We just witnessed the biggest NCAA tournament upset ever. No No. 1 seed has ever lost its first game, but a No. 1A just did. Technically a No. 2, Michigan State was the second choice — behind only Kansas — to win this Big Dance. Michigan State has the coach who has come to own March. Michigan State would never lose to Middle Tennessee. But it did.
As someone who covered Middle’s famous upset of Kentucky in Nashville 34 years ago, I know not to sleep on the Blue Raiders. (Coach of that MTSU team: Ramrod Simpson.) But I did not expect this. Nobody expected this. The first round of this NCAA isn’t yet done, and already I can say with every confidence: Nobody will pick the Final Four. Because everybody picked Michigan State.
Yale over Baylor? Even I picked that one. (As I noted on social media yesterday: If it’s one game for the fate of the world and Scott Drew is coaching … well, we’re all speaking Klingon.) Hawaii over Cal? Didn’t pick it but thought hard about doing so. (Cal was awfully young.) But not Michigan State.
The Spartans seemed no worse than the second-best team in the country, but that’s why we watch this tournament. Because the expanse between “seeming” and “doing” can be as broad as the Pacific Ocean.
When Middle jumped ahead 15-2, you thought, “Whoa.” But you also thought, “Long way to go.” But full credit to Kermit Davis Jr. — his dad coached at Mississippi State back in the day — and his Middle men for never yielding the lead. As coach Moreland Smith (played by G.D. Spradlin) said to Henry Steele (played by Robby Benson) in “One On One”: They “clung to it like grim death.”
(An aside here: Henry Steele’s girlfriend was played by Annette O’Toole — my favorite actress of all time.)
And now you’re saying: Biggest upset ever? What about N.C. State over Phi Slama Jama? Sorry, Jimmy V.’s Wolfpack were a No. 6 seed and the ACC champs. Villanova over Georgetown? No. 8 beat a No. 1 it had already played twice. Texas Western over Kentucky? The Miners were ranked No. 3 in the land and had lost only once. Northern Iowa over Kansas? NIU wasn’t even a double-digit seed. George Mason over UConn? That was a No. 11 over a No. 1, a spread of 10 seeding slots, and that’s huge. Not as huge as this, though.
This was No. 15 over No. 2, and it was more stunning than any of the seven previous 15-over-2s because none of those No. 2s were considered a Final Four lock. Michigan State was — but is no longer. Or, put another way, Izzo no longer.
One thing more: Georgia State had a rough season, finishing 16-14. On Dec. 22, Georgia State beat Middle Tennessee.
And one more thing: Ernie Johnson Jr. just said that CBS Sports’ NCAA contest now includes no perfect brackets. That’s on the afternoon of the tournament’s second full day.
A bit of research: Here’s where the No. 2 seeds unseated by No. 15s were ranked in the Associated Press poll entering the NCAA tournament:
Syracuse in 1991: No. 7 (lost to Richmond).
Arizona in 1993: No. 5 (lost to Santa Clara).
South Carolina in 1997: No. 6 (lost to Coppin State).
Iowa State in 2001: No. 10 (lost to Hampton).
Missouri in 2012: No. 3 (lost to Norfolk State).
Duke in 2012: No. 8 (lost to Lehigh).
Georgetown in 2013: No. 8 (lost to Florida-Gulf Coast.)
Michigan State in 2016: No. 2 (lost to Middle Tennessee).