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What Leads to Upsets in the NCAA Tournament?

March 24, 2016

March Madness is such an exciting time. Everyone makes brackets and closely follows how their teams are doing. And inevitably, every tournament season brings gut-wrenching upsets. From a basketball perspective, what leads to these upsets? Hawaii over California, Stephen F. Austin over West Virginia, Middle Tennessee State over Michigan State… what’s going on here? There are several factors in play. Let’s take a look at a few of the major ones from a coach’s standpoint.

Experience. Experience is a big factor in winning games. Older players have had more life experiences on and off the court, and that leads to a certain maturity. They have been through tough losses and had great wins. They have had to develop a tough-mindedness that leads a group of individuals to achieve more as a sum total than as their individual parts.

They are a winning team. In order to make the NCAA Tournament as a lower seed you are most likely to get there in a one-bid league. You must win your conference tournament in order to advance. Your team knows what it takes to win. The tenacity, the skill, the collaboration, and being part of something greater all lead to the conference championship and can lead to success in the NCAA tourney. These teams had to commit to a cause greater than themselves because they couldn’t just out-talent their opponents.

Age. The lower seeds do not traditionally attract the blue chip prospects that are commonly one and done. They have players that develop over the four years. Many of those teams that are the spoilers for the higher seeds are led by seniors that are 22-24. These 22-24 years old are competing against super-talented yet young blue chippers that are 18 or 19.  The age difference not only helps with experience, but with the strength, skill, and mental maturity that simply comes with age. Tonight’s Maryland vs. Kansas match-up should be interesting as both teams have some mature players leading them.

This is their moment in time. The one-bid leagues in most cases do not have multiple players that are destined for the NBA. If they do have an NBA prospect, he has developed into one over four years.  These players value the chance to make memories for their school, their teammates, their coaches, and themselves. This will be the highlight of their careers. They do not treat this opportunity as another stop on the way to NBA stardom.

The Goliath does not believe that David can beat them. The approach of the blue chip-laden team is often not one that leads to success. They go in thinking they are winning the championship.  They are looking forward to the match-ups with the other high seeds. They think that without the NBA looming for their opponent, “How can they ever beat us?” That approach of not taking the opponent seriously leads to a missed shot here, a lost rebound there, until these high seeds are fighting for their tournament life!

As suspenseful as these matches are to watch, all told, the upsets are what make the tournament great! They are truly what makes March complete madness! Enjoy watching.

Read more of Coach Wootten’s insights elsewhere on the blog, and don’t forget to register your child for a Wootten camp this summer!
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