By Foster Nicholas | Sports Writer
Following No. 1 seed Purdue University’s shocking first round loss to No. 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson University, 63-58, Friday, the college basketball world is possibly in the presence of a shift. After one of the greatest David versus Goliath stories in sports history, the question remains: Is this a trend that will affect Baylor’s success?
In 1985, the March Madness bracket expanded to 64 teams, and before 2018, a No. 16 seed had never taken down a No. 1 seed. In the first round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament, which was just five years ago, No. 16 seed University of Maryland, Baltimore County took down No. 1 seed University of Virginia in the first round.
Coming into Friday’s first round action from the Ball Arena in Denver, 16 seeds held a 1-150 record all-time in the first round. Now, an afterthought years ago has turned into a reality, as it appears literally anyone can win.
Now in his 20th season as Baylor’s head coach, Scott Drew has seen it all. After the crazy upsets in the first round of the 2023 NCAA Tournament, he thinks parity in college basketball is at an all-time high.
“[There’s] just going to [be] more and more so-called upsets,” Drew said. “You look at it, and players see Nos. 1 and 16, it’s like rankings. You see someone ranked 40th or 30th, and you just assume they’re a lot better than someone 300th. What was Steph [Curry] ranked coming out [of Davidson]?”
Not only did FDU shock the world, but No. 15 seed Princeton University downed No. 2 seed University of Arizona in the first round of action. Then just two days later, the Princeton Tigers took down the No. 7-seeded University of Missouri Tigers.
“Everybody who plays in the tournament is very talented,” Baylor redshirt-senior guard Dale Bonner said. “It doesn’t matter what seed you are, it can be anybody.”
For the third consecutive year, a 15 seed has advanced to the Sweet 16, and Princeton now awaits the winner of No. 3 Baylor’s second round matchup against No. 6 Creighton University on Sunday at 6:10 p.m. CT in the Ball Arena in Denver.
“It’s always a great win in the NCAA Tournament,” Drew said. “Everyone knows the parity, and it’s the reason no one has a perfect bracket after the first two days. At the same time, the bad news is that means we’re preparing for another really good team.”
Fifth-year senior forward Flo Thamba has been through thick and thin with the green and gold, and over the years he has learned that every game is one that could get away.
“There’s over 360 teams [in] Division I, and the reality is you can’t underestimate any team,” Thamba said. “Obviously with March Madness, you’re going to have the best team of every conference. You just have to show up and play. You can’t take any game for granted, whether it be the first game or the last game.”
It’s hard to tell if the trend will continue or not, but one of the most probable reasons for this trend over the last several years can be attributed to extra eligibility and the transfer portal. There are lots of players who are in their fifth or sixth years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“With the transfer portal and a lot of talented young guys coming out of high school, it’s kind of balanced the playing field,” junior forward Jalen Bridges said. “Teams that are at a lower level have three, four, maybe five major guys. College basketball is headed in the right direction and competition is at an all time high.”
As the trend continues, there will be few easy games on the Bears’ roster. If Baylor continues to have success, they will constantly be put in a position to be on the back side of a Cinderella story.
Baylor will continue its March journey Sunday against Creighton on TBS.