If You Love Upsets, You Love The 2010 NCAA Tournament

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If You Love Upsets, You Love The 2010 NCAA Tournament
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

It’s hard to believe that the 2010 NCAA tournament is already down to just four teams after the final buzzer of yesterday’s Duke-Baylor contest, but even though the field has been whittled down quickly, it’s already time to look back on what kind of tournament it has been.

Relative to other NCAA tournaments in recent history, it is safe to say that 2010 has been one of the most exciting tournaments of the last decade.

Fittingly, the first game of the 2010 tournament was an upset as No. 11-seeded Old Dominion knocked off No. 6-seeded Notre Dame, and the lower seeds have rolled along from there.

An analysis of every NCAA tournament field since 2000 shows that this year’s bracket has been the most topsy-turvy we’ve seen in the past decade. For the analysis, I sifted through each field and defined an “upset” as a team defeating another team seeded at least three spots higher.

Here are the number of upsets in each tournament in the 2000s:


As you can see, 2010 tied with 2002 for the most upsets, and there is still a chance for one last upset in this year’s tournament if the Michigan St.-Butler winner (both are No. 5 seeds) defeats the Duke-WVU winner (No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, respectively) in the national championship game.

What makes this year’s tournament that much more exciting is that we haven’t seen a double-digit upset year since the famous George Mason run of 2006.

Of course, while upsets make for exciting tournaments and, most of the time, close finishes, it’s important to note that not everyone appreciates upsets.

Television ratings for the Final Four were the decade’s worst in 2006, when No. 11-seed George Mason made it’s Cinderella run. Because George Mason, like many lower seeds, doesn’t have as large a fan base as most top teams, TV ratings eventually suffer when other fans’ teams are knocked out early on.

It’s also important to remember that not all wins over teams seeded three spots higher are “upsets” in the sense that they are the worse team. In a No. 10/No. 7 first-round matchup, not many would consider the lower seed winning an upset, depending on the teams, of course.  When Missouri beat Clemson in the first round this year, who really thought it was a big deal?

But, the line needs to be drawn somewhere, and for example, when Butler beat K-State, the teams were seeded three spots apart and I considered that an upset in the traditional sense of the word.

We’ve reached the Final Four and there are still three basketball games left to be played to determine the 2010 national champions, but it’s never too early to look back on what we’ve seen in this tournament thus far and realize what a wild ride it has been to this point.

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