We are only three weeks into the college basketball season, yet it seems that the upset bug has spread from college football to basketball. At least five times a week, we read headlines such as “St. Mary’s Shocks No. 13 Oregon in Upset”, or even “Texas Tech Upsets No. 14 Gonzaga”. These headlines create the false impression that the winners of the “upsets” are vast underdogs who played a game of a lifetime to beat the ranked opponent. In fact, they do a great disservice to the victorious teams. Join me after the jump as I analyze why these games and others are not upsets.
Let’s take the example of the Saint Mary’s-Oregon game. Oregon, ranked 13th in the country, was expected to finish anywhere from 2nd to 4th in the Pac 10, widely considered the best conference in the land. Saint Mary’s was a consensus second pick behind Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference (WCC), a league whose bottom is terrible. However Oregon is a team still finding itself after losing Aaron Brooks to the NBA, and Saint Mary’s is a team returning four starters, and gaining Paddy Mills, a star freshman who played on the Australian national team. The teams are a lot closer than they look at first glance. So when St. Mary’s defeats Oregon 97-89 at St. Mary’s whose crowd undoubtedly would have been its most fired-up, it really cannot be considered an upset.
Now if this game were played with the same result in January, when Oregon was hitting on all cylinders, you could possibly call it an upset, but right now, Oregon and St. Mary’s are too close to call this game an upset, especially at Saint Mary’s. The same can be said for Siena’s win last weekend over Stanford. Siena was picked to win the Metro Atlantic (MAAC) and Stanford, while ranked, was missing their lottery-bound center, Brook Lopez. Thus the headline “Siena Upsets No. 20 Stanford” is misleading; the only thing Siena did was expose the problems that Stanford has in its backcourt with superior play. It was not an upset.
This principle goes both ways, as evidenced by Gonzaga’s loss last night to Texas Tech, which, again, was termed an upset. Gonzaga does play in the WCC, but is a major team in everything but name. Texas Tech is always dangerous under Bob Knight, and are a perennial NCAA Tournament participant. However they lost Jarrius Jackson, and were only predicted to finish middle of the pack in the Big 12. But in Martin Zeno and Alan Voskuil, Tech has two proven scorers and leaders, and they rode Voskuil to their “upset” over Gonzaga. But in truth, without looking at the rankings, Texas Tech and Gonzaga are fairly close, especially as Gonzaga is without Josh Heytvelt. Thus Texas Tech’s win cannot be termed an upset.
Finally, calling these games upsets cheapens the real upsets of college basketball, such as New Orleans over NC State, or BYU over national title contender Louisville. In this college basketball season, with so much fluidity and apparent parity outside the top 10, the term “upset” will no doubt get a workout from the headline writers. Let’s hope that next time [insert good mid-major team here] beats No. 17 [insert major conference team here], the word upset is no where to be found.