Fourth-seeded Arkansas used what amounted to a sneak attack to take down No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga, not only knocking the Bulldogs out of the NCAA Tournament but taking out a whole lot of fans still hoping to win bragging rights and office pools.
Then again, the number of busted brackets before the Elite Eight just might mean everyone gets a second chance.
Defending national champion Baylor? The first No. 1 seed to go down. Gonzaga and Arizona, two more top seeds and betting favorites, joined the Bears on the sidelines in the Sweet 16. Kentucky, Tennessee and Auburn? All ousted before the opening weekend was even done.
In the case of the John Calipari’s bunch, that meant getting bumped by No. 15 seed Saint Peter’s in the opening round, a loss that probably doesn’t feel any better even with the Peacocks topping Murray State to reach the Sweet 16.
It all left exasperated SportsCenter anchor Hannah Storm to say: “My bracket’s busted. It’s just so bad right now.”
Then, after a beat: “I do have a lot of company, though.”
The Bulldogs were a 10-point favorite to beat the Razorbacks and Arizona a 1.5-point favorite to beat Houston on Thursday night. Instead, they became the first 1-seeds to lose on the same day in the Sweet 16 or earlier since the 2011 tourney.
“Just being the underdog, man, use it to your advantage,” Arkansas’ Trey Wade said. “They never see you coming.”
Very few people did anyway.
There were 17.3 million brackets filled out in ESPN’s Tournament Challenge, and just 8.3% of them had Arkansas reaching the Elite Eight, and less than half of those have the Hogs going to the Final Four. By contrast, nearly 23% of brackets had Gonzaga winning it all.
In fact, nearly two-thirds of brackets had Gonzaga, Baylor or Kentucky advancing through their half of the bracket to reach the final in New Orleans.
Meanwhile, more brackets (19.9%) had Houston losing in the first round than advancing to the Elite Eight (14.2%), even though the Cougars made it to the Sweet 16 in 2019 and the Final Four just last year.
Houston, by the way, is now the favorite to win it all, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, ahead of No. 2 seed Duke and Kansas, the lone remaining 1-seed entering Friday.
The quest for a perfect bracket in the men’s tournament? The NCAA said that was over before last weekend, the moment that No. 11 seed Iowa State beat LSU on Friday night to eliminate the final two perfect brackets remaining after the first 24 games.
And with the Cyclones playing No. 10 seed Miami on Friday night, at least one double-digit seed will be in the Elite Eight.
“You get seeded a certain spot. Who cares about that? I tell the team all the time, if you’re in the dance, you’ve got a darned good team because you earned your way into the dance,” said Miami coach Jim Larrañaga, who knows all about busting up brackets after taking No. 11 seed George Mason to the Final Four in 2006.
“To me, it doesn’t matter what you’re seeded. It’s not reflective of who you are,” Larrañaga said. “It’s just a number put by your name to start the tournament. What matters is how you play and how you match up against your opponent.”
Yet plenty of well-known prognosticators have had trouble figuring those matchups out.
Television star Jimmy Fallon lamented his fortunes after picking Gonzaga and Tennessee to reach the Final Four. Former President Barack Obama had the Bulldogs playing Arizona in the title game, and he hasn’t fared a whole lot better in the women’s tournament, where he had Baylor advancing to the Final Four with South Carolina, UConn and Stanford. The Bears were upset by South Dakota in the second round.
“We don’t need Barack Obama’s bracket. We don’t need Jimmy Fallon. We don’t need none of that, OK?” said Hailey Van Lith, the star guard for the top-seeded Cardinals. “Look, we are still here. That is what it is.”
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