These are the times that try college basketball fans’ souls.

Well, at least if you’re like me and had Iowa State in the Final Four of your NCAA Tournament bracket.

The third week in March always provides the greatest drama in the college basketball season and over the past 10 years the first four days of the tourney seem to only be getting even wilder. Each year it seems like lower seeds are giving teams that used to cakewalk through the first round (now frustratingly referred to as the second round) even more trouble.

Just look at the 2013 tournament when No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast and No. 13 La Salle each made the Sweet 16, while Wichita State shocked everyone and made the Final Four as a No. 9 seed. Last year seventh-seeded Connecticut knocked off eighth-seeded Kentucky to win the title, the second lowest seed to ever raise the trophy behind only the 1985 Villanova squad that was seeded eighth.

The increased parity has made it even more difficult on those who have made a ritual out of trying to predict winners and losers each March, and apparently I am not alone. According to an article by Associated Press basketball writer Jon Krawczynski, only 14,797 of the 11.57 million brackets filled out on ESPN.com were perfect after just the first six games of this year’s tournament.

That’s just 0.12 percent if you’re keeping score at home, which begs the question: Why are these games getting harder to call?

The obvious answer is that the gap between the top teams in the mid-major conferences and those in the so-called “power” conferences is closing. No. 4 Maryland’s 65-62 win over No. 13 Valparaiso was already the ninth game decided by three points or less, and there were eight contests still do be determined at that juncture.

Part of the reason for that is players at these smaller schools are not intimidated when they see Kansas, Kentucky or Duke on the front of the opposing team’s uniforms. As a result of playing AAU and various other travel teams, most of these players have seen elite level competition before they even set foot on a college campus.

“You get used to it after playing a couple of games,” Nick Mayo, a senior at Messalonskee High School who has signed on to play with Eastern Kentucky, said.

In his travels Mayo has had the opportunity to play against those the caliber of Brewster Academy teammates Donovan Mitchell and Jarred Reuter, among many others. Mitchell, a 6-foot-2 shooting guard, is the 43rd ranked player in his class on the ESPN100 list and has committed to play at Louisville. A 6-foot-8 center, Reuter has committed to play for Tony Bennett at the University of Virginia.

Last season Eastern Kentucky put a scare in second-seeded Kansas as a No. 15 seed before succumbing 80-69, and as Mayo has watched this year’s upset-filled tournament he only hopes to take it one step further with the Colonels.

“It’s been really exciting and fun,” Mayo said. “Every game that has been played that I’ve watched they’re all close games. It’s good to see all these teams competing, and it’s been really fun watching them and thinking, ‘wow I might be able to be in that tournament one day playing them.'”

Evan Crawley — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Evan_Crawley


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