NCAA hoops: Sweet 16: Who are these guys?
By Kate Hairopoulos
The Dallas Morning News
Brackets are overrated. Upsets? Hardly.
Four teams seeded nine or higher ó thank you, Northern Iowa, Saint Maryís, Washington and Cornell ó advanced to the regional semifinals after two scintillating opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
Eight double-digit seeds won in the first round.
Kansas, the tournamentís top seed, is home in Lawrence for the duration. The Jayhawksí second-round loss to Northern Iowa ó bet youíve nailed the pronunciation of Ali Farokhmanesh by now ó was the earliest defeat by a No. 1 seed since Kentucky and Stanford fell in 2004.
Just a season ago, the only surprises in the Sweet 16 were No. 5 Purdue and No. 12 Arizona.
This yearís opening two rounds restored the tournamentís anything-goes allure.
But will the upsets continue into the second week? Top seeds Kentucky and Syracuse appeared utterly dominant.
Texas qualified a record seven teams, but
Baylor is the only one still playing, celebrating its first Sweet 16 and headed to Houston.
Kansas State joins the Bears in representing the Big 12.The Big Ten advanced three teams, the most of any conference.
Hereís a look at the remaining teams, along with picks of who will emerge from each region to make it to Indianapolis for the Final Four:
MIDWEST at St. Louis
2. Ohio State
Do Thad Mattaís Buckeyes benefit most by Kansas dropping out before the regionals? Perhaps. The play of Jon Diebler, David Lighty and Dallas Lauderdale showed the Big Ten tournament champions and regular-season co-champs have more than just Evan Turner, the pick of most gurus for national player of the year. But OSU needs Turner at his best to get back to the Final Four.
5. Michigan State
Korie Lucious took the pass, one dribble and hit the winner from the top of the key to send Maryland home after a second-round thriller. The sophomore was filling in for Kalin Lucas. The Spartansí leader injured his Achillesí tendon, and losing him could hurt the Spartans.
The Volunteers are headed to their third Sweet 16 in four seasons under Bruce Pearl, who has pulled off perhaps his finest coaching job yet. Tennessee came together after four players were suspended following arrests on gun charges in January. Tennessee has never advanced past the third round.
9. Northern Iowa
Who says March Madness more than Ali Farokhmanesh? The 6-0 guard hit perhaps the most dramatic, wide-open 3-pointer in recent memory to propel the Panthers over No. 1 overall seed Kansas. The senior, who spent two seasons at Iowa junior colleges, also hit the winner in the opening win over UNLV. Defense and depth has UNI in St. Louis, where it has won six consecutive Missouri Valley Conference tournament games.
And the winner is ...
Turner hasnít yet shown what heís capable of. That means itís coming, and it can take the Buckeyes to Indy.
WEST at Salt Lake City
Arinze Onuaku and his injured quadriceps can rest easy. The Orange advanced to the Sweet 16 without him ó though it wants him back the rest of the way ó and looked every bit a top seed in doing it. Syracuse destroyed Gonzaga in the second round, led by 6-7 forward Wesley Johnson. The well-traveled junior played at Corsicana before prep school, then at Iowa State before transferring to Syracuse.
2. Kansas State
Strong guard play required to advance in March. See: Jacob Pullen. He scored 34 points and limited BYU star Jimmer Fredette in the second-round win. With Pullenís play and coach Frank Martinís enjoyable fuming on the sideline, the Wildcats are in their first Sweet 16 since 1988.
The Bulldogs, who play in Hinkle Fieldhouse of ďHoosiersĒ fame, are two wins ó albeit huge ones, starting with Syracuse ó from getting home to Indianapolis for the Final Four. Butler extended the nationís longest winning streak to 22 games by holding off Murray State in the second round. This is Butlerís second trip to the Sweet 16 in four years.
Jordan Crawford scored 55 points in the Musketeersí opening two games. Xavier, which boasts a long line of esteemed coaches, lost Sean Miller to Arizona after last season. But after Sundayís 71-68 win over Pitt, first-year coach Chris Mack, a former assistant and Xavier player, has the XU in its third straight Sweet 16.
And the winner is õellipsisﬂ
Even if Onuaku canít play, the Orange and venerable coach Jim Boeheim have a true star in Johnson and enough around him to make their fifth Final Four.
EAST at Syracuse, N.Y.
The freshman-fueled Wildcats have gone untouched by the parity-overrun tournament, winning by an average of 29.5 points. They appear poised to trample all comers, taking over as the remaining favorite now that Kansas has been bounced. Darius Miller, John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins are playing loose and having fun ó a scary sight to every other team.
2. West Virginia
DaíSean Butler scored 28 points as Bob Hugginsí Mountaineers returned to the Sweet 16 by edging Missouri in the second round. The Big East tournament champs lost in the regional semifinals in 2008 and 2006.
Surprised by the Huskies? Mostly dismissed from serious discussion after nonconference losses to Texas Tech and Georgetown, thanks to the downgraded reputation of the Pac-10, Washington has won nine straight. It wore out third-seeded New Mexico in the second round, led by Quincy Pondexter and Isaiah
Thomas. When their fast-paced style is clicking, the Huskies are no 11th seed.
The Ivy Leagueís sharpshooting Big Red entered as a trendy upset pick despite never having won a tournament game. The lowest seed to move on to the second week didnít disappoint. The reward comes in the form of Kentucky, the hottest team going, though the game will be played about an hour from Cornellís Ithaca, N.Y., campus. The Big Red is the first Ivy team to advance to the Sweet 16 since Pennís Final Four run in 1979.
And the winner is ...
How could any sane basketball junkie pick against the Wildcats after the show they put on in the opening rounds?
SOUTH at Houston
1. Duke Kyle Singler and the Blue Devils handled Arkansas-Pine Bluff and California to advance without much drama. Duke hasnít advanced past the regional semifinals since 2004, its last trip to the Final Four. Another trip would be the programís 15th.
Itís finally the Bearsí time, thanks to LaceDarius Dunnís 26 points and a career performance by 7-0 senior Josh Lomers in a second-round win over Old Dominion. Baylor can make more history at home in Texas. The Bears had never before won two games in the tournamentís modern era. When they did it in 1948, thatís all it took to advance to the national title game.
Robbie Hummelís injury changed the Boilermakersí makeup, but Purdue didnít lose its grit. Once playing for a No. 1 seed, the Boilers were seriously marked down after losing Hummel. It wasnít pretty, but Purdue found a way to edge Texas A&M in overtime in Sundayís second-round win, with Chris Kramer sinking Aggie hearts with a crossover drive to the basket with 4.2 seconds left.
10. Saint Maryís
The West Coast Conference isnít all about Gonzaga, thanks to the Gaels, who advanced in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1959. Coach Randy Bennett built his program by importing talent from Australia to the Moraga, Calif. campus. Senior center Omar Samhan scored 32 in Saint Maryís second-round victory over melting-down Villanova.
And the winner is . . .
Coach K and his crew have a tougher time ahead in Houston than some observers want to admit, but the bluebloods will get to Indy.