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Down Goes Duke In Biggest Upset So Far

Duke forward Amile Jefferson, in white, and Mercer guard Langston Hall battle for the ball during Friday's game.
Gerry Broome
Duke forward Amile Jefferson, in white, and Mercer guard Langston Hall battle for the ball during Friday's game.
We updated this post with the first shock of the day at 2:35 p.m. ET:

It's one-and-done for the Duke Blue Devils as their men's basketball team was beaten Friday by the Mercer Bears, 78-71, in the Division I men's basketball championship.

Mercer, a No. 14 seed in the Midwest region, was a huge underdog to the No. 3 seed Duke.

The win for Mercer, which has its main campus in Macon, Ga., is by far the biggest upset of the tournament so far. Heading into play, Duke was No. 8 in The Associated Press rankings. Mercer wasn't even among the nation's top 75 teams.

Earlier, we rounded up some of the other upsets so far and looked ahead to today's game. A confession: We didn't expect this win by Mercer. Neither did the experts.

Next up for Mercer: The winner of today's game between Tennessee and the University of Massachusetts.

Update at 5:27 p.m. ET. UMass Falls To Tennessee:

The upsets continue: No. 6 UMass was just beaten by No. 11 Tennessee.

The final score was 86-67 and Mass Live reports:

"UMass' triumphant return to the NCAA Tournament after a 16 year drought was a big step for the program, but that's as far at the team got as the Minutemen had their doors blown off from the opening tip.

"The Volunteers were the lower seed, but were still favored by many outlets heading into the game. Against a stout Tennessee defense, the Minutemen had more turnovers than field goals and a 41-22 deficit at the half. A brief run to open the second half showed some signs of life, but it was never close as the Volunteers shut the door in the second half, keeping the lead well within double digits for the remainder of the game."

Update at 3:07 p.m. ET. No Upset For Nebraska:

The Baylor Bears handily beat the Nebraska Cornhuskers 74-60, denying them an upset.

Our original post picks up the story:

NPR's resident hoops guru, Tom Goldman, was pretty excited on Morning Edition as he ran through the highlights from last night's action in the Division I men's college basketball championship.

"The madness in March is about the unexpected," Tom said, and Thursday night's upsets included North Dakota State's 80-75 overtime win over Oklahoma and Harvard's 61-57 victory over Cincinnati. In both cases, the winners were seeded No. 12 in their regions and they beat teams that were No. 5 seeds. So both games were won by the underdogs.

True, those don't quite compare to last year's first-round bouncing of Georgetown — a No. 2 seed at the time — by a No. 15, Florida Gulf Coast. It was only the seventh time that a No. 15 beat a No. 2. But still, lower-rated teams did triumph.

(We'll stop here for a moment to explain some things for those who aren't into March Madness: After four games played on Tuesday and Wednesday, the tournament's remaining 64 teams were divided into four regions. In each of those, the 16 teams were seeded. The "strongest" teams in the tournament committee's view are the four No. 1 seeds. The "weakest" are the four No. 16 seeds. The games begin with the No. 16s playing the No. 1s, the No. 15s playing the No. 2s, and so forth. A No. 16 has never beaten a No. 1.)

Tom says we've almost surely seen "only the start" of the upsets.

So, which of today's games might end with a surprise? Yahoo Sports, which is home to the Quicken Loans/Warren Buffett billion-dollar bracket challenge, says to pay close attention to:

-- Nebraska, a No. 11 seed, vs. Baylor, a No. 6. "Baylor's size and athleticism in the paint makes it the favorite, but the Huskers are capable of an upset if they defend the 3-point line, keep the Bears off the offensive glass and keep their nerves under control." Their game began just after 12:30 p.m. ET.

-- Tennessee, a No. 11, vs. University of Massachusetts, a No. 6. Tennessee is "battle-tested" and U-Mass. finished sixth in its league, the Atlantic 10. The game is set for 2:45 p.m. ET.

-- Providence, a No. 11, vs. North Carolina, a No. 6. "Providence will be out to sustain the momentum it built in winning the Big East tournament last week." Tipoff is at 7:20 p.m. ET.

-- Tulsa, a No. 13, vs. UCLA, a No. 4. "The Bruins [UCLA] have an edge in talent once again this time around, but with the Golden Hurricane peaking in March and UCLA's habit of throwing in inexplicable losses from time to time, this one is worth keeping an eye on." Game time is 9:57 p.m. ET.

The schedule for Friday's games and which networks are broadcasting them .

We have one additional thought about a potential upset: Syracuse, which easily won its first game against West Michigan, next plays Dayton, which beat the higher-seeded Ohio State. Syracuse has had trouble in the past getting beyond the first couple of rounds of the tournament and was knocked out early in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament earlier this month.

Syracuse and Dayton play Saturday evening.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.