March Madness upsets destroy perfect bracket hopes

Underdogs like Oral Roberts and Loyola Chicago surprise fans, advance to Sweet 16

Conor Robbins, Staff Writer

As I sit down to write, my eyes furiously gravitate between screens. On the television in front of me, the final buzzer is sounding on Iowa’s season. The No. 7 seed Oregon Ducks have just sent the No. 2 seeded Hawkeyes packing in blowout fashion. This just happens to be one of the many bracket-breaking upsets that maddened millions this past week.

Following their shocking departure from Indianapolis, The Hawkeyes join an ever-expanding graveyard of championship hopefuls who have seen their dreams dashed by Cinderellas within the first two rounds of tournament festivities.

While even the most knowledgeable hoops fans would be hard-pressed to locate universities such as Oral Roberts or Abilene Christian on a U.S. map, their stunning upsets over tournament darlings Ohio State and Texas, respectively, have earned the attention and admiration of the entire college basketball landscape.

The Oral Roberts Golden Eagles (from Tulsa, Okla.) became the ninth No. 15 seed  in history to defeat a No. 2 seed following their 75-72 victory over Ohio State in the first round. The Eagle’s offensive attack was headlined by sophomore Max Abnas, who led the nation in scoring over the regular season with 24.5 points per game. True to form, the electric guard poured in 29 points, to go along with an additional 30 from forward Kevin Obanor. The pair played all 45 minutes of game time and have one of the greatest upsets in tournament history to show for it.

ORU rode Saturday night’s momentum to an 81-78 Round of 32 victory against Florida two days later. The Eagles have become just the second No. 15 seed to ever make the Sweet 16. With a looming date against the No. 3 seeded Arkansas Razorbacks on Saturday night, the underdogs have a chance to stand alone in the annals of tournament history with a victory.

Meanwhile, the Abilene Christian Wildcats — from Texas — notched their first tournament victory in program history in grueling fashion against the No. 3 seeded Texas Longhorns. In a low-scoring affair that finished 53-52, the Wildcats relied on swarming team defense and a controlled tempo on offense to stymie their dangerous opponents from the Big 12. In the Round of 32, the Wildcats were defeated by No. 11 seeded UCLA, another overachiever from Selection Sunday.

The Bruins, along with the rest of the Pac-12, represent the most significant  headline of the tournament the standout play of the underappreciated conference from the West Coast. With a combined record of 7-0 so far, the Pac-12 has eliminated the likes of Tennessee, Georgetown, Oklahoma State and Iowa. While college basketball pundits have refused to stay up past midnight to watch Pac-12 basketball this season, the truth is finally revealing itself on the sport’s greatest stage, and this California kid couldn’t be happier about it.

Last week, I issued an informal warning to the No. 1 seed Fighting Illini of Illinois: beware of Loyola Chicago. Clearly, coach Brad Underwood and company didn’t read the article, as they became the first No. 1 seed to pack their belongings following a 71-58 defeat to coach Porter Moser and his Ramblers.

While I foresaw that Loyola would rise to the occasion against their in-state rivals, I never could have expected them to dominate from tip to finish like they did Sunday evening. Yet, here we are. Perhaps the Illini lacked the necessary tournament DNA to make a big run, maybe they forgot what losing felt like before it was too late or maybe the once-indestructible Big Ten has a few more cracks in it than we once suspected.

This Saturday holds potential for more exciting matchups. Loyola Chicago and Oregon State, both underdog teams, look to continue shocking crowds by making it to the Elite Eight. Syracuse looks to notch their third upset of the tournament against No. 2 seeded Houston.

The ultimate dark horse this year, Oral Roberts, looks to beat a dominant Arkansas team. Regardless of the game’s outcome, it’s impressive that the Golden Eagles have made it this far. One favorite to win it all, Baylor, squares off against Villanova on Saturday.

Moving to the west, Gonzaga and Creighton will be a telling game can the OGB’s predicted bracket winner stay strong and make it past the Sweet 16? The University of Southern California looks to build off their big win against Kansas by beating the Oregon Ducks.

In the East, the big game of the week will be the No. 1 seeded, University of Michigan up against Florida State. UCLA will look to upset Alabama, which is unlikely But, as we’ve learned from the first two rounds, anything can happen.