A Day of March Madness Upsets

April 10, 2008 | By Doug Benc | Creative

Doug Benc/Getty Images

TAMPA, FL – MARCH 21: The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers bench celebrates their team’s overtime win against the Drake Bulldogs in the first round of the 2008 NCAA Tournament West Regional at the St. Pete Times Forum on March 21, 2008 in Tampa, Florida.

March Madness! These words says it all. At least I thought they did, until my latest assignment was to cover the first and second rounds in the NCAA basketball tournament in Tampa.

The sixty four teams (+1 play-in) are selected from all of the division one basketball programs across the nation to play for a chance at a national championship. Some say that many of these teams do not deserve to be there. Some “experts” say that the field of 64 is too much and should be cut in half.

Western Kentucky, Siena, University of San Diego and Villanova all are examples of the “madness” that can ensue when given a chance to play in a format of “one and done.”

These four teams were all seeded either 12 or 13 in the Tampa region of play. Each year in the tournament, there seems to be at least on upset of a 12 beating a 5 seed. But even more rare for a 13 seed to defeat a 4 seed, and to have two upsets of that magnitude in the same region is nearly unheard of.

When I got the assignment for the Tampa region, I was excited. I have worked as an editor in the past for Getty Images photographers Jonathan Daniel and Brian Bahr. I have even spent a little time on the floor during these games. The excitement that flows during a “sudden death” basketball game is incredible. But being on the floor for a game is much different than sitting in the back room or in front of my television.

I arrived four hours before the game on Friday and found my workspace already set up with a high speed transmission line. I had Scott Miller to edit for me; a must when you have four games in twelve hours.

I made my way out to the floor and found some of the other photographers milling about and working on positioning their remotes and discussion strategies. But one cloud that hung over the court, was the fact that we had two games for 13 seed vs. 4 seed, and 12 seed vs. 5 seed. Most of us agreed we had a few blowouts on hand for the rest of today. Maybe with a little luck, one of the lower seeds would make a game close and allow us some nice images of one of the teams. Even Nostredomus could not have predicted the massacre that followed.

The first game was Western Kentucky vs. Drake. Neither team conjures up a “basketball powerhouse,” but Drake seemed to be the better team and deservedly had the higher seed. As the game played on, WKU was looking every bit as good as Drake. We were hoping for a good celebration photo of Drake, since this would be a miracle win given the circumstances that WKU faced.

During the second half I had a remote that was focused on the bench of WKU. The photo that I was anticipating as players saw their season come to an end never happend. Instead, players sprang off the bench as a basket was scored at the buzzer (see picture above). Rogers raced down court toward me with his face lit up and teammates in chase to celebrate as the first higher seed in the Tampa region had fallen.

Doug Benc/Getty Images

TAMPA, FL – MARCH 21: Ty Rogers #5 of the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers celebrates his game-winning basket against the Drake Bulldogs during the first round of the 2008 NCAA Tournament West Regional at the St. Pete Times Forum on March 21, 2008 in Tampa, Florida.

This was a chance for an image that you never expect, but hope for in a region like Tampa. The photographers on the sidelines were moving fast to get their cards out of their remotes and get them on the computers to transmit what might be the biggest upset of the day. Our hearts were pounding as all of us, in some way, are part of this game. Very few of us (if any) are fans of either of these teams, but we all have a smile as if they were. The energy that flows from a game-ending three-pointer, in a win or go home game, is contagious.

During the break between games I check my batteries, lenses and memory cards then prepare to shoot three more games (none of which could possibly compare with what I had just witnessed.

The next game on my schedule was Connecticut vs. San Diego. Early in the game, UCONN lost A.J. Price. Price, the point guard who makes things happen for his team and who is the best player on the team, injured his knee and could not return to the game. After that, the outcome was apparent. A small section of San Diego students stood the ENTIRE game and never stopped cheering, chanting and yelling.

Doug Benc/Getty Images

TAMPA, FL – MARCH 21: San Diego Toerros fans cheer for their team during their game against the Connecticut Huskies during the first round of the 2008 NCAA Tournament West Regional at the St. Pete Times Forum on March 21, 2008 in Tampa, Florida.

As San Diego took control late in the game, some of those students were in tears. You could read their lips from 30 ft away “Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God.”

A second upset as the 5 seed defeated the 12 seed. This was going to be a good day for the photographers on the baseline of these two games. Most of us had never had the chance to witness a day of upsets quite like this.

At the end of the very long day, it was reflection time. Four games, four upsets and the energy that had carried me throughout the day was now drained. According to ESPN, four upsets in a single region had never been accomplished before. The upsets guaranteed that at least two seeds of either 12 or 13 would reach the “Sweet 16.”

While watching the highlights on ESPN later that day I got the chance to see my photo from the WKU bench being mentioned as the “most telling image of the day.” Having the chance to shoot a day like this is incredible! When friends ask about my job, it is usually just another day, but today it was much more than typical – it was historical.

Doug Benc/Getty Images

TAMPA, FL – MARCH 21: Gyno Pomare #21, Rob Jones #22 and Devin Ginty #3 of the San Diego Toreros celebrate their team’s 70-69 overtime win against the Connecticut Huskies in the first round of the 2008 NCAA Tournament West Regional at the St. Pete Times Forum March 21, 2008 in Tampa, Florida.

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