March Madness Is Truly Alive
There are upsets, and then there are upsets like the one that transpired last Saturday when Kansas, the overall top-seeded team in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, fell to Northern Iowa, the No. 9 seed, 69-67, in the Midwest Regional.
Afterward, the question is where this game ranks among the all-time biggest stunners.
At this juncture, it has to be placed below North Carolina State’s win over powerful Houston in the 1983 championship game, and Villanova’s triumph over Big East rival Georgetown two years later.
Since it was a second-round game and not a title match, it should take a back seat, but not by much, because it was wholly shocking.
Spanning four glorious days, no fewer than 16 higher-seeded teams have fallen to lower seeds. It’s almost become an epidemic, and it couldn’t be better for college hoops.
For every No. 1 seed like Kentucky, Syracuse, and Duke, which advanced to the Sweet 16, there sits the slumbering Jayhawks, who trailed Northern Iowa by as many as 12 points.
In a million years, no one would have predicted that Northern Iowa would beat Kansas, which claimed an NCAA crown recently under current Head Coach Bill Self.
All of this didn’t matter to the Panthers, who led, 36-28, at the half, and had three players score in double figures.
The key moment came late when Ali Farokhmanesh, the son of an Iranian Olympic volleyball player, drilled a three-pointer with just 34 seconds left, and his club ahead by one point. A short while later, he nailed two shots from the free-throw line.
In all, Farokhmanesh finished with four treys, on his way to a team-best 16 points, while making five of 12 shots, and two free throws.
Northern Iowa shot 40 percent from the field, but made 16 of 19 attempts from the free-throw line. Kansas made 44.4 percent of its shots from the floor, and converted 13 of 18 from the charity line.
“This team has done such a great job of turning the page to what’s next, and this would be the biggest challenge of the year,’’ said Northern Iowa Head Coach Ben Jacobson, of Michigan State, their next opponent.
This magical run began with Northern Iowa’s victory over No. 8 Nevada Las Vegas, 69-66, and if the Panthers (30-4) get to the Elite 8, the world will really be their oyster.
Almost as surprising was No. 14 Ohio’s 97-83 win over No. 3 Georgetown in the Midwest Regional on Thursday.
Try to explain No. 11 seeded Washington’s 80-78 triumph over No. 6 Marquette on the opening day in the East Regional, and then trashing No. 3 New Mexico, 82-64, a couple of days later. And the experts said that the Pacific 10 Conference was weak.
Or find enough words to explain how No. 12 Cornell, from the Ivy League, moved past No. 5 Temple, 78-65, on Friday, and then slammed No. 4 Wisconsin, 87-69, on Sunday.
We shouldn’t overlook the work No. 7 St. Mary’s has provided this past week in the South Regional. The little school in Moraga, California, has drilled No. 7 Richmond, 80-71, and then smacked Big East strong boy, and No. 2 seed Villanova, 75-68.
That’s why they call this lovely time March Madness.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, and is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a contributor to trufanboxing.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.