels for an unexpected couple more nights.

The NCAA defines "upset" as any victory when a team defeats another team seeded five or more places above them. So a 9 defeating an 8 (thanks, Memphis) doesn't qualify, but a 16 defeating a 1 (how you feeling, Purdue?) most certainly does.

This year's men's tourney has already seen — for just the second time in recorded human history — a 16-seed knock off a 1, and a 15-seed knocked off a 2 for the third year in a row. Through the opening two rounds, this year's tournament has seven NCAA-sanctioned upsets, which is the reason why your bracket is now a smoking ruin.

(See the entire Sweet 16 right here.)

If it seems like upsets are becoming more common in recent years, well, you're not wrong. Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, the two years with the most upsets — 14 apiece — just happened to be the tournament's last two years, 2022 and 2021. With a few more breaks, this year's tournament could crack the top 10, which currently stands at 11 total upsets (2002, 2006, 2011, 2013, 2018).

Moreover, the first round is far less predictable than the seedings would suggest. Every tournament since 2008 has featured at least four opening-round upsets of sixth-seeded or higher teams, per basketball.org. And the way college basketball is heading, that's going to be the norm rather than a surprise. Here are a few of the high-level reasons why:

Start, first and foremost, with the structure of basketball in general. This is obvious, but it bears repeating: unlike in football, where even a truly transcendent player can only take a team so far by himself, one player who catches fire at the right moment on the right night can lead a team to a most unexpected triumph.

Consider, too, the NBA's one-and-done rule, where players talented enough to compete in the NBA as high schoolers now generally swing through college just long enough to learn where the cafeteria's located. An elite program can attract big names, but it often can't hold them, while schools that build up teams over two, three or even four years can have the advantage over a team of single-season mercenaries.

Next, look to the transfer portal. Players can now jump from school to school without having to sit out a year, which means that talented players who want a starting job or a change of venue can jump to another university and instantly juice that team's chances.

The NCAA's seeding biases play a role here too. Blue bloods and big names will always get the nod over lesser-known mid-majors that boast significant talent through the above methods. In other words, the difference between a 5 and a 12 isn't quite as great as the numbers would have you believe.

The dispersal of talent across the country is accelerating as more schools can offer more opportunities for talented players. Tack on the addition of NIL, which is still in its infancy, and the days of Duke or Kentucky stockpiling prize recruits three-deep at every position are over; would-be stars want the opportunity to star this year, not in two years, and rules now in place give them the opportunity to do that. The result is more uncertainty than we've ever seen before ... and this is only the beginning.

So, good luck filling out those brackets in future years. Maybe picking based on mascots is the right play after all.