By Doug Halberstadt
Admit it. You had Kansas winning the entire NCAA men’s basketball tournament, didn’t you? After all, they were the overall No. 1 seed in the country. Every expert predicted they were the team to beat. Their head coach, Bill Self, became the first coach ever to win 30 or more games in five consecutive seasons this year. If anyone in this year’s group of 64 teams was considered the Goliath, it was the Kansas Jayhawks.
Out of the 88 entries in the pool I’m in, 45 people picked Kansas to win. Not one single person picked the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) Panthers of the Missouri Valley Conference to upset the mighty Jayhawks. That’s how sure everyone was that Kansas was a shoo-in for the Sweet 16. According to ESPN, 98 percent of more than 4 million people entered in their nationwide pool had Kansas in their final 16 teams, and close to 50 percent of those entries had Kansas as the champion.
Someone forgot to tell Ali Farokhmanesh and his UNI teammates they weren’t supposed to stand a chance. That’s why they play the games. Farokhmanesh seemed to have ice water flowing through his veins when he pulled up behind the 3-point line with the game on the line and swished the biggest shot of his career.
The biggest upset in a tournament was done. David had taken down mighty Kansas. Northern Iowa pulled off one of the biggest NCAA upsets in years.
This year’s tournament has had its share of upsets. Eight double-digit seeds won opening-round games. However, none was bigger than this one. UNI became the first team to beat a No. 1 seed in the second round since UAB and Alabama did it to Kentucky and Stanford in 2004.
Next up for the Panthers are the Spartans of Michigan State. They play this Friday night (March 26).
If you are like the millions of us across the country who had Kansas winning it all, my advice is forget about your bracket until next year, and pick one of the remaining underdogs and root for them. Plenty of them are left. Take your pick—Cornell, Washington, St. Mary’s and, of course, Northern Iowa. Odds are none of them will win it all, but then again, sometimes teams can overcome those odds. Just ask the Panthers.
Doug Halberstadt can be reached via e-mail at Dougster61@aol.com.
From the March 24-30, 2010 issue