UNI's upset one of many shakeups
Bracket-busting aside, this year's tournament is one to remember
MILWAUKEE -- My NCAA bracket looks like I passed out on the X key of my laptop. It's a bracket in need of a tourniquet.
The hoops carnage:
Villanova x-ed out by Saint Mary's.
Wisconsin and Temple x-ed out by Cornell.
Georgetown x-ed out by Ohio, Notre Dame by Old Dominion.
And thanks to the most audacious 3-pointer since Reggie Miller played the Knicks, Kansas was x-ed out by the University of Ali Farokhmanesh.
Is this heaven?
No, it's (Northern) Iowa.
UNI's victory over Rock Chalk Road Kill makes all things possible in this tournament. Think about it: If KU, the overwhelming favorite of presidents and the majority of bracketologists, can lose, so can anyone else.
The Jayhawks were a foregone conclusion to win the whole thing. Now they're just gone -- returned to Lawrence as one-and-dones. More madness is possible, even probable.
"It's March,'' said Ohio State's Evan Turner after the No. 2-seeded Buckeyes beat Georgia Tech, 75-66, at the Bradley Center on Sunday. "Anybody can beat anybody.''
With Kansas' shocking departure, Ohio State now becomes the favorite, if there is such a thing, in the Midwest Regional. No. 1 seed Syracuse remains the fave in the West Regional, No. 1 seed Kentucky in the East and No. 1 seed Duke in the South. But all of that can disappear in a Saint Mary's minute.
"Seedings and being a mid-major don't mean anything,'' said Ohio State guard William Buford.
He's right, and it doesn't stop there. Bill Self and his championship ring of two seasons ago mean nothing. Big East pedigree and swagger mean nothing. President Obama taking your team in his White House bracket means nothing.
The only basketball currency that really matters is what's paid on the floor. Farokhmanesh had a wallet's worth of it for Northern Iowa; KU didn't.
From this point forward, the term "mid-major" should be deleted permanently from the hoops dictionary. It is obsolete, like two-handed set shots and game shorts above the knees. Nobody knows this better than Ohio State coach Thad Matta, who spent quality coaching time at Butler and then Xavier before OSU hired him.
"The parity of basketball today is incredible,'' said Matta. "And probably most importantly, [are] matchups. I've always said this: the draw -- whether you're a 2 [seed], a 3, a 1 whatever you are -- I'm more concerned about who we're playing and how they play and how we match up. I think that's what you see probably more than the upsets; it's the matchups.''
The Buckeyes were in their Bradley Center locker room late Saturday afternoon when they caught the end of the UNI-KU game. They saw Kansas put ice on a swollen Northern Iowa lead in the waning minutes. And then they saw Farokhmanesh stick that outrageous 3-pointer to clinch the upset.
"I knew he had hit the game winner in their first game [versus UNLV],'' said Buford. "Then I had heard about him [Saturday]. But before that I'd never heard of him. But I was just thinking he's a tough kid. Not a lot of people have the heart to pull that shot.''
Buckeyes guard David Lighty did his best to pretend he wasn't stunned by the KU loss. A little less than 24 hours earlier he had sat in the same locker room chair and watched the end of the UNI win on the wall plasma.
"Northern Iowa never played KU before, so you can't say it was really a big upset,'' said Lighty. "It's just what people think.''
Really? Not a big upset, eh? So if Lighty had filled out an office pool bracket he would have had UNI beating the Jayhawks?
"Most likely not,'' he said. "But hey, that's the tournament. That's why it's March Madness.''
Up is now down and down is now up. As easily as I can make an argument for a Final Four that includes Syracuse, Duke, Kentucky and Ohio State -- the seeded heavyweights -- I can make an equally compelling argument for more bracket weirdness.
Syracuse stumbled late in the season and has an injury issue. Duke can impress you and then exasperate you. Kentucky might have the most talent, as well as the most postseason inexperience. Ohio State essentially survives on the brilliant Turner and a six-man rotation. So there are flaws everywhere.
If you've watched this tournament, you know we could turn on our TVs for the April 3 Final Four semis in Indianapolis and actually see No. 9 seed Northern Iowa versus No. 5 seed Butler and No. 10 seed Saint Mary's versus No. 12 seed Cornell. Will it happen? In the words of Lighty, most likely not, but it could. At the very least, one of those teams could sneak through the barbed-wire fences.
Anyway, you think Cornell is scared of Kentucky in the East Regional semis? Respectful, but not scared.
You think Saint Mary's and Omar Samhan, after beating Richmond and Villanova, are terrified of Baylor in the South Regional semis? Or Xavier and Butler are nervous about facing Kansas State and Syracuse, respectively, in the West semis? Or UNI is in awe of the possibly Kalin Lucas-less Michigan State in the Midwest semis?
No way. Farokhmanesh's shot changed all that. Samhan's dominance changed all that. Cornell's 13- and 18-point wins against Temple and Wisconsin changed all that. Butler's growing rep changed all that.
"There's no given you're going to win just because you're the No. 1, the No. 2 seed,'' said Ohio State's Jon Diebler. "We've seen that throughout the whole tournament so far.'' And the way it's going, you're going to see it again. The more, the better.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at email@example.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.
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