March Madness: Upsets, Comebacks and Turnarounds

“Nothing feels better than this,” UNR coach Eric Musselman said. “Nothing. Sweet 16!”

UVA made history. So did UMBC and so did Loyola-Chicago and so did Buffalo. UVA was the first No. 1 Seed to lose to a 16 Seed. Likewise, UMBC has the distinct honor of being the first 16 Seed to upset a No. 1 Seed. It’s never happened before, and we all thought that it never would. Correction: we didn’t believe it ever could. But it did.

Loyola-Chicago, an 11 Seed, defeated Miami, a Six Seed, and then turned right around and defeated Tennessee, a Three Seed. Madness.   Buffalo, seeded 13, THIRTEEN!, beat Arizona, a 4 Seed — in the first round. And that’s just for starters.

Xavier, another No. 1 Seed, is gone. North Carolina and Cincinnati, both No. 2 Seeds, are gone too, and so is Michigan State, a No. 3 Seed. Notice a trend here? Houston beat Michigan – no wait, Michigan actually won! And on a buzzer beater by a freshman, no less! Goodness! And it’s going to snow tomorrow night! Talk about March Madness. There was barely a bad game in the tournament. Yes some were tough to watch because of poor officiating and spells of sporadic shooting, but all in all, it’s seems to be the year of the underdog. We could talk all day about UMBC beating UVA, but how about Nevada’s win?

Josh Hall converted an offensive rebound for the tiebreaking basket with 9.1 seconds left as University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) erased a 22-point deficit in the final minutes of a stunning 75-73 victory over Cincinnati in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday. UNR’s stirring comeback — the second-largest in tournament history — came just two days after the seventh-seeded Wolf Pack rallied from 14 points down to beat Texas 87-83 for its first NCAA victory since 2007.

The Wolf Pack (28-7) move on to an all-upstart South Region semifinal matchup with 11th-seeded Loyola-Chicago (30-5) on Thursday. Cincinnati, the No. 2 seed, never trailed until Hall’s tiebreaking basket but watched its lead disintegrate as it failed to make a basket in the final 5:45.

Nothing feels better than this,” UNR coach Eric Musselman said. “Nothing. Sweet 16!”

This year, perhaps more than any other year in recent memory, there have been more upsets, comebacks and turnarounds than you can shake a stick at. We’ve seen epic victories, historic collapses, and a little of bit everything else in between. It’s so much like living in the Bible days, it’s scary. It’s almost as if the Bible is coming off of the pages, or up out of your smart phone. The holy writ says that “the first shall be last, and the last shall be first”. That’s what we’re seeing here.

It’s so spiritual, it’s so mystical, and it’s so applicable to everyday life in general and to our lives in specific that we have no choice but to stop and take note. How are the teams who no one picked to win winning with reckless abandon?   

I submit that we must acknowledge the otherworldly dimension of sports. But before you dismiss this notion, hear me out.  Not everyone believes in prayer, but those that do believe that faith and works actually work together for good. Mix some elbow grease in with a good game plan and teamwork and a technical reason for how David defeated Goliath and, viola, you get Loyola-Chicago winning two games in this tournament, and  UBMC trumping over an overconfident and (shall we say overly arrogant?) Virginia team that swears by its “system” come what may.

Miracles do happen on ice and yes, on the hardwood. You may not be a believer, but after this weekend’s upsets, comebacks and turnarounds, I don’t see how you can’t be.


Cinderella Lives! UMBC Defeats UVA 74-54


It has never happened before. It wasn’t supposed to happen ever.  And it certainly was NOT supposed to happen to this UVA team. And not like this. But it did. Little UMBC handed the second glass slipper to the prince and now they can go on to live happily ever after. Well, not quite, but close. 

The University of Maryland Baltimore County defeated No. 1 ranked Virginia and it wasn’t even close.  What made the win so stunning? UVA was utterly outplayed and out-coached and outclassed. It was a sight to see. The group text I sent to my sons long before the end of the game was this: “We’re watching history in the making.” It may well have been the most improbable upset win in sports history.  That’s ALL of sports. 

Yes the score was tied at the half, 21-21. Yes UVA was missing their star freshman guard DeAndre Hunter; and yes, everyone thought UVA would come out in the second half and take over the game. That’s what we thought, but that’s not what UMBC dreamed.  UVA was picked to win it all. Not so. UVA wasn’t just a No. 1 Seed, they were the OVER ALL No. 1 Seed. UVA never got on track and UMBC did. And they ran UVA right out of the gym. They won by 20 points. Twenty points! That wasn’t just a win, it was a beatdown.

