It wasn’t enough to see Ohio — not Ohio State, but Ohio U. – trash Georgetown. Nor was it enough to watch Cornell dispatch precise opponents in Temple and Wisconsin. Or even enough to stand back in wonder as Ali Farokhmanesh of Northern Iowa raised up against Kansas and scored the most brazen three points of any NCAA tournament ever.
Even as we seek to process the wonders wrought in Week 1 of the Big Dance, we must ponder what could be. A Final Four of …
Butler, