Robert Willett/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS
Robert Willett/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS

Cinderella stories make March Madness great

When Villanova’s Kris Jenkins sank a buzzer-beating three-point shot to defeat North Carolina in last week’s NCAA championship game, most Americans had already ripped up their brackets.

One in nine quintillion: these are reportedly the odds of correctly predicting the outcome of every game in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament — a feat also referred to as “a perfect bracket.”

Despite these astronomical odds, every March millions of people around the country and world make their predictions for who will be crowned national champion.

This year’s tournament was once again predictably unpredictable. Out of more than 12 million brackets submitted to the ESPN Tournament Challenge, no one managed to defeat those odds and predict the perfect bracket. One of the main reasons for this was Michigan State’s first-round loss to Middle Tennesse State.

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“That absolutely ruined my bracket,” said sophomore Mike Dunsheath, “I think that was definitely the biggest upset of the first round.”

Dunsheath was not alone in his frustration.

According to online gambling site Bovada, more than 98 percent of brackets had chosen Michigan State to win that game and 55 percent of all brackets had them winning the entire tournament.

Upsets like these are what keep drawing back more and more people each year, says Sports Economics Professor Todd McFall.

“You play the game to get those upsets and Cinderella picks,” McFall said. “There’s no other reason.”

The so-called Cinderella picks that McFall mentioned refer to lower-ranked teams that make it further in the tournament than expected. And this year the tournament featured one of the most remarkable Cinderella stories in history in regards to a team’s seeding.

No. 10 seed Syracuse upset every team it has played, including No. 1 seed University of Virginia, on its path to the Final Four. According to ESPN, only four double-digit seeded teams in tournament history have made it to the Final Four. To put this in perspective, at the start of the tournament Las Vegas sports betting agencies had 10,000-1 odds for Syracuse to win the tournament. UVA, on the other hand, was given only a 1,000-1 chance to win it all.

“What makes it exciting is games like the UVA-Syracuse one,” said junior Will Campbell. “The one-and-done, single elimination aspect of it creates so much drama for the teams and the fans. It’s just unparalleled.”

This tournament format is not often seen in high level athletic leagues like the NCAA. The four major professional sports leagues in the United States all use series style playoff set-ups where the same teams play each other a minimum of four games and maximum of seven before moving onto the next round.

Even though the odds are stacked against a winning bracket, the unique tournament format, the Cinderella picks and the passion of players and fans alike draw millions of people to March Madness every year.

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