The most significant upset from the first full day of NCAA Tournament action was 14th-seeded Harvard’s 68-62 takedown of Steve Alford’s third-seeded New Mexico Lobos.
A 14 beating a 3 seems like it should be a big deal. It’s a major upset and something that has only happened 17 times in NCAA Tournament history.
But the definition of “major upset” changes when Steve Alford is involved.
Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, 3 seeds have done very well in their first tournament game, as long as they are in no way affiliated with Steve Alford.
Alford-less 3 seeds have won 87 percent of their games against 14 seeds in the round of 64, posting a record of 94-14. But 3 seeds for whom Alford is a coach or player win only 25 percent of their games (1-3) in the round of 64.
From what I can gather, Steve Alford is the only person to have suffered the indignity of opening the NCAA Tournament with a loss to a 14 seed more than once. He’s done it three times, with three different teams:
1986: (14) Cleveland State 83; (3) Indiana 79
In 1986 Steve Alford was the best player on an Indiana team whose season under coach Bob Knight was the subject of John Feinstein’s best-selling book A Season on the Brink.
That season, in which Indiana went 21-8 and finished second in the Big Ten, ended in a first-round tournament loss to Mid-Continent Conference champion Cleveland State.
2006: (14) Northwestern State 64; (3) Iowa 63
During the 1990s Steve Alford became a hot coaching prospect, eventually landing a job in the Big Ten with the University of Iowa.
Alford’s 2005-06 Hawkeyes team was the best Iowa squad in more than a decade. The Hawks that year won the Big Ten tournament and finished the season ranked 15th in the AP poll. Their play down the stretch earned them a 3 seed and a date with Southland champ Northwestern State.
The Demons hit a last-second three pointer to beat Alford and Iowa 64-63.
2013: (14) Harvard 68; (3) New Mexico 62
If you go by the RPI (and you probably shouldn’t), Alford’s New Mexico Lobos were one of the nation’s best teams this season. The Lobos finished the season ranked second in the RPI with an impressive 10–3 record against the RPI top 50 and an 18–5 record against the RPI top 100. They went 29-5 overall against what, according to the RPI, was the nation’s second strongest schedule.
Harvard’s win last night didn’t necessarily prove that the RPI is a worthless metric (though it is), nor that New Mexico was overrated (I don’t think that they were). But it did further prove that Steve Alford can’t handle being a 3 seed.
It’s worth mentioning that a Steve Alford team has won one game as a 3 seed. Alford’s Lobos squeaked by 14th-seeded Montana 62-57 in the first round of the 2010 tournament. Third-seeded New Mexico followed up that victory with an 82-64 loss to 11th-seeded Washington.