What defines an upset? At its base the term is as simple as one team beating another when the likelihood of that outcome is decidedly unexpected. Of course this definition is typically reserved for those occurrences when those outside the glaring spotlight of the Big Six conferences invade and chop down much taller, stouter trees. When VCU eliminated Duke from the NCAA Tournament a couple of years ago as an 11-seed it was for all intents and purposes an upset. Even with the Blue Devils experiencing a down year, even with the Rams possessing the best player on the floor that day in Eric Maynor, because one team was a known commodity on the national level and the other wasn't, it was an upset.
So what happens when neither team falls within the reach of the national spectrum?
While many may believe the first true upsets don't unfold until the first 13-seed slays a four, championship week presents a wealth of these unexpected upendings that largely go unnoticed or overlooked. Case and point: yesterday afternoon I was impressed enough with James Madison's potential to label them as a six-seed capable of doing some significant damage in the CAA Tournament. Well, Tony Shaver and his William & Mary team apparently had different ideas as the Tribe upended the Dukes in the opening round.
In the OVC, a conference so obscure on a national level that tonight's championship game won't even earn the requisite showing on ESPNU that is the staple of these smaller conferences, the Murray State Racers were defeated in the semifinals by a 20-win Tennessee Tech team. A formidable foe to be sure, but an upset nonetheless. Furthermore, for the first time since 1986 the conference title game will be devoid of both Austin Peay and Murray State. Are these upsets? To the resident ACC and Big East fans of the world, most would likely be hard pressed to even place these programs geographically. For those select few who actively begin their days with news of the OVC basketball world, it's as if their world has been turned upside down.
College basketball is a game built to a surprising degree around perspective. We often hear announcers state that "Conference X's" championship game is the equivalent of a national title bout for the two remaining schools, with the trophy manifesting itself as a chance to be crushed in an uninspiring 2 vs. 15 contest the following week in the NCAA Tournament. We know there is truth to that, so why can't there be equal truth that Portland failing to advance beyond the WCC's first round or Northern Iowa falling in the MVC quarters to the fans of those teams is no different than Duke or North Carolina failing to reach the Elite Eight?
Scott Cash of WVEC 13 News: "Junior Quinn McDowell set a single-game Colonial Athletic Association Tournament record with 35 points to lead 11th-seeded William and Mary past sixth-seeded James Madison 72-68 in the finale of Friday's first day of competition at the Richmond Coliseum....In addition to McDowell's lights-out shooting effort, the Tribe won it at the free-throw line, hitting 25-of-36 attempts compared to just 10-of-17 for the Dukes, including two front-end misses on free throw bonus opportunities down the stretch."
Pat Forde of ESPN.com: "And then there was Murray State -- Ohio Valley Conference No. 1 seed, defending OVC champion and a team that won a game in the NCAA tourney last year. The Racers at least lost to a team with a winning record in Tennessee Tech, but nobody expected them not to even make the tourney final."
Steve Pivovar of the Omaha World-Herald: "Creighton offset the Panthers' hot second half by continuing to control the boards - the Bluejays finished a 15-rebound advantage - and by cleaning up its ball-handling. Eight of Northern Iowa's 17 points in the first half came off Creighton turnovers. The Bluejays cut their turnovers to three in the second half. 'That was a huge difference,' said Doug McDermott, who had seven of Creighton's 39 rebounds to go along with 16 points. Maybe the difference in the ballgame, his father said. 'If we had turned it over 16 times, had eight in the second half to go with the eight in the first half, there is no way we win the game,' Greg McDermott said."
Dale Meggas of The Examiner: "Cleveland State men's basketball coach Gary Waters said time and time again he saw this coming. With a 73-59 win over Wright State behind 16 points from Jeremy Montgomery and three others in double figures in a quarterfinal of the Horizon League tournament at U.S. Cellular Arena in Milwaukee, the Vikings return to the same floor at 6 p.m. Saturday for a third meeting this year with defending league champion and NCAA runner up Butler. The other semifinal features top seed and host Milwaukee facing fourth seed Valparaiso, which advanced with a 88-78 win over fifth seed Detroit. 'You have to face your demons,' Waters said earlier in the week before the team left for Milwaukee. Waters anticipated a third meeting with the Bulldogs in the league tournament ong before the regular season ended with the Vikings tied for first with Butler and MIlwaukee. He echoed those thoughts each time the subject of Butler's winning ways against his team came into question."
Greg Bishop of the New York Times: "Byrd arrived at Belmont 25 years ago. His team played in the N.A.I.A., a country mile from Division I. His gym seated a few thousand. As guard Jordan Campbell noted, Gill is to Belmont what Spike Lee is to the Knicks, and Gill recalled the handful of fans present at his first game. To dispute one call, Gill ran the length of the bleachers. Early on, Byrd recognized a fertile recruiting ground in Nashville and nearby. He watched enrollment double, watched the university literally rise around him, and he decided that 'some things were more important than trying to climb the ladder.' He won games, lots of them. He won 37 games in one season. He won more than 500 games at Belmont and more than 600 games in his career. He won so much, in fact, that Belmont moved up to Division I in 1996-97."
Matthew O'Brien of The Oregonian: "The Pilots had defeated the Lions the previous two times they met this season and were favored by eight points in most local sports books. 'First of all, I would like to give Loyola Marymount credit,' said Portland coach Eric Reveno. 'They played well. I told my guys that (the Lions) had lost 10 WCC games where they led in the last five minutes and they were very competitive. Give them credit this time around, in the conference championships, for making plays down the stretch.'"