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.

Perish In The Past, Or Flourish In The Future

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For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11-12, NIV

It is better to flourish in the future than to perish in the past.  Way back in 1980, the US men’s Olympic hockey team won gold and on the way defeated the heavily favored Russian team in Lake Placid. It’s called the “Miracle on Ice.”  It’s great history, but it’s just that: history. This year, gold was not won, and, to add insult to injury, the US men’s team was crushed 5-0 in the bronze medal game by Finland. While it is great to cherish choice wins, it is ours now to anticipate future accomplishments.

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Some people live in the past. Some people feast on the former. Some people banquet on the by-bygone and long gone victories of yesteryear. They can’t get past their past.  They relive the memories and reminisce on the recollections of days and weeks and months and years gone by.  Just like rocking in a rocking chair, it gives them something to do but it gets them nowhere. 

Some athletes dwell on disappointments. They begrudge a referee’s bad call or bemoan a teammate’s dropped ball. They can’t let it go.  It festers and blisters and rots and rakes and molds and holds the degenerating soul in a state of atrophy. On the other side of the coin, some athletes are prone to relish the memories of thrilling turnarounds and terrific triumphs. And well they should. But the downside is that they tend to live, and only live, in the past.  And if you live in the past you will perish in the future.  

Some athletes will flourish in the future. They know they are building and boosting, enhancing and advancing, forming and framing all future victories, even with some current defeats. They are learning how to fail, so that in the end, they will not have failed to learn.  Backwards and forwards, inside and out, on the upside and on the down low, they learn from their mistakes, so that they can teach others their successes.

If we don’t focus on our future, we will perish in our past.  The Apostle Paul said “I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead. I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” Philippians 3:13-14

So press. Press on. Press now.  Stop living in the past. Forget about the falls and the stalls, the trips and the slips, the oops and the bloops. Your yesterday is gone, and your tomorrow is to be determined. Look onward and forward and heavenward. Forget the former years and the former tears. One day, “God shall wipe away all tears from our eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:4, KJV).

We will flourish in our future, when we press past our past. Yes it was painful; yes it was hurtful; yes, it was distressing, and many times it was oppressing, but it’s in the past: it’s OVER! You’re still here and what’s coming is better than what has been; your future is brighter than your past, and your best is yet to come.