Nine days ago when Georgetown Coach John Thompson looked at the 64-team NCAA tournament field, he said that anyone who wanted to correctly pick the winners "better have some sort of extrasensory perception."
As the tournament moves into the round of 16 with games Thursday and Friday, Thompson's assessment appears accurate. Office pools everywhere are in disarray, unless some wise, risk-taking soul had the foresight to go with Navy and Cleveland State through two rounds.
There are upsets in the tournament each year. Every game Villanova won last year was called an upset. But the number of highly seeded teams that fell last weekend seems unusually high.
Of the sweet 16, eight are almost complete surprises. Of the 48 games played over the weekend, the lower-seeded team won 14, which is almost 30 percent.
That statistic seems to say the tournament's first two rounds were fraught with upsets. But several coaches interviewed yesterday said the notion of "upsets" is being overplayed.
"Some of the games being called major upsets just aren't that major," De Paul Coach Joey Meyer said after winning through to the round of 16. "First of all, the unranked and lower-seeded teams are better than people realized."
Thompson, Meyer and Navy Coach Paul Evans agreed that calling what happened last weekend "major upsets" is misleading.
They cited poor seeding, television's fascination with the same few teams, and the overall failure to accept the rise of new, good teams as contributing to the perception that the best teams are being eliminated at a startling rate.
"We're concerning ourselves with the teams which get all the publicity," Thompson said. "There are a lot of good basketball players and a lot of good basketball teams in this country. But the same teams are getting the television exposure.
"There are just certain teams that we've always recycled."
Thompson said he didn't consider it a giant upset when his Hoyas lost to Michigan State in a second-round game Saturday.
"I was surprised to hear so many people calling it a big upset," Thompson said. "We wanted to play Michigan State and not Washington because of the matchup problems that Washington's [big] front line would have caused for us. But we thought our team and Michigan State were relatively even."
But that's not the perception when Georgetown entered the tournament having compiled a 15-3 NCAA tournament record the four previous years.
Navy's Paul Evans went even farther with his contention. He said his team's victory over Syracuse Sunday was the only major upset, "and that's because we were playing on their home court.
"I'm not sure Cleveland State [14th-seeded and unranked] beating [third-seeded] Indiana or Arkansas-Little Rock [14th-seeded] beating [third-seeded] Notre Dame were giant upsets," Evans said. "Cleveland State would have beaten Indiana worse if the officiating had been better. And Notre Dame was overrated anyway."
Evans also was miffed with the seeding. His Midshipmen, who had won 13 straight games going into the tournament, were seeded a surprisingly low seventh in the East. Evans feels that trying to determine "upsets" by seeding won't work.
"The seeding was very politically done," Evans said. "Teams not even ranked in the top 20 this season Maryland is an example were seeded fourth and fifth. If you were from the Big East or ACC, you were almost automatically seeded in the top six."
Whether or not they were upsets, the games that shocked the public the most this weekend were Cleveland State beating Indiana, Arkansas-Little Rock beating the Fighting Irish, 12th-seeded De Paul beating fourth-seeded Oklahoma, 14th-seeded Cleveland State beating sixth-seeded St. Joseph's, Navy beating second-seeded Syracuse, seventh-seeded Iowa State beating second-seeded Michigan, and eight-seeded Auburn beating top-seeded St. John's.
Duke, the No. 1 seed in the East, nearly lost to 16th-seeded Mississippi Valley State, and Arkansas-Little Rock nearly advanced to the round of 16 before losing to North Carolina State in double overtime Sunday.
"I think one of the traditional powers could still win it all," Thompson said. "But I don't think you're talking about Cinderellas with some of these teams."
Evans said: "Cleveland State and Arkansas-Little Rock are good teams; coaches know that."
Meyer, whose team barely made it into the tournament, said the attitude of some of the lower-ranked teams contributes to making upsets possible.
Several times, when Meyer was assisting his father Ray at De Paul, the Blue Demons had a No. 1 seeding, but lost in the opening round.
"Sometimes a team like De Paul a few years ago and maybe a Notre Dame this year is sitting back, waiting to find out where they're going to play, and a team like us now is so happy just to get in that they have a different approach.
"And from what I can tell, Arkansas-Little Rock is a very good team."
Meyer already knew that because his Blue Demons lost at home to the Vikings by 15 points.
However, a De Paul victory in the next round -- over Duke -- absolutely would have to be termed "an upset." Navy Game on Live
Navy's third-round NCAA tournament game against Cleveland State will be televised live on WBAL-TV-11 Friday at 7 p.m. WDVM-TV-9 will carry the game on tape delay at 12:30 a.m. (Saturday), programming representatives said yesterday. Both stations will air Duke vs. De Paul Friday at 10 p.m.
Thursday, the two CBS affiliates will televise Louisville vs. North Carolina at 9 p.m. Later that evening, WDVM-TV-9 will carry Kentucky vs. Alabama at 11:30 p.m. WBAL-TV-11 will join the game in progress at midnight.
ESPN will telecast Auburn vs. Nevada-Las Vegas Thursday at 6:30 p.m. and North Carolina State-Iowa State Friday at 7:30 p.m.