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County stunned the University of Virginia, 74-54, in the biggest upset in tournament history. The Retrievers were 22.5-point underdogs. Senior guard Jairus Lyles scored 28 points, as the Retrievers blew open a tie game at the half and outscored arguably the best defensive team in the nation 53- 23 after intermission. Before this loss, Virginia was 31-2 on the season and the top overall seed.

For many March Madness fans, the upset also breaks  and busts their brackets. Virginia was the most popular pick to win the tournament in ESPN’s Tournament Challenge.

The tiny Maryland school, which lost to teams such as Colgate, Army and Towson this year, relished the attention.  They believed in each other and listened to their coach, who after the game seemed like he just finished brushing his teeth. Coach, you just defeated a No. 1 Seed!  To him, it seemed like no big deal; he was so calm, cool and collected he had time to speak of the next game and winning that one too.  I like him.  I like this coach a lot.

Now UBMC will live in infamy as the ONLY No. 16 Seed to defeat a No. 1 Seed EVER.  And so, by faith, dreams do indeed come true.

And that’s why we love the madness of March.

Why We Love March Madness


Do uou really need any more madness? I mean really?  I mean, who needs any more madness? You would think that what you have is plenty enough, with room to spare.  With the job and the kids and the bills and the boss and all of the other stuff you’ve got on your plate, who needs any more madness?  I’ve got a crazy job and a crazier job situation (I’m looking, but you are too, right?) and I’m trying to multitask with more irons in the fire than you can shake a stick at. But the answer is crazier than the question. The answer is just a little more madness. March madness.

Somehow and for some strange, mysterious, mercurial reason, the weather in March and basketball in March are bosom buddies. Both are fickle and variable. Both are arbitrary and capricious. Both are warm and fuzzy one day and cold and callous the next. And we love and hate them both, depending upon  the day of the week.

Yes I love March Madness, and you do too.

Today is bright and sunny but it’s also cold and windy. The sky is blue but the air is icy. The trees are trying to bloom but old man winter doesn’t want to go away, just not yet. And that’s sounds just like life. We live in a world full of contradictions and ambiguities and paradoxes and enigmas.  Every day and along the way, our task is to trust God’s process, for His ways are higher than our ways, and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. Our task is to trust that the mystery of Godliness will somehow, someway work out for our good.

Am I talking about life or about basketball?  Good question. In other words, sports and life are one in the same.

This time of year, college basketball teams that we don’t think will win are upsetting higher seeds. This time of year, powerhouse teams that we picked to go far in the tournament are heading home after an unexpected and hurtful first round defeat. It’s called March Madness, and for good reason.  Case in point, a school called Loyola Chicago just won in dramatic fashion. Never heard of ‘em? You have now.

Yesterday in a wild and fircely contested first round NCAA Tournament game, Donte Ingram hit a 3-pointer from the March Madness logo (on the court) just before the buzzer, lifting Loyola-Chicago over Miami 64-62 in a Thursday thriller to celebrate its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 33 years.

Ingram’s long shot from well above the key came after Lonnie Walker IV missed a free throw with a chance to give the Hurricanes a three-point lead with 9 seconds remaining.

The 11th-seeded Ramblers (29-5) matched the school record for wins from their 1963 national championship team in their first NCAA trip since losing to Patrick Ewing and Georgetown in the Sweet 16 in 1985. They advanced to face third-seeded Tennessee on Saturday.

Loyola was boosted by a pregame prayer from its team chaplain, 98-year-old Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt. She’s held that post for more than two decades and, sitting courtside in her wheelchair, got hugs from the Ramblers when it was over.

“I said we wanted to get that big W up there, and we did,” she said in a postgame TV interview.

The sixth-seeded Miami Hurricanes (22-10) led most of the second half in their third straight trip to the tournament, but couldn’t pull away in the final minutes and lost in the first round for the second straight year.

And so the lesson is clear. If you think you’ve got too much madness in your life, think again. Just look around and compare the weather report with what’s actually supposed to be happening outside. They don’t add up. And that should calm you down and pick you up and help you understand that what you’re going through is nothing compared to the madness all around you.

Every year, the games of the NCAA Tournament remind us of how blessed we really are. Just like the 64+ teams that make it into the tournament field, we are blessed to be invited to the big dance. And winning is icing on the cake.

