NCAA hoops: Week 2 filled with broken brackets, underdogs
AP National Writer
Brackets across the country are obliterated. Underdogs, meanwhile, keep moving on.
No. 12 seed Cornell upset Wisconsin on Sunday to join No. 11 Washington and No. 10 Saint Mary's among the 16 teams left in the NCAA tournament — three double-digit seeds who know precisely how to put the madness in March.
It didn't stop there.
No. 9 Northern Iowa was the double-digit underdog that took apart the tournament favorite, Kansas, while No. 6 Xavier and No. 5 Butler were two of five mid-major teams that advanced.
Americans love underdogs, but many fans who filled out brackets — either to show off their hoops expertise or to win a few bucks in their office pool — suffered after this kind of uprising.
President Barack Obama was one of more than 2 million — that's 42.2 percent — who picked the Jayhawks to win the national title in their ESPN brackets and now find themselves more or less relegated to also-rans.
Also eliminated after the first weekend: No. 2 Villanova, No. 3 Georgetown and No. 3 Pittsburgh, three of six Big East teams to bite the dust. Last year's national champion, North Carolina, didn't even make the tournament, which leaves Michigan State, a No. 5 seed in the Midwest, as the only remaining program from last year's Final Four.
The new odds-on favorite is Kentucky, which breezed through its two games and is listed at 2-1 in Vegas to win the championship, April 5 in Indianapolis.
Before that, though, are the regionals. If the first weekend is any indication, there will be more craziness waiting in Salt Lake City, St. Louis, Houston and Syracuse, N.Y.
In the Midwest on Friday, Northern Iowa will face Michigan State and No. 2 Ohio State plays No. 6 Tennessee.
In the East on Thursday, No. 1 Kentucky plays Cornell — Big Blue vs. the Big Red — while Washington faces No. 2 West Virginia.
In the South semifinals Friday, No. 3 Baylor will play Saint Mary's, while No. 1 Duke plays No. 4 Purdue.
And the West is mid-major country: No. 2 Kansas State advanced to play Xavier, and No. 1 Syracuse will play Butler on Thursday.
The Bulldogs and Musketeers used to be among the poster children for the small-school darlings. But in a sign of how upside-down this tournament has been, their trips to the regional semis haven't made a huge splash outside of their hometowns of Indy and Cincy.
"I don't think there's the mid-major anymore when you get into the NCAA tournament," said Ohio State coach Thad Matta, who used to coach Xavier.
Instead, the loudest noise came from those in double digits.
Led by Murray State and No. 14 Ohio, which knocked out Georgetown in the first round, double-digit seeds won 11 games over the first two rounds.
No upset, though, was bigger than No. 9 Northern Iowa's 69-67 win over Kansas.
The Jayhawks were the tournament's overall No. 1 seed. Though placed in what was widely regarded as the toughest region, they had the coach (Bill Self), the experience (2008 national title) and the talent (Sherron Collins, Cole Aldrich, Xavier Henry and the Morris twins) to be a Final Four heavyweight.
Instead, Ali knocked them out.
That's Ali Farokhmanesh, the Northern Iowa guard who hit the game-icing 3-pointer Saturday after Kansas had whittled its deficit to one. Typical of an underdog, Farokhmanesh concedes that when he was in high school, he wasn't even sure he'd play Division I basketball.
"To go from that to, we're in the Sweet Sixteen, we just beat the No. 1 team in the country," Farokhmanesh said. "I mean, if someone would have told me that back then I would have laughed at them probably. But I think it shows that hard work really does pay off."
Eleven conferences have teams among the final 16. The Big Ten led the way with three, while the Southeastern, Big East and Big 12 had two apiece. The Atlantic Coast and Pac-10 had one each, as did five mid-majors.
The NCAA selection committee awarded eight at-large spots to teams from small conferences. That was double the number of last year. Instead of portraying that as a celebration of the come-one-come-all nature of the tournament, pundits widely derided the field as being one of the weakest in memory.
Debatable, though the number of underdogs making it through highlighted some of the selection committee's less-than-perfect work — all issues that were pointed out when the bracket came out last Sunday.
— Yes, the Pac-10 had an awful year, though sticking a power conference's tournament champion, Washington, on the No. 11 line was clearly a misread. The Huskies blew out No. 3 New Mexico, the Mountain West regular-season champion, 82-64.
— Cornell won 28 games, won the Ivy League title by two games and, with a handful of players who had tournament experience, was widely viewed as a scary team to play. Certainly Temple and Wisconsin would agree. They lost to the No. 12 seed by a combined 31 points. Cornell became the first Ivy League team to make it this far since Penn made the Final Four in 1979.
— Though any team beating Kansas would have made big news, Northern Iowa probably shouldn't have been playing the Jayhawks so early. The Panthers were seeded ninth despite being ranked No. 17 in the latest RPI, which would correspond to a No. 4 or 5 seed. Their odds to win the championship have dwindled from 200-1 to 40-1.
"I'm sure that bandwagon has a few wheels on it," said Jay Kornegay, who runs the sports book at the Las Vegas Hilton. "If they win a couple more games, that thing's gonna be fully loaded."
The Panthers are among a handful of teams trying to become "The Next George Mason."
In 2006, it was the Patriots, from the commuter school in Fairfax, Va., who captured America's imagination by making the Final Four as a No. 11 seed. They showed anything really is possible in March Madness — something that appears every bit as true in 2010.