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Why the 2017 NCAA Tournament’s lack of upsets is actually a good thing

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Look at the amazing bracket we’ve got going forward.

One of the few actual underdog winners
Photo by J Pat Carter/Getty Images

The opening round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament was so predictable, it almost made Barack Obama’s latest cautious bracket look adventurous. Out of 32 games, lower seeds won only six — in last year’s Midwest Region alone, they won five — and most of 2017’s don’t even qualify as actual upsets.

  • Lower seeds Middle Tennessee, Rhode Island, and Wichita State entered as Vegas favorites anyway. These aren’t upsets.
  • Xavier and 9-seed Michigan State were only 1.5-point underdogs. Those aren’t really upsets.
  • USC was an actual ‘dog, but by less than a touchdown (football term).

One true upset? Thought this was March. Where’s all the pandemonium? A First Four team making the round of 32 yet again, along with Tom Izzo again and Wichita State again: any of those supposed to be astounding?

Upsets are good. They’re supposed to be the main attraction of the opening round.

You watch a small school you’ve barely heard of shock a traditional power. You bathe in the humiliating memes. You gawk at the scoreboard while scrambling to flip over to the next upset alert. That’s the routine of the opening round.

But upsets also tend to risk a weaker bracket later on. If too many teams that had mediocre seasons knock out teams that had good seasons, the worst-case scenario is something like this:

No one wants to see 8-seed Butler vs. 3-seed UConn ever again.

The popular theory is that the ideal tournament starts with 48 hours of explosions, but dispatches those sweet underdogs as it builds toward a marquee Final Four of season-proven quality. Teams with stars who’ve excelled for months are essential toward the end.

It’s like that study, the one with kids who were sat down in front of cookies, but told they could trade them for even more cookies if they had the will power to wait. Or something like that. You remember it. Well, now we’ve held off long enough to be rewarded with a truckload of cookies.

Just look at what we’ve got left.

Download and print your own PDF bracket

It’s like a whole new tournament is about to start. We’re rebooting with more or less the 32 best teams in the country, minus a few like SMU and Oklahoma State, who went down valiantly in great games. Almost nobody gets a breezy matchup against a team that happened to catch fire at the right time.

The tournament’s on pace to produce its share of especially watchable moments — add Northwestern-Vanderbilt, Wisconsin-Virginia Tech, and a few others — even if the team with the smaller numbers by their names won most of them.

While the next round doesn’t have many upstarts we can all adopt for one week, we get two or three versions of that Cinderella story every year. It’s wonderful every time, but let’s try something different. Let’s see how good the final rounds can be if only the clear best team wins each early game, almost without fail.

Plus, didn’t the regular season already bring us enough havoc for a little while?

Think of the last few months as filling in for the traditional opening round, maybe. Seven different AP No. 1s, three of the top four teams losing on the same Tuesday, preseason No. 1 Duke falling all the way to No. 21 before winning the ACC, 29-0 Gonzaga losing to BYU, Tom Crean beating Kansas and North Carolina on his way out the door, and so on. It was a wild season!

Now let’s use the tame opening round as a staging ground for more.

Fear not. College sports mayhem will always — always — arrive.

We see this every fall during football season. The Saturday that looks the weakest ends up being diabolical carnage from coast to coast.

Chaos will arrive in its own time, right when we’re most gleefully unprepared for it. When the hammer does fall, it’ll only strike even harder.

Have faith in madness. All this chalk has set up one of the most promising stretch runs in a long time.