Mid-major teams hold their own
Georgetown. George Mason. Wichita State. Bradley. Raise your hand if you had all four teams in the Sweet Sixteen. Put 'em down, liars...
The 2006 NCAA Tournament, more than any other tournament in the past, may go down as the greatest equalizer ever.
With a record number of mid-majors selected over teams from the power conferences, selection committee president Craig Littlepage was heavily criticized by respected tournament analysts like CBS Sportscaster Billy Packer, who has covered 23 Division I championships, and Jim Nantz, who has called the NCAA finals continuously since 1991. But now, Littlepage has the last laugh as the Missouri Valley Conference, a haven of so-called mid-major colleges, has a surprising three teams in the Sweet 16 from its initial four entries in the Big Dance, losing only one team in the two rounds in comparison to the Big East's four. The MVC had never won more than one game in the NCAA tournament before this year, and now they're putting the big boys to shame.
Because such upsets are routine, March Madness is the most exciting sports tournament to follow. Every year, one or two "Cinderella" teams make a fairytale run to the third round. But this year, that "Cinderella" label could be applied to any number of teams in the tourney's elite stage.
No one expected Georgetown, under second year coach John Thompson, to reach the Sixteen. Wichita State was not supposed to beat Seton Hall by 20 points, nor was it expected to go on and topple second-seeded Tennessee.
Bradley - ranked 13th in the Oakland region - beat both Kansas and Pittsburgh, teams that many experts predicted to be in the Final Four. George Mason - 11th-seeded George Mason - beat Michigan State, a Final Four team last year with three potential first round NBA draft picks this year. George Mason then proceeded to beat North Carolina, last year's national champion and second in the ACC this year.
If only we had a second chance - these underestimated teams have managed to turn this year's bracket upside down. The "weaker" conferences are earning just as many spots in each round as the "stronger" conferences that earned more bids and lost more teams. The underdog is barking - the Blue Devils and Zags are out, seeded one and three respectively. Entering the tournament freshly crowned as ACC champion, Duke was favored by many to win the tournament. But the Blue Devils lost to fourth-seeded LSU, 62-54. The nation's best shooter, J.J. Reddick from Duke, was held to 3 for 18 from the floor and Shelden Williams could not carry the team as he has done so many times before. Usually March Madness is crazy, but this is ridiculous. Oh well, let's go Patriots!
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