Why March Madness Pits David Against Goliath

It’s my favorite sporting “event” of year. March Madness, the NCAA Basketball tournament, is in full force. Some call it the Big Dance and one reason is that some of America’s smallest colleges get to appear at the ball like Cinderella. You get to pull for teams with mascots like Greyhounds, Jackrabbits, Racers, Catamounts, Zags, Delta Devils, Hilltoppers, and Gaels. Gaels???

Pep bands, bright lights, basketball sneakers squeaking on the shiny floors, and most of all, college kids playing what might be their last game because if you lose, your season is over.

The ultimate 64 team field is divided into four regions and seeded one through sixteen. This year Cinderella came dressed in the uniforms of the Lehigh University Mountain Hawks. They were seeded fifteenth and pulled off a gargantuan upset of the second seeded Duke Blue Devils.

The physical talent difference is usually huge between a second seed and a fifteenth seed. Often, a David versus Goliath type gap. So how in the world do you get a team that the tournament organizers felt was the second worst in it’s region to psychologically believe it can hang with and even surpass a perennial powerhouse like Duke?

Maybe it took a guy with a doctorate degree to convince them. Brett Reed, Lehigh’s head coach, is only one of three college head basketball coaches with a Ph. D. His degree is in Instructional Technology. But maybe his best technology was his choice of words. Asked after the upset what he said to give his players hope, Reed said, “I told our guys we really needed to suspend disbelief. The only thing that really mattered was that we had confidence and belief in ourselves.”


The second I heard Reed say those words, I sat up and wrote them down. He went on to explain that he needed his players to tune out all the naysayers, all those who told them they had no chance. He wanted them to reach deep into the corners of their minds and wipe away any speck of doubt.

You could tell his players totally bought in by their comments before leaving for the tournament. “In March Madness, anything can happen, and we have the best offensive player in the country,” said Maneri, referring to guard C.J. McCollum, who averaged just under 22 points a game for the Mountain Hawks. As McCollum made his way to the bus, a classmate screamed, “I’m standing next to GREATNESS!”

The NCAA Tournament allows any team with an invitation to win it all. One basketball, one court, two goals, and ten guys on the floor at one time. If you’ve got the invite, you’ve got a chance. The Mountain Hawks “suspended disbelief” long enough to believe themselves into a fantastic upset.

What about you? Has there been a time where you had to completely suspend disbelief, completely buy in that you could seal the deal even when the naysayers’ voices were all around you?

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