'Toppling of 2s' brings unexpected pairings
RALEIGH, N.C. -- Coming into the tournament, I had a little fun with the "ghosts" of the Wright brothers. Apparently, Orville and Wilbur decided to turn the tables on me. Sure, maybe you think they had nothing to do with the fact that I left home last Friday morning at 6:30 and arrived at Raleigh-Durham Airport a little before 1 a.m. Saturday, a trip of just less than 19 hours and I don't live in New Zealand.
|SWEET 16 SCHEDULE|
(7) Bowling Green vs. (3) ASU
noon ET, ESPN
(4) Rutgers vs. (1)Duke
(4) NC State vs. (1) UConn
(10) Florida State vs. (3) LSU
(7) Ole Miss vs. (3) Oklahoma
(3) Georgia vs. (2) Purdue
(5) Geo. Washington vs. (1) UNC
But here's what I think: The Wrights "gremlin-ed" my flight plans just for the fun of making me wonder if they could have flown me out here from KC quicker in one of their original planes.
My bags went on a different journey than I did; they were suspected to be in the Charlotte airport and supposedly being traced. For four days. I did admire the honesty of one baggage agent, who when asked, "Should I just drive to Charlotte and look for them myself?" replied, "I would if I were you."
With no games or news conferences Wednesday after the wonderful whirlwind of the first two rounds, I motored to Charlotte and spotted one of them in 15 seconds, huddled in fear with at least a hundred other orphan bags.
I sprinted to it and actually kissed it. And the baggage people didn't act like that was weird at all. A few seconds later, I spotted the second bag and had another joyous reunion. I've never been this happy to see any people I know at an airport.
Among the contents of one bag were some media guides I thought I just might need. Maryland was one of them. Shame on me. I didn't bring one from Ole Miss.
Who foresaw the "Toppling of the 2s" in this tournament? Only one No. 2 seed is left for the Sweet 16: Purdue of the Dallas Regional. The Terps, Stanford and Vanderbilt all exited in the second round.
This isn't the only time in recent history there has been such mass carnage along a seeding line. Don't forget the famous "Deep Freeze of the 3s" in 2003, when Stanford was among the victims. That year, all four No. 3 seeds -- the Cardinal, Kansas State, North Carolina and Mississippi State -- went down like trees ravaged by the same beetle.
The programs that felled the No. 3 seeds back then were Minnesota, Notre Dame, Colorado and New Mexico. The lowest seed among them was the No. 11 Irish. But considering that program won the NCAA title in 2001 and is Notre Dame, that upset didn't get the big underdog whoop-de-do that a double-digit seed would normally get for making the Sweet 16.
Such as what Marist is receiving now for knocking off fourth-seeded Ohio State and No. 5 Middle Tennessee. Who knows? Maybe the Red Foxes will inspire a mass breakout of young kids playing team defense, making smart passes and taking care of the ball. Wouldn't that be nice?
Now, let's take the Sweet 16, regional by regional:
Next up for Marist is a slightly higher-profile team from Tennessee, that being Pat Summitt's Orange Crush, destroyer of dreams. Marist will try to do what the two previous No. 13 seeds -- Texas A&M in 1994 and Liberty in 2005 -- couldn't: make the Elite Eight. The Aggies lost their regional semifinal to Purdue, while the Flames lost to LSU.
But there's another upstart in Dayton. Actually, it's a "revived" upstart. No. 7 seed Ole Miss last made the Sweet 16 in 1992, and that was when the program was still one of the regular powers in the SEC and nationally. (That year, in fact, Ole Miss was a No. 2 seed and got upset by on-its-way-to-the-Final-Four Southwest Missouri State -- now Missouri State -- which was a No. 8.)
It has been a long way back for the Rebs. Ole Miss alum Carol Ross took her former team, Florida, as far as the Elite Eight. Now, she'll try to get her alma mater to its first Final Four. And if she does that, we pray she doesn't let loose with another quote like this one after the victory against Maryland: "I think the game is really simple. You guard hard, you create ball plays, you let ballplayers make ball plays. You put them into position to do that."
Not every coach can be Geno Auriemma or Sherri Coale in the quote department, but Sears mannequins could give us something better than, "You let ballplayers make ball plays." Anyway, let's just say Armintie Price is, uh, making some ball plays.
Speaking of Coale, her third-seeded Sooners are the foe for Ole Miss. Oklahoma carries the banner for the Big 12, while there are four SEC teams still in the tournament.
Bowling Green has been knocking on the door of a season like this for a while. And especially after the upset of Vandy, surely one of the eight million jobs open is going to be offered to Falcons coach Curt Miller, right?
The seventh-seeded Falcons versus No. 3 Arizona State has "grind-it-out" written all over it. That will precede the Duke-Rutgers game in this region Saturday.
The Blue Devils won by 40 at Rutgers in December, but the Scarlet Knights are a much better team now, as their Big East tournament title showed. Rutgers is a lot like Temple, which gave Duke trouble in the second round.
Incidentally, back in December in the Caribbean Classic, Bowling Green pushed Duke, but the Devils prevailed 55-46 -- their lowest point total of the season.
Fresno features top-seeded UConn against No. 4 NC State, as the multitudes of Huskies reporters get their turn to tell the remarkable and poignant story of Wolfpack coach Kay Yow, plus revisit the "might-have-beens" with one-time UConn recruit Gillian Goring, who's averaging 10.1 points for NC State. They'll also remind everyone that although UConn is 2-1 in the NCAA Tournament against the Wolfpack, Yow's lone Final Four came after a regional final victory over the Huskies in 1998.
Tenth-seeded Florida State, which has gotten here by beating ODU and Stanford, is receiving less fanfare as a double-digit seed than Marist is. That's understandable. Marist is the gutsy small-enrollment school that threw two rocks right on target. But even though this is FSU's first Sweet 16 appearance, the Seminoles are still in the ritzy ACC. So the underdog trumpet doesn't play as loudly for FSU. And, all things considered, maybe the Seminoles won't be much of an underdog against No. 3 LSU.
Besides Tennessee, Ole Miss and LSU in the Sweet 16, Georgia is there, too, in the Dallas Regional. Year after year, we whittle down the bracket and the letters S-E-C usually emerge.
No. 3 seed Georgia takes on the Big Ten's last hope, Purdue, which survived the plague of the 2-seeds. Asked to pick the projected best game of the Sweet 16, I seriously considered this one. It just has a down-to-the-wire feel to it.
The other Dallas matchup is top-seeded North Carolina and No. 5 George Washington. I'm one of those clowns who thought the Colonials would be gone by now, ousted in the second round.
This is actually the 10-year anniversary of GW's NCAA Tournament upset as a No. 5 seed over No. 1 seed North Carolina in the 1997 Sweet 16. How's that for a coincidence?
But speaking of coincidences
This year, the 2-seeds were almost completely decimated. In 2003, it was the No. 3 seeds. And in 1998, we had the lowest-ever seed to make the Women's Final Four: No. 9 Arkansas.
And what do this year, 2003 and 1998 all have in common? Each of those years, there was a regional in Dayton.Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.