Cinderella story: The allure of a March Madness upset

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The March Madness bracket is out, and whether your team made the “Big Dance” or not, you surely will be tuning into the full slate of games. In fact, more than 97 million people in the United States alone tuned into the men’s tournament last year. But why are fans so crazy for March Madness?

Undoubtedly, a huge allure for the fans, especially in the opening round games, are the upsets that occur year after year, without fail. There always seems to be that unexpected team that upsets its way to an unprecedented run, luring the whole country to get behind it until its Cinderella story is over.

By definition, an upset is when a lower-seeded team beats a higher-seeded opponent, which, at first glance, seems quite unlikely. But the seedings themselves are quite subjective, and other factors always come into play, so upsets are pretty inevitable.

For instance, No. 12 seed Murray State, led by superstar sophomore Ja Morant, has been buzzed to have a very good chance to knock off No. 5 seed Marquette. The Golden Eagles’ overall body of work this season earned them the higher seed, but they have been banged up of late and have lost four of their last five. Meanwhile, Morant and the Racers have the much hotter team, especially coming off the heels of an Ohio Valley Conference championship.

Obviously, some upsets are bigger than others. It’s not too much of a surprise for a No. 10 seed to beat a No. 7 seed anymore. There’s even a conspiracy theory about the frequent number of No. 12 over No. 5 upsets (as would be the case for the Marquette and Murray State game), but to see a No. 2 or No. 1 seed lose is shocking.

In fact, up until last year, No. 1 seeds were undefeated all-time in the first round of the tournament, and many thought it would actually remain that way forever. Then, the unthinkable happened, and UMBC, a No. 16 seed, defeated Virginia, the No. 1 overall seed.

UMBC had another idea that day and didn’t care about the odds-makers who had already penciled the Cavaliers into the next round. Since then, the Retrievers have forever cemented themselves in the nonexistent (but it should exist) hall of fame of upsets.

Although the Retrievers lost their very next game, the upsets in 2018 were not over. Loyola-Chicago, an 11 seed, stole the headlines as the marquee Cinderella team when it made an improbable run to the Final Four with the sensational Sister Jean and all of the United States right by its side.

I mean think about it — upsets have become such a large part of the tournament that the NCAA has built a billion-dollar brand off of them. Simply, there would be no March Madness without the “madness” of upsets.

Truly, it’s the fans and heart-racing games that have made the NCAA Tournament the sensation it is today. So, this week, fans will specifically have their eyes attached on as many games as possible in the search for that one that will produce an upset.

With the round of 64 games set to pack the TV schedule this Thursday and Friday, prepare to see offices pretty distracted by the end of this week. And, if you aren’t one of the many who calls in “sick,” I’m sure you will get your fix of games by having the stream up and running on your desktop throughout the day.

With 36 games in a 72-hour span, it is almost guaranteed that we will see some close contests and crazy ends to games. It’s also almost guaranteed that one of those wild games will result in, you guessed it, a shocking fall of a highly ranked team to a rather unheralded opponent.

Fans love the upset because it is part of our human nature to root for the underdog. While we all fill out our brackets, we can’t help but try and predict who the next Loyola-Chicago will be. But we can’t ever predict these upsets, and that’s the beauty of them. It is part of the reason why the odds of filling out a perfect bracket are about 1 in 9.2 quintillions, and that challenge to achieve perfection is one that fans love to tackle.

Who will be the next Cinderella team to steal the headlines? All it will take is the first upset for us to find out, and fans across the world will be more than ready to hop on that team’s March hype train.

Charlie Griffen writes the Tuesday sports column about the evolution and current trends of college athletics. Contact him at [email protected].