Two upsets, that's how many you need. Get two upsets in a day at the NCAA Tournament and it feels like you're living in a topsy-turvy world where you can throw out the seedings and the records and surrender to the madness of it all.
Going in to the four nightcap games Thursday, there had been two upsets and it had felt like a crazy day already.
It had been a crazy day, is the thing. And another upset and a scare in the last four games completed the picture.
Both of the early upsets came in the Minneapolis Region, where No. 12 Montana took care of the annual 12-over-5 upset requirement by dispatching Nevada, and No. 11 Wisconsin-Milwaukee picked up where it left off last year, dumping 6-seed Oklahoma.
Texas A&M, yet another 12th seed made good, this one in the Atlanta bracket, drilled an exhausted Syracuse team in a late game. Orange star Gerry McNamara, apparently bothered by an undisclosed leg injury, failed to score a field goal in his last college game, finishing with two points.
And it wasn't just the upsets that made Thursday feel madcap. In the Minneapolis bracket, No. 13 Pacific took No. 4 Boston College to double overtime in a thriller before losing.
Alabama, the 10th seed in the Oakland Region, beat No. 7 Marquette, but around here 10s over 7s and 9s over 8s don't count as upsets. Even still, the win by No. 8 George Washington over No. 9 North Carolina-Wilmington in the Atlanta Region counted as part of the pandemonium.
Wilmington blew an 18-point lead in the second half, but had a great chance to win at the end of regulation. With the score tied, T.J. Carter dribbled up court, then launched a wild shot from the 3-point line with about six seconds left. He had plenty of time to drive through a fairly open lane and go to the rim. He probably would have gotten fouled in the process.
He missed. And not only that, but G.W. damn near took the rebound, which was volleyballed to center court, and scored the game-winner on the other end. The Colonials couldn't get the shot off and the game went to overtime, where George Washington hung on for the win.
The bedlam included Tennessee, the second seed in the Washington Region, fighting tooth and nail to escape No. 15 Winthrop. The Vols won it on what looked like a lucky shot, Chris Lofton tossing the ball up off-balance from the right corner and watching it rattle home with 0.4 seconds to go.
Gonzaga, the No. 3 seed in the Oakland bracket, trailed No. 14 Xavier for most of the game before prevailing. No. 6 Indiana barely got past No. 11 San Diego State in the same region.
No. 4 LSU ended up beating 13-seed Iona in the Atlanta Region by 16, but Iona was as close as three points with about six minutes to go. Out of 16 games Thursday, only UCLA, Illinois, Florida, Washington and Duke had relatively easy times, and UCLA and Duke both found themselves in games for a while, against Belmont and Southern.
Wichita State, one of the four teams from the MMMVC -- the much-maligned Missouri Valley Conference -- had a pretty easy time with Seton Hall of the Big East in the Washington bracket. The Shockers are the seventh seed.
What's that you were saying about the Missouri Valley's four bids, nattering nabobs of the East Coast media? The MMMVC is 1-0. The ACC is 2-0, but one of its teams almost got KO'd by a 13-seed. The Big East went 0-3 Thursday.
A bomb scare that emptied the arena in San Diego pushed games back by about an hour and a half there, just to add an extra touch of surrealism, or something, to the day.
One of the funny things about Thursday was that some of the upsets seemed less surprising than some of the games that went according to seeding.
There was no shortage of people saying Tennessee wasn't a true 2-seed, San Diego State was born to beat Indiana, Syracuse would be wrung out after its emotional underdog charge to the Big East tournament championship, Wisconsin-Milwaukee was ready to reprise its 2005 Cinderella run to the Sweet 16, Gonzaga was vulnerable and the bottom seeds were stronger this year than they'd ever been before.
All true, but tell that to the underdogs.
Lofton's game-winning shot for Tennessee, the play of the day, will be a memorable moment, but if a Winthrop player had tossed it up there for the win, it would have entered the Tournament pantheon and, no doubt, set off a celebration reminiscent of the last time a 15 beat a 2, Hampton over Iowa State in 2001.
So yeah, of course we all know a No. 12 or two is going to knock off a No. 5 or two. We all know Indiana's not much better, if at all, than San Diego State, and that we're in an age of parity, with smaller programs getting better and better and the big guns coming back to the pack because the superstars leave them early, so 14s and 15s and 16s really can play with the powerhouses.
That all just makes the Tournament better. The underdogs are still underdogs, even if they're a little more confident these days than they used to be, which makes for better games. But now we get to say things like, "How did Gonzaga ever escape Xavier?" or "Boy, Tennessee was lucky to get past that tough Winthrop club."
That's why at the end of a day when there were almost twice as many games going according to form as there were even match-ups and upsets combined, we can shake our heads in wonder at the chaos of it all.
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Women's Tournament predictions [PERMALINK]
The women's NCAA Tournament starts Saturday, with North Carolina, Duke, Ohio State and LSU the No. 1 seeds.
I won't bore you with my bracket, but I'm planning to enter it in a media challenge at ESPN.com, and I'll let you know how I do. Actually, I can let you know how I'll do right now: badly.
My Final Four: North Carolina over Maryland and Oklahoma over Duke in the semis, North Carolina over Oklahoma for the title.
Previous column: Tournament preview
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