Who was the underdog in this one?
Arizona was not regarded as a heavy underdog despite its low seed
Utah eventually was a 1.5-point favorite as the No. 5 seed
MIAMI - I'm so confused.
Did I just see an upset? Or does chalk supersede seed?
Twelfth-seeded Arizona, the 34th of 34 at-large teams, beat fifth-seeded Utah, the first of one automatic bid teams from the Mountain West Conference, by a score of 84-71. Officially, this counts as an upset. In 40 years, when we all commute to work by rocket pack and Dakota Fanning is the nation's fourth female president, some harried sportswriter -- assuming we're not all just beaming blog posts from our couches to your brains -- will rifle through his Arizona media guide and call some Wildcats' achievement "the first since Arizona's upset of Utah in the 2009 NCAA Tournament."
After saying something profound like "Flo Rida, now that was music," my geezer self will read about the new Arizona achievement and scoff. That was no upset, I'll say. But the world won't care. As far as any rocket-pack-wearing, Dakota Fanning Democrat is concerned, a 12 beating a five always counts as an upset.
So hopefully some future form of Google will cache this column. This was no upset. We were told from the moment the matchup left Greg Gumbel's lips on Selection Sunday that the Wildcats would beat the Utes.
Monday, Las Vegas oddsmakers told us again. Many installed Arizona as a one-point favorite. Then they watched as all the suckers bet on Utah, eventually making the Utes a point-and-a-half favorite by tipoff. Our basest Big Dance instincts tell us the lower number should be favored, but the pros in Vegas drive home every night in luxury cars paid for by our instincts.
Even the participants seemed confused. "I know lots of people were talking about us being the favorite," Arizona coach Russ Pennell said. "All that stuff was just rhetoric." Now compare that to this thought from guard Arizona guard Nic Wise, who dropped 29 on the Utes. "We felt, talent-wise, we were one of the best teams in the tournament," Wise said. "But we like being underdogs." And then there was this, from Pennell: "We deserve to be here. And the reason we deserve to be here is because we're here."
Did the selection committee fail us? Did the committee so undervalue the schizophrenic Wildcats that it created a conundrum our basketball-addled minds can't reconcile? Possibly. Or maybe the relative parity of this year's field made it impossible. When so few teams distinguish themselves, it becomes impossible to distinguish a 12 from a five.
Even the fans at AmericanAirlines Arena on Friday couldn't swallow this logic pretzel. After Utah guard Tyler Kepkay made a three-pointer to cut Arizona's lead to 64-62 with 5:13 remaining, the Utah fans cheered and the Arizona fans worried. This is the point at which, in a normal game, the unaffiliated fans waiting for the upcoming Wake Forest-Cleveland State tilt would begin cheering wildly for the underdog. Those fans didn't utter a peep. They had no clue which team to back.
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