In the past two years, six of the eight No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament have made it to the Final Four.
There’s still some madness in March, but not nearly as much as there used to be — in basketball, that is.
If you’re looking for something other than straight chalk (for you non-gamblers, that means the favorite winning), try switching over to the other March Madness: the Division I men’s hockey NCAA Tournament.
Three of the four No. 1 seeds in the 16-team field got knocked off in the first round this year, including Michigan, which lost 2-0 to Air Force on Friday. This isn’t quite like a 16 seed beating a one seed in basketball, but a 14 over a three is a pretty good comparison.
The upsets in hockey have created interesting storylines and given the potential for national glory to a bunch of schools that don’t get much attention.
Along with Air Force, Bemidji State, Cornell and Miami (Ohio) all pulled off upsets.
Hockey will never have the large audience March Madness does. Hockey is not as popular as basketball, fewer schools are involved and less money is bet. But the hockey tournament gives a better opportunity for small schools to try to make waves. In this state alone, schools like Northern Michigan and Lake Superior State have won national championships. Those schools don’t even compete in Division I in basketball.
Everyone loves an underdog. Just think back to George Mason’s exciting run to the Final Four in 2006. Fans who had never even heard of the school were pulling for the Colonials for three straight weekends.
But underdogs seem to be disappearing.
Last year, all four No. 1 seeds made the Final Four for the first time in history. This year, just one team higher than a fifth seed made the Sweet Sixteen — and that was Arizona, a traditional powerhouse. There was no Cinderella to rally behind.
Which brings us back to hockey. The hockey tournament hasn’t lost its parity.
In 2007, Michigan State went from the last team in the tournament to National Champions, riding a pint-sized goalie and a few good bounces. No one on this campus was happy to see it, but the drama was undeniable.
Notre Dame followed a similar path last season, narrowly squeaking into the tournament field, then making it all the way to the championship game.
This year, the parity and excitement have risen to another level. The storybook underdog wins would be enough to make this year’s tournament must-see TV. That doesn’t even include the two teams that scored last-second goals to force overtime, then went on to win in the extra session.
A single-elimination hockey tournament is an unpredictable way to determine a champion. And like basketball, the best team is less likely to win than the hottest team. The difference is lately, the hottest team and the best team seem to be the same thing in basketball. That’s not the case in college hockey.
All the upsets won’t do much to raise college hockey’s profile nationwide. It’s destined to be a niche sport at best. There’s little local media coverage and even less national attention.
So you might have to dig around on Google a little bit to find out more about this weekend’s upsets.
But if you’re tired of just seeing favorites win, the extra effort is worth it.
— Sandals can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.