Upsets happen every year in March Madness. Still, the 2012 NCAA Tournament is well on its way to being the wildest dance ever.
Prognosticators felt that Missouri would face a stiff challenge against the Spartans. But they meant the Michigan State Spartans, and not the Spartans from Norfolk State.
Many also felt that Coack K’s squad had its share of vulnerabilities, but Duke losing to a 15-seed in its opening game? That was clearly a new low for a program so rich in history.
For most of us, when we fill out a bracket, the first thing we do is advance the #1 and #2 seeds through one game, leaving the 15 and 16 seeds entirely ignored.
Certainly, until the now famous date in history – March 16, 2012 – most were aware of the four schools to advance as #15 seeds, with Richmond paving the way as the first in 1991, followed by Santa Clara (1993), Coppin State (1997) and Hampton (2001).
But with no 15-seed advancing in 4,000-plus calendar days, it was an upset that no one felt comfortable writing in ink – or even pencil, for that matter.
Then, two celebrate in one night, leaving passionate basketball fans with a plethora of chances to watch the underdog succeed, starting with #16-seed UNC-Asheville, who threatened top-seeded Syracuse on Thursday, followed by the successes achieved by Norfolk State and Lehigh on Friday, among numerous others.
Two doorways have now cracked open. The NCAA Tournament could see a 15-seed advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time in its history.
That would make for quite a story!
Being a person that barely even batted an eyelash at either the Mountain Hawks or Spartans, it felt right to check each team’s resume. It was necessary to explore results, stats and other little nuggets of information to help uncover the madness that has been presented to us.
Take the following details:
Lehigh Mountain Hawks
- The Mountain Hawks had previously reached the NCAA Tournament on four other occasions. Its closest result was an 87-73 loss to Temple in 1988.
- Before this year’s appearance, Lehigh also made the NCAA Tournament in 2010, losing to Kansas 90-74.
- To reach this year’s tournament, Lehigh won the Patriot League’s tournament as a two seed, knocking off 3-seed American in the semifinals and #1 seed Bucknell in the final.
- C.J. McCollum, who officially hit the national stage after his 30-point performance against Duke, had previously been ignored due to the team’s 15-seed.
- McCollum actually has the second highest season scoring average in the NCAA Tournament (22.1 ppg). Only Creighton’s Doug McDermott (23.0) averages more per game.
- McCollum also led the Mountain Hawks in the Patriot League conference tournament, scoring 27 points versus American in the semifinals and 29 points versus Bucknell in the conference championship.
- Lehigh only has two players averaging in double figures, the aforementioned McCollum (22.1 ppg) and Gabe Knutson (12.3 ppg).
- Lehigh has the nation’s third best free throw percentage (77.6%), which is a plus when playing in tight NCAA tournament games.
- Lehigh’s 35.7% three-point field goal percentage didn’t even crack the nation’s top 100 during the regular season.
- Before its miraculous upset of Duke, it’s most important to note Lehigh held its own against other solid programs throughout the season. Not only did the Mountain Hawks win two of three against the conference’s other powers (American and Bucknell), but Lehigh stayed close with three power conference programs, including two tournament teams. All were road games, too. These three results jump to the forefront: A 78-73 loss to St. John’s on November 9th, a 86-77 loss to Iowa State on November 12th and most impressively, a 90-81 loss at Michigan State on December 22nd.
Coack K likely didn’t need a warning from Tom Izzo, and Xavier won’t need it either on Sunday.
Norfolk State Spartans
- Norfolk State ranked 238th in the nation in total three-point shots made per game, with just 5.4 per contest. That’s often rare for a team entering with a low seed.
- The Spartans also ranked an abysmal 280th in the nation in free throw percentage (65.3%). In its 86-84 win over Missouri, the Spartans were 12-18 from the line (66.7%).
- Norfolk State’s assist turnover ratio was 0.78 during the season, which was only good for 283rd in the nation. Another shocking stat considering the quality of the opponent it defeated in the tournament.
- In its shocking win over Missouri, Norfolk State more than doubled its average for three-point field goals made, shooting 10 of 19 from behind the arc (52.6%).
- Kyle O’Quinn averaged a double-double during the season, posting 15.9 points per game and 10.4 rebounds per game. In the win over Missouri, O’Quinn was 10-16, scoring 26 points and reeling in 14 rebounds.
- This was Norfolk State’s first ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
- This was also Norfolk State’s first ever win over a ranked team.
- The Spartans have three players that averaged in double figures this year, Kyle O’Quinn (16.2 ppg), Chris McEachin (13.0 ppg) and Pendarvis Williams (12.1 ppg).
- Like O’Quinn, McEachin and Williams also had solid games against Missouri, each scoring 20 points.
- If Norfolk State pulls off another miracle versus Florida, the Spartans could face Marquette for the third time this season.
- In two previous games versus Marquette, Norfolk State lost 99-68 on November 14th and 59-57 on November 21st.
- On November 18th, Norfolk State had a legit victory over Drexel (61-56). Drexel is a team that many felt belonged in the NCAA Tournament field. On the other side of the spectrum, the Spartans lost to Elizabeth City 69-57 on November 30th. Elizabeth City doesn’t even earn a logo or a page on ESPN’s website.
- Norfolk State’s only other games versus stronger conference schools included a 66-53 win over a mediocre TCU team on November 20th and a 73-60 loss to Virginia Tech on December 11th.
- Just how impressive was Norfolk State’s win when compared to Lehigh? Clearly, Norfolk State played lesser opponents during the course of the season. It also never made an appearance in the NCAA Tournament, or beat a ranked team. Missouri was one of just four 30-win teams heading into the tournament. The Tigers were ranked third in the country, receiving first place votes in both the AP and ESPN/USA Today Coaches polls.
Next up for Norfolk State are Billy Donovan and the Florida Gators. Like Missouri, the Gators are very balanced and potent, and rely heavily on the three-point shot.
For the first time ever, we have two chances to see a 15-seed advance to the Sweet 16. Countless basketball fans will wait and root for Cinderella to keep that slipper on for at least one more week.
After all, that’s what March Madness is all about – the underdog.
NCAA Tournament 2012: Which Number ONE Seed Will Lose First?
- Syracuse (67%, 2 Votes)
- North Carolina (33%, 1 Votes)
- Kentucky (0%, 0 Votes)
- Michigan State (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 3