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Upset virus continues to spread
The first sign that this year would be especially mad came in Hawaii on the 11th day of the college basketball season.
In an epidemic, this moment would be referred to as Patient Zero, the one that started it all. On Nov. 19 at the Maui Invitational, Rotnei Clarke hit a running 3 at the buzzer to beat Marquette. The epidemic spread quickly.
The next day, Butler upset ninth-ranked North Carolina. Five days later, unheard-of Cal Poly beat UCLA, which had just brought on the nation’s second-best recruiting class. Baylor and Notre Dame beat a Kentucky team that, at the time, we still thought was really, really good.
Then all the No. 1’s started to fall: Indiana, then Duke, then Louisville, then Duke again, then Michigan, then Indiana again. Mixed in was a little TCU-over-Kansas magic, a little Penn-State-over-Michigan fairy dust.
Et cetera, et cetera, ad infinitum.
So these first two days of the NCAA tournament should come as no surprise, right?
Friday's big upset, Florida Gulf Coast over Georgetown, wasn’t so shocking except for the fact it was so one-sided. Harvard over New Mexico wasn’t shocking except that, well, it’s Hah-vard, and everyone knows Ivy Leaguers can’t jump.
La Salle over Kansas State wasn’t shocking, even though it was a home game for K-State in Kansas City. Ole Miss over Wisconsin wasn’t shocking; the biggest upset of that game might’ve been that Marshall Henderson didn’t end it by jumping on the scorer’s table and pounding his chest. (He tried but was stopped.)
Given the way this year’s gone, the only shocking thing may be that we didn’t have a 1-seed get bounced on Thursday or Friday for the first time in history. Though Gonzaga was mighty, mighty close to making it 115-1 for the 1-seeds, and so was Kansas.
The tally of the dead after two days? We’ve got one 2-seed, one 3-seed, one 4-seed and two 5-seeds.
The shocking Georgetown loss? Not so shocking when you think about it. In four of the past five years, Georgetown’s been bounced from the first weekend of the NCAA tournament by a double-digit seed. The other year the Hoyas were in the NIT. We could’ve seen an early Georgetown loss coming.
“There are a lot of things that we have been very good at all year that we were not good at tonight,” Georgetown coach John Thompson III said.
But the shocker — and the best story of this year’s tournament so far — was in the team that beat the Hoyas.
When it comes to Cinderellas in a year of upsets, it doesn’t get any better than Florida Gulf Coast. As soon as we got over our juvenile obsession with the fact the coach has a supermodel for a wife, we realized: Hey, these guys play pretty good basketball.
They were throwing down dunks like they were a ready-made "SportsCenter" highlight team and not a university in only its second year of Division I eligibility. When your school doesn’t have much history — it’s been only two decades since FGCU was founded — you don’t get all caught up in another school’s impressive history.
It was a team with nothing to lose, playing like it couldn’t lose. Two-seeds go 10 points up on 15-seeds all the time, but rarely does a 15-seed feel as in control the entire game as FGCU did against Georgetown.
After the game, a reporter asked FGCU guard Bernard Thompson if there was a moment when he looked up and felt they had Georgetown on their heels.
“The whole game, really,” he said. “I didn't think they were going to come back. We just kept the intensity up. They really couldn't match our energy or anything.”
It was a cocky comment, not what you’d expect from the wide-eyed underdog who just slayed the giant. But as we’ve learned this year, the underdogs don’t always know the proper way to act.
Which is what brought us to the signature heartwarming moment of this year’s tournament. The clock was down to only a few seconds, and FGCU was shooting free throws, the win in hand. Senior guard Sherwood Brown, he of the dreadlocks and the 24 points, was still on the court, smiling, having a conversation with a fan. Then, with the game still being played, he strode over to the television announcers and shook their hands.
Because when you’re a Cinderella, you don’t always know how to act in this moment. You just know you need to savor every bit of it while you can.
Follow Reid Forgrave on Twitter @ReidForgrave or email him at ReidForgrave@gmail.com.
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