We really shouldn’t be surprised by the number of upsets that occur in the NCAA tournament each year.
There was a record tying 10 wins by double-digit seeds in the first-round , highlighted by No. 15 seed Middle Tennessee State’s stunning 91-80 victory over No. 2 seed, Michigan State University.
The consistency of upsets each year in college basketball can be explained by the way the game is being played.
Basketball today is played, from outside-in, as opposed to inside-out, and it has evened the playing field.
What I mean by that is basketball is no longer a big man’s game. Back in the day, post play was winning titles. You had to be able to rebound, defend, and score effectively from the post position.
If you were able to do those things you would then be in position to control the tempo of the game, and set your defenses. But today, the game is played just the opposite. It starts with the perimeter game, and the 3-point shot.
Never was that more evident than in MTSU’s win over MSU. The Blue Raiders shot 58 percent (11 of 19) from behind the line.
That neutralized the domination of MSU’s bigger inside players, who controlled the boards, and scored inside. MTSU’s ability to spread the floor, forced the bigger, stronger, MSU defenders to have to come out on the perimeter and guard them. Doing that allowed MTSU to attack the basket off the dribble.
MSU coach Tom Izzo’s championship program is built on defense. But it wasn’t built to defend from beyond the 3-point line. An Izzo defense getting burned for 91 points? In regulation?
In addition to the style of play, the caliber of athlete has improved. The power programs like MSU can’t recruit all the great players in the nation today. There are some terrific players who slips through the arms of big time programs, and flourish at lessor known schools.
And, there isn’t much slippage from an All-American such as MSU’s Denzel Valentine, to a kid like MTSU’s Giddy Potts who scored 19 points, and killed MSU with some daggers from behind the line.
Don’t get me wrong, Valentine is a superior player to Potts in practically every facet of the game. However, if Valentine happens to struggle, as he did against MTSU with six turnovers, and Potts has a good day, things even up very quickly.
The point here is there is a lot of good basketball players in the country, particularly at the perimeter positions. Shooting 50 percent from the 3-point line like MTSU’s Potts, who led the country during the regular season, means something.
And, if he gets hot, it’s causes issues. The ball doesn’t know it is going in against a perennial power such as MSU. It doesn’t care that Tom Izzo is on the sidelines.
Another important factor is schools like Little Rock Arkansas, Middle Tennessee State, Yale, and Northern Iowa, who were all part of the opening round upset wins, is they get kids who are going to stay there for four years.
They rarely have any lottery pick prospects that could leave after their sophomore or junior year, and head to the National Basketball Association.
However, because these guys aren’t NBA prospects, doesn’t mean they can’t play. They can play, and perhaps even more important, they know how to play.
And when you get a bunch of guys who know how to play, are more experienced than you, aren’t afraid of you, and actually want to make a name off you, they can cause you problems.
MTSU looked at MSU as an opportunity to make a name for themselves. That is precisely what they did.
Finally, it should be never discounted that at the end of the day these are 18, 19, and 20 year old kids.
Although they are treated as if they are pros, train like they are pros, and criticized like they are pros, the only people getting paid are the coaches. At that age, you don’t always know what you are going to get from a kid on a day to day basis.
If MTSU and MSU played a seven game series, the Spartans would win the series 99 times out of 100. They are a superior basketball team. But although the Spartans would win the series practically every time, the Blue Raiders would be more than capable of winning some games.
And, as MTSU demonstrated so superbly in their upset victory on Friday, if that one game comes at the right time, they can make history.