Obviously there is no single reason that applies to all the upsets we see. One common denominator is that some of the teams that finish in the lower half of their conference begin to gel and play their best basketball at the end of the regular season. Therefore they enter the tournament at their peak and often times with some momentum behind them. Conversely, some of the teams that finish in the top half of their conference peaked too early and are just hanging on come tournament time. Those two factors alone will result in a lot of upsets.

Another major factor in a lot of these upsets is the “nothing to lose factor” facing some teams. When you have nothing to lose, this naturally puts you in the proper mental state to perform at your peak. The state of mind this attitude creates makes the players feel loose and suddenly less afraid to make mistakes. This creates breakthroughs for many players. A few of the things I continually work on with my clients are establishing rituals and habits that give them the exact same mental edge that tends to occur naturally when playing with nothing to lose.

The reverse of this phenomenon is often what happens to the favored teams. They suddenly find themselves in a battle with a team they defeated handedly twice before and begin to tighten up and play not to lose. This usually results in just that, losing. It’s always difficult for a college team to beat another team three times in one season. That’s because most 18-23 year olds have a hard time getting motivated to play a team that gave them few problems in the previous games and may be looking ahead to a future game already. Of course those future games will never be played if they don’t take care of what is in front of them.

One more circumstance that often comes into play in these upsets is what I like to call “the adrenaline factor.” Since these tournaments are played in neutral settings, most fans are rooting for the underdogs, and this often can create some momentum and lift a team. Give the crowd any hope of an upset and they’ll jump on the bandwagon instantaneously.

So if you are attending any of this year’s conference tourneys, make a note of the looseness and attitudes of the teams before each game tips-off. Usually within the first few minutes of a game you can tell who is mentally in it and who isn’t. As Teddy Roosevelt often said “Believe you can and you’re halfway there.”


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