The maddest March: at last, a 16-seed upsets a number one

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THE line separating the improbable from the impossible is hard to pin down. The annual single-elimination tournament to crown the champion of North America’s National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in men’s basketball is known as “March Madness”, thanks to the steady diet of upsets it produces. Every year, a few ragtag gangs of fresh-faced students from little-known universities, likely destined for mundane careers in accounting, sales or the like, somehow manage to topple a heavily favoured juggernaut packed with future National Basketball Association stars. Yet despite the event’s well-deserved reputation for giant-killing, it had never delivered the ultimate shock—a top-seeded team losing in the first round—until last night. In a game that was supposed to be little more than a tune-up before facing more formidable opponents later in the tournament, the top-ranked University of Virginia was stomped by the humble, 16th-seeded University of Maryland-Baltimore County (UMBC) in a 74-54 blowout.

From a statistical perspective, perhaps the only thing more surprising than the result was that it had taken so long for an upset like this to occur. The NCAA tournament is divided into four regions, each containing 16 colleges seeded based on their expected strength. From 1985, when the event adopted its current format, to 2017, schools given a number three…Continue reading

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