Four games that wrecked the most March Madness brackets
How’s your bracket? Probably terrible.
The 2023 men’s NCAA tournament is off to an especially mad start. From the Paladins to Princeton, there have been some massive, bracket-busting games through two days of the tournament.
The ESPN men’s Tournament Challenge began with 20,056,273 brackets. After one day and 16 games, there were 658 perfect brackets remaining. According to ESPN research, 95.8% of brackets were no longer perfect after just four games. The number of perfect brackets continued to fall on Friday. After the 16-seed Fairleigh Dickinson Knights knocked off the 1-seed Purdue Boilermakers, four single-digit seeds (Purdue, No. 2 Arizona, No. 4 Virginia, No. 7 Texas A&M) had all lost. Seven ESPN experts had the Wildcats in the Final Four, while two had the Boilermakers in the Final Four and one had Purdue winning it all.
As office pools are in shambles and brackets are in tatters, which teams are the most to blame? Here are four teams that did the most damage:
Maryland Terrapins over West Virginia Mountaineers
Perfect brackets ruined: 10,272,984
The Terps were picked to win in 48.5% of Tournament Challenge brackets. In this hoops edition of a longtime football rivalry, Maryland got 17 points from sophomore forward Julian Reese.
Maryland’s football team was quick to troll Mountaineers fans.
Furman Paladins over Virginia Cavaliers
Perfect brackets ruined: 8,128,617
Furman was picked to win in 18.2% of brackets, the second most among No. 13 seeds. What a lack of respect for Virginia. But, maybe that’s because, despite the Cavaliers’ national championship in 2019, many amateur bracketologists remember another notable Virginia upset. Thursday’s loss marked five years to the day since Virginia became the first men’s No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed.
“It’s an unbelievable moment,” said Furman head coach Bob Richey, who wasn’t born when the Paladins had made their most recent tournament appearance in 1980. “… What a day to be a Paladin.”
Before the sun set on the East Coast, there were less than 1 million perfect brackets left, and each game from the first day chiseled chunks out of the total. The Missouri Tigers’ win over the Utah State Aggies cost 816,812 brackets perfection. While the early Thursday games ruined perfect brackets, the night slate started eliminating national title picks.
Princeton Tigers over Arizona Wildcats
Picks for title game: 11.1% (more than 1.8 million brackets) had Arizona in the finals.
Twenty-seven years after Princeton defeated the defending national champion UCLA Bruins in the first round of the 1996 NCAA tournament, the Tigers were at it again, this time as a No. 15 seed defeating a No. 2. Mitch Henderson, Princeton’s coach, was a player on the 1996 team.
“I’ve been the beneficiary of that game [against UCLA], along with my teammates, for a long time,” Henderson said of Princeton’s upset as a No. 13 seed in 1996. “But I’m the coach here and my charge — I’m very present about this — is I want that for them. That’s very, very simple. And they did that today. They made so many people proud and happy today. They deserve it.”
Only 6.6% of ESPN brackets had Princeton pulling the upset, while 4.9% had Zona winning the whole thing, the seventh-highest total. After the game, someone had to break the news to former Arizona football player Rob Gronkowski.
Only 2.6% of brackets had both Furman and Princeton winning a game.
Fairleigh Dickinson Knights over Purdue Boilermakers
Picks for the title game: 7.8% (2.57 million brackets) had Purdue winning the title.
Virginia can breathe a sigh of relief. It is no longer the only No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed in the men’s NCAA tournament. No. 16 seeds are now 2-150 in the Big Dance.
FDU’s Sean Moore had 19 points in the titanic 63-58 upset. The Knights were a 23.5-point underdog. Prior to this game, teams favored by 23 or more were 176-1 this season, according to ESPN’s David Purdum. That didn’t faze FDU coach Tobin Anderson.
“The more I see Purdue, the more I think we can beat them,” Anderson said in the locker room after beating Texas Southern in the First Four.
Still, this was crushing for a lot of brackets. Of the more than 20 million brackets in Tournament Challenge, 31.6% picked Purdue to reach the Final Four. The loss, paired with Arizona, hurt many people’s title picks — 2.56 million brackets had either the Boilermakers or Wildcats cutting down the nets. Purdue’s loss was also the last blow for perfect brackets.
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