For those who like upstarts, last 16 is sure sweet

Ncaa Tournament

March 20, 2006|By PAUL MCMULLEN | PAUL MCMULLEN,SUN REPORTER

Friday prime time brings George Mason-Wichita State, CBS's worst nightmare.

Sunday's Washington Regional final could hinge on a revival of a fine Baltimore Catholic League prep rivalry.

Could the Final Four in Indianapolis have three from the Big East?

With possibilities ranging from George Mason's Will Thomas checking Connecticut's Rudy Gay, just like old times, to the Big East flexing its muscles, the second weekend of the NCAA tournament holds the promise of as much drama as occurred over the past four days.

The first weekend wasn't as wild as 1999, when five double-digit seeds advanced to the Sweet 16, but now the surprises really are upstarts. Then, the prosperous lower seeds included the likes of Oklahoma and Purdue. Now, they're George Mason and the Missouri Valley Conference, home to Bradley and Wichita State.

Besides the MVC and the Big East, which has four teams left, the weekend's big winners included Craig Littlepage.

One week after the chairman of the NCAA men's basketball committee was accused of throwing a bone to the so-called mid-major conferences, Littlepage's group is getting nods for the hours it put in concocting a rare 7-11 matchup.

Wichita State and George Mason meet in a Washington Regional semifinal at Verizon Center. It's the first 7-11 game since 1990, when 11th-seeded Loyola Marymount beat seventh-seeded Alabama.

Want more history? For the first time since 1979, Kansas, Kentucky and North Carolina are all missing from the Sweet 16.

There is a bit of order on the court, since all four No. 1 seeds - Duke, Connecticut, Memphis and Villanova - are still playing. The Blue Devils potentially have the toughest path. There are as many sevens as there are twos, and no team from the Big Ten, the nation's strongest conference in the computer ratings.

A look at each regional follows. At the Final Four, the semifinal pairings are Atlanta-Oakland and Washington-Minneapolis.

Atlanta

Can Glen Davis, known as Big Baby, move out Shelden Williams, aka The Landlord?

Davis is the 6-foot-9, 310-pound center for LSU, one of the nation's best rebounding teams. Williams has been Duke's lone inside force on some nights. LSU has lost only to Florida in its past 12 games, suggesting that the Tigers could have trouble with a quick team and J.J. Redick's motion.

Texas-West Virginia matches LaMarcus Aldridge and the Longhorns' zone against Kevin Pittsnogle and the Mountaineers' perimeter orientation. Texas longs for another shot at Duke, which it lost to by 31 in December.

Oakland

Memphis continues to be an afterthought, thanks to UCLA-Gonzaga.

Adam Morrison, the nation's leading scorer, could find points hard to come by against the Bruins, who have held their past eight opponents under 60. This one evokes a classic from 2003, when the Zags lost in the second round to another Pacific-10 heavyweight, Arizona. Then, Gonzaga was a 9. Now it's a 3.

Memphis, the class of Conference USA, is in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1992. Bradley last got this far in 1955, when it was a 24-team tournament.

Washington

George Mason scored a 70-67 win at Wichita State in ESPN's Bracketbusters, which might have gotten the Patriots the Colonial Athletic Association's first at-large bid in 20 years. The Shockers' Paul Miller against Aberdeen's Jai Lewis is nearly 600 pounds worth of pivot.

Connecticut-Washington is an all-Huskies 1-5 game. Brandon Roy, a 6-6 senior wing, gets to showcase his game in the East.

A Connecticut-George Mason final would pit Gay against Thomas, who prepped at Archbishop Spalding and Mount St. Joseph, respectively. Two years ago, they shared The Sun 's All-Metro Player of the Year honor.

Minneapolis

This field seems out of place in the North Country, since three of the four were members of the Big East.

Both Villanova and Boston College share the ball, but the Wildcats rely on their four guards, while the Eagles go through Craig Smith. Villanova nearly upset North Carolina in this round last year, and BC is in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1994, when it upset the Tar Heels to get there.

Sleek Florida, the national leader in field-goal percentage, goes against a Georgetown team that can play at multiple speeds. Roy Hibbert aside, both teams have big men who run the floor.

The Gators are making their first Sweet 16 appearance since 2000, when they reached the NCAA final. The Hoyas last went this far in 2001, before they were beaten by Maryland.

paul.mcmullen@baltsun.com

Surviving seeds

1 -- Connecticut, Duke, Memphis, Villanova

2 -- Texas, UCLA

3 -- Florida, Gonzaga

4 -- Boston College, LSU

5 -- Washington

6 -- West Virginia

7 -- Georgetown, Wichita State

11 -- George Mason

13 -- Bradley

Conference call

Big East -- Connecticut, Georgetown, Villanova, West Virginia

ACC -- Boston College, Duke

MVC -- Bradley, Wichita State

Pacific-10 -- UCLA, Washington

SEC -- Florida, LSU

Big 12 -- Texas

Colonial -- George Mason

Conference USA - Memphis

West Coast -- Gonzaga

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