So let’s be thankful for the little bit of madness that we have. Just think — you and I could have a whole lot more.

Virginia is For Real!

UVA Wins ACC Tournament

The University of Virginia won the ACC tournament with a convincing 71-63 win over Roy Williams and his North Carolina Tar Heels.  Virginia defeated North Carolina for the second time this season and snapped a seven-game losing streak to the Tar Heels in ACC Tournament play.

This season, Coach Tony Bennet led Virginia to a stunning record of 31-2. Along the way, the Cavaliers set a school record for victories, won the conference tournament for the second time in five seasons and will most certainly (actually they have) entered the 2018 NCAA Tournament as the No.1 overall seed, as the field of 68 was announced today.

Virginia has no rookie sensations, no “one-and-dones”– a.k.a., no sure-fire NBA lottery picks, and no players that everyone in the country knows by name. Nonetheless, Virginia is clearly the No. 1 team in the land and they’ve put together one of the most dominant seasons in the storied history of Atlantic Coast Conference basketball.

Kyle Guy, Devon Hall and the Cavaliers won the ACC Championship regular season title and the ACC Tournament with sheer grit, finishing 20-1 against league competition. Not bad for a bunch that started the season unranked and picked to finish sixth in the ACC, the finest college basketball conference in America.

“I think we always knew this could be a special team,” guard Ty Jerome said.

And now that the Cavaliers are favorites. How will they do it? They try to out-underdog the underdogs. I love it. “You fight like you’re not supposed to win or nobody expects you to win,” he explained.

And so it’s true: UVA is for real. They’re the real deal, the real McCoy and are not to be taken lightly. And here’s the spiritual tie in: UVA this year represents what believers should be every year: respected and respectable.  We who believe in the God of Heaven should be at once and always noble and honorable, decent and proper, and, well, what we say we are. To use a tried and true truism, we need to practice what we preach. UVA certainly does.

The UVA defense is lights out. And they score just enough to be a respectable offensive threat. In other words, if you say you’re a defensive team, then don’t try to run when you know you can’t. They do what they do, and they’re proud of it, even if nobody likes it. We want offense. They know they can win with defense. And that’s that.  The UVA defense is the truth. They defend the perimeter and smother you on the interior so that opposing teams feel like they can’t even breathe when they’re got the ball. Offenses bog down and melt down under the UVA’s constant pressure.

So there.  UVA is my pick not only to go to the Final Four but to win the whole thing. 

Let the madness begin.

Virginia Is For Lovers, a.k.a, Why You Should Love Virginia

UVA Basketball

Virginia is for lovers.

Love and basketball are like Mutt and Jeff and Laurel and Hardy and Bonnie and Clyde and Lucy and Desi. They just go together.  And basketball lovers in Virginia love the fact that the University of Virginia Men’s Basketball Team is ranked No. 1 in the nation.  Numero Uno. And they’re trying to stay there and win the 2018 ACC Tournament and stake their claim for the overall No. One seed in this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

Yes, March madness has begun.

Virginia is the fourth team since 1990 to go from unranked in the preseason to the top of the poll, along with Baylor (2017), Syracuse (2010), and Duke (1990). That’s like going from worst (or almost worst) to first. Not bad.  I’m going to watch the semi-final between UVA and Miami, and if all goes to plan, I’ll watch UVA cut down the nets with a win over Duke or North Carolina in the ACC Tournament Final.

So let’s root, root, root for UVA. They are playing lights out defense, and they have a clear path to this year’s Final Four in San Antonio. And they haven’t won a national championship in basketball. Ever.

As for the history of the “Virginia is For Lovers” slogan that’s still going strong today, here’s what I found:

“The year was 1969. The place: Richmond, Virginia. The Virginia State Travel Service had engaged the services of the Martin and Woltz, Inc. advertising agency to develop of new tourism campaign. The Travel Service—now the Virginia Tourism Corporation—wanted to bring more people, especially young people, into Virginia. They needed a campaign that would position Virginia as a destination for the new generation. And what did young people in 1969 like? Love, of course. The Summer of Love was barely past. The Beatles released “All You Need Is Love” that year. Erich Segal’s wildly popular novel Love Story was on the verge of publication. Yes, “love” was certainly in the air in 1969.”

And love is still in the air in 2018. Go UVA!

Win At The Buzzer

Last night I went to a George Mason University Men’s basketball game. My wife Lisa is an alum and also the VP of the College of Health and Human Services Alumni Chapter Board, that organized a tail gate party for the CHHS alumni. It was wonderful to meet many alum, that came from far and near, who are doing amazing things “on and off the court.”

