Commentary

Kansas-Carolina, Ivy revenge and mid-major matchups are 'serendipity'

Originally Published: March 16, 2008
By Dana O'Neil | ESPN.com

Former NCAA tournament selection committee chair Gary Walters once called the too-good-to-be-true pairings that the bracket produces the "serendipity of the tournament."

Roy Williams might use another word in three weeks.

[+] EnlargeRoy Williams
Bob Donnan-US PRESSWIRERoy Williams could face his former team in San Antonio.

The dadgum fan might reach into his adjective repertoire from his interview with Bonnie Bernstein circa 2003 to describe the path his top-seeded Tar Heels are on thanks to serendipity. If the seeds hold, the national semifinal would pit No. 1 overall seed North Carolina against Midwest Region No. 1 seed Kansas, the team Williams had just led to the national final when Bernstein asked him if he might bolt for his alma mater.

Williams didn't take too kindly to the question, you might remember, and since he traded Lawrence for Chapel Hill, Jayhawk fans haven't taken too kindly to Williams. "Benedict Williams" T-shirts were a hot commodity in April 2003.

But the potential Kansas-Carolina Final Four matchup on April 5 is just one of the serendipitous turns this bracket has produced.

Here's a look at a few more:

Friends turned foes: No. 6 seed USC vs. No. 11 seed Kansas State
Forget the superstudly freshmen matchup between O.J. Mayo and Michael Beasley. Mayo and K-State's Bill Walker have been best friends since elementary school. The two were teammates at North College Hill High School in Cincinnati and, as you can imagine, North College Hill was pretty good. With those two on the roster, the school won two state titles and ranked among the nation's best teams. Before their senior seasons, the Ohio high school association ruled Walker had exhausted his eligibility, and Mayo bolted to Huntington High (W. Va.). The friendship, though, never suffered. In fact, the two were so tight most people figured their college choice would be a package deal. Instead, they'll be first-round foes in Omaha.

Dawgs are BCS dogs: No. 3 seed Xavier vs. No. 14 seed Georgia
OK, hands up if you had the Dawgs in your mock bracket? Didn't think so. The tornado that blew through Atlanta on Friday night clearly dropped pixie dust around the Georgia Dome. How else to explain Georgia's run from four SEC wins in one season to four SEC tournament wins in 72 hours? But the Dawgs' reward is the lowest seeding from a power league in NCAA tournament history. Georgia is on the same line as Ivy League winner Cornell and below MAAC champion Siena.

Location, location, location: No. 2 seed Georgetown vs. No. 15 seed UMBC
The campuses sit 36 miles apart. Couldn't they play this in College Park or the Inner Harbor instead of Raleigh?

You owe us: No. 3 seed Stanford vs. No. 14 seed Cornell
University founder Leland Stanford visited three East Coast universities -- Harvard, Yale and Cornell -- when he was putting together his dream of a Palo Alto campus. Eventually Stanford decided to model his namesake university after the one in Ithaca, N.Y., appreciating Cornell's coeducational and nonsectarian admissions policies in 1884. Seven of the school's 15 first faculty members came West from Cornell to get Stanford off the ground, and Stanford's first president, David Starr Jordan, was a Cornell man. Time for the Cardinal to repay the debt, right?

Who blinks first: No. 4 seed Washington State vs. No. 5 seed Notre Dame
Wazzu can't score and the Irish can't miss, so it will be a classic battle of wills if the two meet in the second round. The Cougars, the classic ugly-it-up team, rank third in the nation in scoring defense, giving up just 56.5 points per game. Only UCLA topped 80 points against the Cougars, and only three teams topped 70 points. Notre Dame, in the meantime, averages 80.6 points, 15th in the country. The Irish's fewest points in a game is 65.

Welcome home: No. 7 seed Gonzaga vs. No. 10 seed Davidson
Who said site preference isn't for everybody? Already the mid-major darling of the year, Davidson gets to drive 163 miles for its first weekend in Raleigh while the Zags, yesteryear's mid-major darling, hauls 2,693 miles across the country.

You'll rue the day: No. 6 seed Marquette vs. No. 11 seed Kentucky
When Tubby Smith ditched Lexington before UK could ditch him, Kentucky lured more suitors than Paris Hilton at a high school prom. Among those interested in the job? Tom Crean. The Marquette man never got an interview. UK, you might remember, was a little bit gaga over a guy in Florida.

5-12 fun continues: Notre Dame vs. George Mason, Clemson vs. Villanova, Drake vs. Western Kentucky, Michigan State vs. Temple
The line where anything can happen looks again like an upset waiting to happen. George Mason will try to be this year's … George Mason. Clemson is making its first tourney appearance since 1998, and Villanova is making its fourth consecutive appearance. Drake, with its walk-on turned superstar Adam Emmenecker, will need to beat Western and its future pro, Courtney Lee; Tom Izzo's schizo Spartans, a team that struggled for 36 against Iowa and poured in 103 against Indiana, plays a Temple team that hasn't lost since Feb. 23, winning its last seven.

Hometown hero: No. 1 seed Memphis vs. No. 4 seed Pittsburgh
His name these days is as synonymous with Memphis as Elvis, but John Calipari is a Pittsburgh kid. Born in Moon, Pa., a suburb of the Steel City, he led Division II Clarion State to two top-20 rankings in college. Cal spent three years on the Pittsburgh campus under Paul Evans. He could have his hands full with his hometown squad should the seeds hold until the Sweet 16. Levance Fields is healthy again, and the Panthers looked incredibly strong and tough as they won four games in four days to win the Big East tournament title.

This game, though, could come down to the most basic fundamentals: fewest clangs from the line. Memphis ranks 327th in free-throw percentage, connecting on only 59.2 percent. Pittsburgh is equally ugly at No. 231, making just 67.2.

Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at espnoneil@live.com.

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