Many high school basketball tourney fans love to see the big upset, especially when it’s the No 8 team knocking off the No. 1 seed in quarterfinal action.
I’ve been on both sides of these upsets. I’ve had my No. 1 team knocked off in the quarterfinals twice and I’ve had one of my No. 8 teams upset an unbeaten number one.
In the 20 matchups of a No. 1 vs. a No. 8 in this year’s tourney, there was just one upset. That occurred in Class A North where No. 8 Skowhegan upset No. 1 and unbeaten Medomak Valley of Waldoboro 54-53. Medomak was my pick to win the North A title, which was eventually won by Messalonskee of Oakland.
There have been other big upsets in past tourneys of No. 8s beating No. 1s. Two that I’ll always remember occurred in the 1960s.
In 1966, No. 8 John Bapst upset heavy favorite and first seed Stearns of Millinocket in the Class LL tourney after Stearns had beaten the Crusaders twice during the regular season.
Two years later, No. 1 Old Town fell to No. 8 Presque Isle in the Class LL tourney.
There are several reasons for these big surprises. It’s hard for a team to beat any team three times in a season. However, in the Medomak-Skowhegan matchup, they didn’t meet in the regular season and Skowhegan (9-9) had to beat Brewer in a prelim game to make the tourney.
What hurt Medomak was a long layoff as the Panthers had not played a game in over a week before playing Skowhegan. Even if they had an exhibition game, it’s not like playing an elimination game.
There are more chances for upsets today than in the old days when each class played their tourney games on three consecutive days. There were no prelims and only the top eight teams in each class made the tourney.
Now with the breaks between each round — except for North C where the semifinals and finals are held back-to-back — there is more time in between for teams to prepare, increasing the likelihood of an upset.
When it was three games in three days there wasn’t time to prepare for the next game except maybe a brief walk-through practice. In some cases, there are now one to four days between games, increasing the prep time.
That extra time also saddles No. 1 teams with more time to think about a possible upset, giving the lower-seeded the team the mental edge because they have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
What frequently occurs after the big upsets, however, is there is a letdown for the No. 8s and they lose in the semifinal round, which was the case for Skowhegan.
If the No. 8 team does make it through the regional and win the tourney, the chances of winning the state title are low because they are usually playing the No. 1 team in the other region.
Unless you have been upset, you don’t know the deep sinking feeling that hits when the game is over. That feeling, for me, far outweighed the elation of even winning a state title.
After encountering both the highs and lows, I always felt badly for my players when we were upset, especially my seniors.