Bettyann Duffy, the President of the CHHS Alumni Board was there as well. She’s from Philly, so we have a common bond. It was great. And we also met some Eagles fans! So, what’s not to like about going to a George Mason game?

The Dean of CHHS, Dr. Germaine Louis and her husband, also came and we had a ball talking about the Eagles Super Bowl win. But now we’re only going to talk about Mason, because the game was even greater than the tail gate party.



On the surface, George Mason seems like a relatively average Division-I team.  Saturday, the Patriots improved to 14-15 overall on the season and 8-8 in the Atlantic 10 with a thrilling 78-76 win over Massachusetts. The game ended on a buzzer-beater layup by sophomore guard Ian Boyd. Mason cruised to a 16-point halftime lead, so it looked like the home team would make quick work of visiting UMass. Not so.

UMass came out of the locker room with a vengeance and eventually tied the game. UMass would’ve won except one of their players fouled Mason on a three-point attempt. With no time on the clock, the Mason player calmly drained three free throws to send the game into overtime. Unbelievable. And if that wasn’t exciting enough, the extra session was even better.

In OT, Mason pulled ahead, but UMass wouldn’t go away. With five seconds left, UMass tied the game. Then Mason’s best player, Otis Livingston II, drove the length of the floor. He was defended by at least two UMass players so he ditched the ball to a teammate on his left who made a layup as time expired. Final score: Mason 78, UMass 76. In overtime! What a game.

The irony is that at the close of the Tailgate Party we all sang the Mason Fight Song, not realizing that this game would prove to be just that, a fight. And sometimes life is just like that. Sometimes, you get ahead and then you fall behind and then you find yourself with time running out trying to figure out how to pull it out.

Sometimes, you need more time and more grace and another break to fall your way. In order to win, you have to keep pushing and pulling, fending and fighting through ups and downs and ins and outs. That’s how you Win at the Buzzer.


Lindsey Vonn: Love Makes No Mistakes

As we wake up this weekend, we’re all so sad and sore for a legend and the lore of Lindsey Vonn. Lyndsey lost in her first attempt at gold in Pyeongchang in the Women’s Super G.

Lyndsey isn’t hard to like. First, she’s not hard on the eyes. She’s an attractive blond with a pretty smile and a supportive family. And she simply adored her grandfather who taught her how to ski fast. Unfortunately, her grandfather, Grandpa Kildow, passed away this past November. And she wanted to win gold in honor of him. So what’s not to like? The interview that Mike Torico, the NBC Winter Olympics host, deftly did at her grandparents home in Wisconsin before he died was a tearjerker. The interview was the last time Lyndsey saw her grandfather alive.

“When Kildow died in November just weeks before the 2017-2018 World Cup downhill skiing season began, Vonn struggled to come to terms with his passing. She shared a heartfelt letter she wrote to her grandfather on her Instagram page, giving a sense of just how much he truly meant to her:

Dear Grandpa,I still can’t believe you’re gone. No words can describe how much you mean to me and how much i love you. I wish i had more time with you but i will cherish the memories we had. You taught me to be tough, to be kind, and above all, to ski fast. Now, every time i ski down the mountain I know you’ll be there with me. I’m proud to be your granddaughter and I will think of you always. I will race for you in Korea and I will try as hard as I can to win for you. Please look out for me.

I love you Grandpa.


And it doesn’t look as though time has lessened her admiration for her grandfather; during an interview in PyeongChang on Friday with NBC, Vonn had a hard time keeping her composure as she talked about Kildow.”

Wow. It doesn’t get any better or more touching than that.

Lyndsey’s first event in 2018 was the Super Giant Slalom, and it didn’t go as well as she had hoped. First, she had to be the first skier down the hill and that, unfortunately, was a distinct disadvantage. Yes it was her lot to be first down the hill and no, this need not have been a handicap, but it was. She had no notion of how the course laid out before her because trial runs were not allowed.

Lindsey’s run was fast and clean at the top. But towards the bottom of the hill she took a turn too wide and it cost her dearly. She made just one mistake, and it was one mistake too many.

So we’ll all be rooting and cheating for Lyndsey in her final two events at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang as these Olympics will be her last. And win or lose on the skiing hill, Lyndsey will always be a winner in her grandfather’s book.

Go Lyndsey! Win one for Grandpa Kildow.