To be upset in March, you have to be really good.

Image result for virginia umbc

Congrats to the UMBC Retrievers for their amazing victory over #1 overall seed Virginia last night. It was a tremendous victory made all the more enjoyable by the UMBC Athletics Twitter feed that followed the game and routinely kept the Twitter-sphere entertained with gems like this one:

And this one:

If you didn’t get a chance to watch it, they were fantastic. They played great defense, played up tempo, and moved the ball around very quickly. The vaunted Virginia defense was unable to keep up with the Retrievers’ brilliant ball movement. Ultimately, though, as in the OU game against Rhode Island, it came down to making shots. UMBC made theirs and Virginia missed theirs.  They’re a great story. Here’s hoping that they keep playing well as they go up against Kansas St. on Sunday.

As for Virginia, the webs will be filled with recriminations for Tony Bennett, the Cavs’ style of offense, their tempo, how their season was a failure, and how they aren’t equipped to win in March. To all of that, I call B.S. This was a great season for Virginia; it’s just that it ended horribly. They won the ACC regular season and postseason tournament — the 2nd toughest conference in the country and 1 that is certainly better at the top than the Big 12. They were a #1 seed and, in fact, the overall #1 seed. They’ll be remembered for a very long time for how this ended and they’re obviously not going to make it to Tony Bennett’s first Final 4 or win a National Championship, but the season was an undeniable success. The Cavs just have to be wishing that last night’s game happened in November rather than March.

Virginia’s loss last night reminds me of some of the Sooners March disappointments and 1 very narrow escape. In 2005, the team was a #3 seed when the team lost in the 2nd round to #6 seeded Utah. That’s not the worst thing in the world but when you’re a #3 seed you sort of anticipate making it to the Sweet Sixteen. In 2001, the Sooners were a #4 seed and were upset in the first round by #13 Indiana St. in overtime. Even Kelley Newton’s 26 points weren’t enough to overcome the team shooting 40% for the game.

The year before that 1st round upset, the Sooners again lost as a #3 seed, this time to #6 seeded Purdue. Purdue scored an additional 10 points at the free throw line and the Sooners lost by 4. In 1995, Kelvin Sampson’s first season, the Sooners were a #4 seed facing #13 Manhattan. Despite Ryan Minor’s 24 points and a 5 point halftime lead, the Jaspers outscored OU by 15 points in the 2nd half and pulled away to a 77-67 victory.

When the Sooners lost that 1st round matchup to Manhattan, it had been 3 years since the Sooners had been in the tournament. In 1992, OU was again a #4 seed playing #13 Louisiana-Lafayette. Jeff Webster’s 23 points weren’t enough to prevent the 87-83 upset by the Ragin’ Cajuns. In 1990, the Sooners were a 1-seed facing North Carolina when Rick Fox made 5 3-pointers en route to 23 total points and the upset by the 8-seeded Tar Heels.

The Sooners again were upset as a 4-seed in 1996 when they lost in the 2nd round to #12 seeded DePaul and against 10th seeded Dayton in 1994 when they were a #2 seed but the one that compares most similarly to Virginia’s loss last night is the one that almost happened. In 1999, the Sooners entered the tournament 28-5 as the Big 8 champs and averaging nearly 102 points per game. They were a #1 seed facing #16 East Tennessee State. ETSU had finished 7-7 in their conference before winning the Southern Conference tournament. They averaged 83.0 points per game but averaged giving up 83.1 points per game. There’s no reason for them to have been in the game against the Sooners but OU was able to squeak out a 72-71 victory, narrowly avoiding the ignominy that Virginia is experiencing today.

So what’s the point? Why take this trip down memories of NCAA tournament failures lane? The bottom line is that teams only end up the victims of big March upsets when they’ve had fantastic seasons in the first place. Virginia is a tremendous program and OU has been a tremendous program for most of the last 30 years. Just in that period of time I went through in this post, the Sooners also made it to 3 Final 4’s and several other Sweet Sixteens and Elite Eights. If you play enough big games in March, eventually you’ll fall on the wrong end of one.

I’d love for the Sooners to be a #1 seed, Big 12 conference champions, the #1 overall seed, and a 98% favorite to win their first tournament game next season. That, obviously, means a 2% of doing the unthinkable — what UMBC did last night.

Thanks for reading.

Chalk is Good

Well, Kansas is now the regular season and tournament Big 12 champion — in a year in which they seemed the most vulnerable and many suspected they’d finally fall short after a 13 year run — and it’s time for nearly everyone to sit and wait on what the NCAA tournament selection committee will do tomorrow.

According to the bracket matrix, 100 out of 102 “experts” brackets right now have OU in the field of 68. At this point, OU fans should feel confident. Realistically, the only thing that could keep the Sooners out of the tournament would be for some crazy things to happen in those smaller conference tournaments. Conference USA, for example, was thought to be a 1-bid league with (relative) powerhouse Middle Tennessee. And then Middle Tennessee went ahead and lost to conference doormat Southern Miss in the tournament quarterfinal. Now, OU’s resume is probably better than Middle Tennessee’s but that surprising assassination put one more competitor on the bubble on the Sooners that Lon Kruger’s club didn’t really need.

The Mountain West was probably going to be a 1-bid league as well. Nevada, a legitimately good team ranked as the #24 team by KenPom won the conference by 2 games and is good enough to be an at-large team seeded somewhere around #7 or #8 by the tournament committee and, in all likelihood, would win the conference tournament and collect the Mountain West’s only tournament bid. And then Nevada was obliterated Red Wedding-style by San Diego St. in the MWC tournament quarterfinal. So now the MWC is going to end up with 2 bids since the conference champion will end up stealing a bid from some other at-large team.

The bottom line is that the greatest enemy to the Sooners’ chances of making the tournament are those teams who won’t earn at-large bids potentially winning their conference tournaments. So Sooner fans need to be pulling for Cincinnati, Wichita St., or Houston in the American Conference. We need to be pulling for Rhode Island or St. Bonaventure in the Atlantic-10. And it would help if Villanova would take care of business against Providence in the Big East as well. Providence is probably in as an at-large team, but you never can be too careful when you’ve lost 8 out of 10 and 11 out of 15. If Memphis wins the AAC tournament or Davidson wins the A-10, OU could be in trouble. (edit: Villanova escaped against Providence but Davison beat St. Bonaventure in the A-10 semis.)

Unfortunately, because of the Sooners’ poor play over the last 6 weeks or so, they’ve left their fate in the tournament committee’s hands and are forced to sit and watch TV while awaiting their fate tomorrow afternoon. It would really help OU out if the teams that should win do win over the next 24 hours. Chalk is good.

Thanks for reading.