Culture

'March Madness' is an Understatement

If Thursday’s opening act of the 2015 NCAA Tournament was any indication, college basketball fans better have the local ER standing by with a defibrillator. There has never been an opening round like this one in the history of the tournament — and we’re only half way through.

Two #3 seeds — Baylor and Iowa State — were dropped unceremoniously by #14’s, and a third — Notre Dame — survived by a hair. The University of Alabama-Birmingham Blazers delivered the upset against the Iowa State Cyclones while the Georgia State Panthers shocked the Baylor Bears. Those stunning results were almost repeated when the #14 Northeastern Huskies roared back from a 10 point deficit with 4 minutes to go, only to lose to the #3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish 69-64.

But it wasn’t so much the bracket-busting wins by UAB and Georgia State that made Thursday such a memorable day. ESPN’s Eamaonn Brennan explains:

If you’re like us, you were watching the NCAA tournament today — or this afternoon, or tonight, or at pretty much any point during the thrilling opening Thursday that was. Another game would come down to the nail-biting, hairpulling wire, and you’d catch your breath, check your bracket and think: Man, there were a lot of close games today. This has to be some kind of record, right?

Turns out, you were right. This was, indeed, some kind of record.

* Five games were decided by one point on Thursday, the most of any single day in NCAA tournament history. But that’s not all. Behold the mind-boggling numbers, courtesy of the yeomen at ESPN Stats & Information:

* Eleven games were decided by fewer than 10 points Thursday, tying the single-day NCAA tournament high. Only three tournament days in history matched that number, the last of which came in 2010.

* Nine games were decided by five or fewer points, tying the single-day tournament high — one dating to March 15, 2001.

* Including the five Thursday, as well as Dayton’s win over Boise State on Wednesday night, there have been six games decided by one point thus far in the 2015 NCAA tournament. The record for most games decided by one point in a single NCAA tournament is seven — total. That has happened three times (in 1982, 1990, and 1998).

Oh, and then there’s this:

The entire 2013 and 2014 NCAA tournaments — from the first round to the Final Four — featured five games decided by a single point. Combined!

Most opening round games are mismatches — tune ups for the higher seeds to get the butterflies out of their system and acclimate them to tournament basketball. But yesterday, the lower seeds did not go quietly into that goodnight. They fought, and scratched, and clawed like hell, staying with teams they had no business being competitive against, and giving several of them the fright of their basketball lives.

College basketball fans who prefer that game to the pros will point out that you don’t get that kind of action and excitement at the NBA level. In one sense this is true — the NBA playoffs are 7 game series and one contest usually will not make or break a team.

But when it’s lose one and done, the drama is heightened considerably. Yesterday’s string of heart attack basketball games would be enough to satisfy even the most ardent college basketball fan.

Which is why we have to remind ourselves that it was only the first day of a long tournament.