Jeremy WillisESPN.com4 minutes read
How is your bracket? Probably terrible.
The 2023 NCAA men’s tournament got off to a particularly crazy start. From the Paladins to Princeton, there were some massive bracket-busting games over two days of the tournament.
ESPN Men’s Tournament Challenge started with 20,056,273 brackets. After one day and 16 games, 658 perfect brackets remained. According to ESPN research, 95.8% of the brackets weren’t perfect after just four games. The number of perfect brackets continued to fall on Friday. After the 16-seeded Fairleigh Dickinson Knights defeated the 1-seeded Purdue Boilermakers, four single-digit seeds lost (Purdue, #2 Arizona, #4 Virginia, #7 Texas A&M). Seven ESPN Experts had the Wildcats in the Final Four, while two had the Boilermakers in the Final Four and one let Purdue win it all.
With office pools in shambles and brackets in shambles, which teams are most to blame? Here are four teams that did the most damage:
Perfect brackets ruined: 10,272,984
The Terps were selected to win in 48.5% of the Tournament Challenge Brackets. In this basketball edition of a long-running soccer rivalry, Maryland earned 17 points from sophomore forward Julian Reese.
The Maryland football team was quick to troll Mountaineers fans.
Perfect brackets ruined: 8,128,617
Furman was selected to win in 18.2% of the brackets, second most among the No. 13 seeds. What a lack of respect for Virginia. But perhaps that’s because, despite the Cavaliers’ national championship in 2019, many amateur bracketologists remember another notable upset in Virginia. Thursday’s loss marked exactly five years to the day since Virginia became the first men’s No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed.
“This is an amazing moment,” said Furman head coach Bob Richey, who was not yet born when the Paladins last played in a tournament in 1980. “…What a day to be a paladin.”
Before the sun went down on the east coast, there were less than 1 million perfect brackets left, and every game from day one chiseled chunks out of the total. The Missouri Tigers’ win over the Utah State Aggies cost 816,812 brackets of perfection. As early Thursday’s games ruined perfect brackets, the night table began eliminating national title selections.
Picks for the title game: 11.1% (over 1.8 million brackets) had Arizona in the finals.
Twenty-seven years after Princeton defeated the defending champion UCLA Bruins in the first round of the 1996 NCAA tournament, the Tigers were at it again, this time as the No. 15 defeating a No. 2. Mitch Henderson, Princeton’s manager, was a player on the 1996 team.
“I was the beneficiary of this game [against UCLA], along with my teammates, for a long time,” Henderson said of Princeton’s excitement as the No. 13 back in 1996. “But I’m the coach here and my protégé – I’m very present – I want that for them. It’s very, very simple. And that’s what they did today. You made so many people proud and happy today. They earn it.”
At just 6.6% of ESPN brackets, Princeton caused a stir, while Zona won the whole thing at 4.9%, the seventh-highest total. After the game, someone had to break the news to former Arizona soccer player Rob Gronkowski.
Furman and Princeton both won a game in just 2.6% of brackets.
Picks for the title game: 7.8% (2.57 million brackets) had Purdue won the title.
Virginia can breathe a sigh of relief. It’s no longer the only No. 1 to lose to a No. 16 in the men’s NCAA tournament. #16 seeds are now 2-150 in the Big Dance.
Sean Moore of the FDU had 19 points in the titanic 63-58 excitement. The Knights were a 23.5 point underdog. Prior to this game, teams favored by 23 or more were tied 176-1 this season, according to ESPN’s David Purdum. That didn’t deter FDU coach Tobin Anderson.
“The more I watch 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 devastating for many brackets. Of the more than 20 million brackets in Tournament Challenge, 31.6% chose Purdue to reach the Final Four. The loss, coupled with Arizona, hurt many people’s stock picks — 2.56 million brackets had either the Boilermakers or the Wildcats, who cut the nets. Losing Purdue was also the final blow to perfect brackets.