March 19, 2005


WE STILL CAN'T BELIEVE IT, despite seeing it live on television and having confirmed it independently with two other people. The Bucknell Bison, from that small university in Lewisburg, Pa., beat the Kansas Jayhawks in the first round of last night's NCAA tourney.

It is difficult to explain to readers unfamiliar with U.S. college basketball just how big a victory this is for Bucknell. The newspaper reports are saying it's Bucknell's first win in the Big Dance since Bucknell basketball was founded back in the 1890s. For that matter, it's the first time any team in the Patriot League -- in which Bucknell plays -- has managed to win a game in the tournament. And most amazing of all, they knocked off Kansas.

As an example of how Kansans reacted to the loss, consider this grief-stricken report from a dumbfounded Kansas City Star scribe:

OKLAHOMA CITY Kansas lost to Bucknell, 64-63, in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament Friday night.

You read that right.

Kansas, the No. 3 seed, lost to No. 14 seed Bucknell.

Unable to control the tempo or ever take control of the game, Kansas fell when Wayne Simien's turnaround jumper in the lane at the buzzer couldn't find the mark.

The shot, off a set play with 2.4 seconds to go from underneath its own basket, looked just like Christian Laettner's famous buzzer-beater that lifted Duke by Kentucky.

Except the shot didn't go in.

The Associated Press reports that Bucknell is the first No. 14 seed to advance in the tourney since Weber State beat the University of North Carolina in 1999. Other reports have said that Bucknell, which last appeared in the tourney in 1989, faced a school which had won the dance twice, made 12 appearances in the Final Four and had 33 overall appearances.

In short, this was downright amazing basketball -- especially as it came on the heels of Vermont knocking out Syracuse, a similar type of amazing victory in which 13th-seeded Vermont blitzed 4th-seeded Syracuse. Vermont hadn't won a tourney game since 1950, television reports said.

We just hope the whole tourney's like this.

NOTE TO INTERNATIONAL or NON-SPORT FAN READERS: The NCAA men's basketball tournament, popularly known as "March Madness" because of the excitement surrounding it, is one of the United States' premier sport contests. It's kind of like the World Cup, except it involves basketball and is held once a year. The event, held over the span of just under three weeks, pits 65 college basketball teams against each other. Some have suggested -- and they're not entirely joking -- that the United States declare game days national holidays due to the lack of productivity in offices around the nation.

Perspective on Bucknell's victory can be gained when one considers there are four tournament brackets, with 16 teams starting out in each. A No. 1 seed has done far better during the year than a No. 16 seed -- and the mismatches are generally so great that a No. 16 has never won an opening-round game in the tourney's history. A No. 15 seed last beat a No. 2 seed in 2001. However, there are limits to everything. Oddly, No. 9 seeds tend to beat their No. 8 opponents, and tradition holds that a No. 12 seed will upset a No. 5 seed at least once each year. This year, No. 12 UW-Mil (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) beat No. 5 'Bama (Univ. of Alabama).

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at March 19, 2005 01:51 AM | TrackBack

Holy Cross, the regular season champion of the Patriot League (who was defeated in the PL tournament by Bucknell), received an NIT birth--I believe a first for the PL--and defeated Notre Dame in the first round, their first postseason win since the founding of the Patriot League.

Posted by: Sam at March 19, 2005 09:41 AM