March Madness! The Big Dance! Cinderella! The first round of the NCAA tournament is the most epic two days in sports. Growing up in Iowa our teachers would wheel a TV into the classroom and we’d watch the Hawks/other games throughout the day. Sometimes, one would happen to - cough - get a cold on that day. It happens. THE biggest reason for this incredible two days of basketball is all about the upsets. It is clockwork that one of the big dogs gets upended by a team that puts together an incredible, confident, spirited effort and comes away with the victory. As a coach I’d rather be the hunter than the hunted. Here’s a little historical data regarding some of the #15/#2 upsets and also how our Iowa Hawkeyes can avoid going down on the wrong side of history.
Top 3 Seeds and Their Winning Percentages
Jim Sergent (USA Today) put together some fascinating numbers. Here are the winning percentages in the first round for the top 3 seeds in the NCAA tournament, from 1985-2019.
1 Seeds = 99.3%
2 Seeds = 94.3%
3 Seeds = 85%
As you know our Hawkeyes are a 2 seed taking on something called the Grand Canyon Antelopes. First of all, as a fan it’s terrifying playing a team you have never heard of. Why? Ask the Cyclones about something called Hampton. Also, we need to look no further than something called Northwestern State against our 3 seeded Hawkeyes in 2006.
Sorry, Hawk fans, but we need to re-live this nightmare. That way it doesn’t happen again. (Knock on wood) When I watched that live and we gave up the long offensive rebound I said aloud, “We just lost.” All Hawk fans in the world knew that shot was going in. That was an incredible Iowa team with veteran players. No way Alford should have lost that game. (The author now turns off the lights, takes some deep breaths, and meditates to get back to a happy place...)
Any team that makes the tournament has quality basketball players. That said, if a low seed catches lightning in a bottle for 40 minutes, a high seed that has a legitimate shot at taking home the championship trophy goes home.
Notable #15 Versus #2 Upsets
There have been eight 15/2 upsets in NCAA history. Eight. Of those eight, here are some coaches that have been on the losing end of those. Lute Olson. Tom Izzo. Jim Boeheim. Mike Krzyzewski. Hall of Fame coaches. Big-time programs.
1993 Santa Clara 64 Arizona 61
Lute Olson’s (Lute! Lute! Lute!) team had sustained only 3 losses all season. They were a favorite (obviously as a 2 seed) to win it all. Santa Clara had a certain player come off the bench to score 10 points, grab 7 rebounds, dish out 4 assists and go 8/10 from the free throw line to pull off the upset. That bench player? Steve Nash. (Note - guards are difference makers in the tournament year after year.) In this game Santa Clara missed 4 consecutive free throws with a 3 point lead. Damon Stoudamire almost drained a desperation 3 that would have sent the game to overtime. Whew!
2001 Hampton 58 Iowa State 57
For some unknown reason, this makes me happy. Larry Eustachy’s Cyclone team won the regular-season Big 12 title. At the half Hampton led 31-27. Easier said than done, but letting an “inferior” team stick around can very easily lead to heartache. Iowa State put together a nice run to take an 11 point lead mid-way through the second half. The Pirates (I had to Google that) then came back and it ended gloriously. Jamal Tinsley’s full-court drive and layup juuuuuuusssssstttttt misses. That’s a shame... (Smiling while I type this.)
2012 Lehigh 75 Duke 70
This one didn’t necessarily surprise me. C.J. McCollum could flat out play. A personal perspective on this. McCollum was the Patriot League player of the year in 2010 and 2012. The 2011 Patriot League player of the year was Mike Muscala. I was Mike’s high school coach. McCollum and Muscala had some battles back in the day and they both still play in The League. I actually picked this upset on my brackets. Disliking Duke also had something to do with it, but everyone knew McCollum and Lehigh were going to be a tough out. McCollum is another fine example of a dominant guard taking over an NCAA tournament game. CJ went off for 30 points. The game before this contest involved North Carolina. The Tar Heels fans who still remained in the stands turned this game into a home game for Lehigh. Everyone loves an underdog (especially when the high seed is Duke). Here is just one of C.J. McCollum’s highlights from this game. Warning - don’t let your children watch this as C.J. just destroys people.
This is flat out ridiculous. Take the time to Google this game and watch the highlights. You won’t be disappointed.
2013 Florida Gulf Coast 78 Georgetown 68
This list would not be complete without Florida Gulf Coast’s emphatic victory over the Hoyas. “Dunk City” was a fun, high-flying squad that preferred to throw alley-oop lobs for dunks than scoring more conventional ways. Florida Gulf Coast is the only 15 seed to advance to the Sweet 16 in NCAA history.
That’s some fun hoops; unless you are a Georgetown fan.
How the #2 Iowa Hawkeyes Can Avoid an Upset
It’s About the Guards
There are some common elements in the huge upsets in the Big Dance. First, guards historically have dominated many of these games. It often is scoring, but it can also be piling up assists, locking down a team’s star player, being the emotional leader, etc... If you don’t have guards who step up, you’re probably going home. Steve Nash and C.J. McCollum were such players. Stephen Curry (playing for 10 seed Davidson in 2008) set the world on fire. He went off for 40 in a win against Gonzaga, 30 in a win against Georgetown, and 25 in a loss to Kansas. Guards shine in the Big Dance. The Hawks will need to have JBo, Wiesy, CFred, Joey T, and Perkins step up and make plays.
Don’t Let the Other Guys Feel Like They Have a Chance
I know. Easier said than done. If you let another team stick around, even a vastly inferior team will begin to think they can win. These low seeds have nothing to lose. They come in with an attacking mindset. There is no pressure on them. With a high seed, the more the game goes along the more pressure the players will feel. Another huge aspect that ties in with this will be somewhat mitigated this year with Covid, but it will still be a thing. Everyone loves an underdog. Who doesn’t want to see Cinderella crash the dance? Especially when we can see Coach K turn 50 shades of red. Through the years at these games fans from the game before or after will often start cheering loudly and voraciously for the underdog. It happens all the time and it’s awesome. Unless you’re Iowa and you’re playing the Antelopes (that is such a cute name).
To Coin Hayden Fry, “Dance With Who Brung Ya”
Opposing coaches will often try to get your team to play away from its strengths. This may entail speeding up or slowing down the game, double-teaming a star player to make him give the ball up, or mixing up/changing defenses to confuse a team or give them shots they don’t normally take/make. For the Hawkeyes we need to feed Luka Garza down low. This will free up our shooters. Jordan Bohannon, Joe Wieskamp, C.J. Fredrick and others can go splash brothers on it all the way to the trophy, but it must start with Garza inside. Inside/out threes are the best shot in basketball.
Defend and Box Out (Don’t Give Up Offensive Rebounds)
This is so obvious it’s almost not worth writing, but if this doesn’t happen, the Hawks could be the ninth team on this list. This Iowa team literally could go the Northwestern State route or the Georgetown route. We have to defend. Plain and simple. Also, it’s not a defensive stop until we secure the defensive rebound. Basketball players of any age right now can go off shooting three point field goals. Offensive rebounds (second or third chances) ALWAYS go in (sorry, but yes I was yelling there). If we selfishly go after rebounds, loose balls, and get our fast break going feeding Garzilla as he run rim to rim and/or hitting Wiesy, JBo, CFred on the wing in transition, this team can cut down the nets. First however, let’s get that first win. Anyone else as scared as me? No? Liar! Go Hawks! I will leave you with this. I was 10 at the time and I will never, ever, ever forget this moment. Let’s Dance, Hawks!