March Madness: Upsets, Comebacks and Turnarounds

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“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.

Survive The Madness and Advance In March

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Survive and advance. That’s the name of the game. That’s the goal and the general idea. To survive and advance is everyone’s aim and aspiration. That’s what it’s all about, right? So if you snooze, you lose. Because it’s win or go home, baby.

So who ya got? Kansas? UCLA? Arizona? Gonzaga? Kentucky? North Carolina? Last year’s Champion,Villanova? Or God forbid – Duke? It’s the Big Dance and it appears that one of the big dogs will win it all again, unless a Cinderella crashes the party.

Vince Lombardi, the immortal coach of the Green Bay Packers said, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” Naturally speaking, this phrase has been overblown and misunderstood.  But spiritually speaking, Lombardi was spot on. When it comes to surviving and advancing, Lombardi was right.  Who remembers who came in second place?  Who remembers who was the runner up? Who even remembers the entire final four year in and year out? And is being the second runner-up as rewarding as finishing first?  Is an honorable mention as gratifying as the championship trophy?

Winning is everything. And not just winning, but winning big. I’m not talking about the margin of victory, but the quality of victory. The fiercer the battle, the sweeter the victory. Hard fought wins are more memorable, more satisfying, and more gratifying than all others. And so it is with life. 

The life God wants us to live is about quality, not necessary quantity. Coming back from way back, getting to the ball and not only dancing with the Prince, but falling in love with the prince, and having the Prince hunt her down to see if she fit the glass slipper she inadvertently left behind, is what we all love about Cinderella. That’s why we all love Cinderella stories.  Those improbable victories that no one, I mean no one – not even Hollywood – can script, are what we live and die for.

God loves the long-shot.  God loves the underdog.  God loves Cinderella.  She had undergone mistreatment and maladjustment before she met the Prince at the ball.  But she first believed that she would indeed meet the prince; and along the way she had unlikely help, too.

The Bible says this about victory: “This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith.”  Cinderella believed.  I come back to this because if you can believe, you can achieve. If you can survive, you can advance. Believing is the first step.

Many of us have overcome seemingly insurmountable odds, beaten bigger, better, more talented teams, and won when no one gave us a chance.  Many of us have undergone major surgery, endured unforeseen layoffs, weathered 100-year storms, and yet overcame big setbacks and huge letdowns.  We bounced-back, with the help of God and some God-sent friends and fans, and overcame the worst of circumstances.  Cinderella had mice, sparrows, a pumpkin and a Fairy Godmother.  We have those who are Heaven-sent into our lives, who, just when we need them most, come to our rescue and stretch the basketball rim just enough to let the winning shot go in.