Thursday, March 20, 2014

Another MAAC Connection About NCAA Underdogs

A few posts back you'll have read about the most-recent issue of Sports Illustrated, the one with Creighton's Doug McDermott, on the cover having so many mentions about the MAAC.

And, we even missed one.

Our own league commissioner Rich Ensor was quoted in the back-of-issue "March Madness" story about Princeton's near-upset of Georgetown in the 1989 NCAA tournament. Princeton, a No. 16 seed that year, nearly knocked off top-seeded Georgetown before the Hoyas held on to a 50-49 victory.

It is a well-done piece, and says so much about the importance of the David-Goliath early round match-ups, if you will. About how much interest can be created when one of the proverbial little guys either upsets or nearly does against one of the power conference teams.

Back then there was growing sentiment that automatic berths to the NCAA's no longer be granted to some of the lower-rated conferences whose teams, in theory, had next to no chance at making an advancement in the event.

But, Princeton's near upset of Georgetown helped change all of that, while also showing that the potential for upsets actually created additional interest in the tournament.

The following year, for instance, Princeton's first-round game against highly-regarded Arkansas earned an even larger TV audience than the Tigers' near-win over Georgetown. Princeton's previous appearance changed the way the NCAA tournament was watched. Now viewers were looking for an upset.

Said SI, in the article: "The game (Princeton's near-upset of Georgetown) enshrined for the little guys their place in the bracket -- a chance to prove their worth on the floor, rather than being declared unworthy in some smoke-filled room."

Said Ensor, as quoted in the story: "Today (limiting) automatic bids aren't even in the discussion. There's acceptance that it's good for everyone. And while (the small conferences) may not be the driving force behind a lot of success, we're part of the excitement of the early rounds."

We couldn't agree more. Those type Cinderella stories are a big part of why we watch early round games.

Outcomes like No. 15 seed Florida Gulf Coast beating No. 2 seed Georgetown and, then, No. 7 San Diego State last year ... or, No. 14 Siena beating No. 3 Stanford in 1989 ... or No. 8 Villanova (with three assistants who would eventually become head coaches of MAAC teams) going all the way and beating defending champion Georgetown in the 1985 national title game ...

Those type upsets might not be the only reason why we're mad about March, but it's a big one.

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