2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner

NCAA tournament: Power of the underdog

Published: March 22, 2014, 1:30 pm, by Paul Klee

That’s how it’s usually portrayed: the little guy has a good day and surprises the big, bad power conference program.

There’s another side to the rash of upsets ransacking this NCAA tournament. Power-conference teams are almost always overvalued. Overrated is another word, but I don’t love that word, so we’ll use overvalued.

There was nothing to suggest Mercer got lucky in beating Duke, North Dakota State just had a good day in beating Oklahoma, or Dayton got hot to beat Ohio State. There was everything to suggest Mercer was Duke’s equal, North Dakota State was better than Oklahoma and Dayton was better than Ohio State.

(That’s not to mention the alma mater, Gonzaga, taking Oklahoma State to the woodshed. This was the Zags’ sixth straight win against Oklahoma State and the sixth straight year the Zags won their first game in the NCAA tournament. Only Kansas and Syracuse have longer streaks. Yet the collective media penciled Oklahoma State into a matchup with Arizona. Oklahoma State over Gonzaga? Really? This is a just-OK Gonzaga team. But a just-OK Gonzaga team is still 8-10 points better than a middling BCS team.)

It makes sense why we assume the Dukes and Oklahomas and Ohio States are the superior teams. They are the ones on Big Monday, highlighting SportsCenter and lining the lists of recruiting rankings.

But I think that’s partly why the power-conference teams are overvalued in the NCAA tournament. If that’s true, here’s the next question: So why don’t we see more mid- and low-majors in the Final Four? Seeding, naturally. It’s much tougher to reach a Final Four from a 10, 11, 12, 13 or 14 seed. But if Mercer is seeded correctly, it would have an honest shot. Because, after watching Mercer actually play, I think we can all agree:

If Mercer truly is a 14 seed, college basketball is better than it’s ever been. And it’s definitely not.

Twitter: @Klee_Gazette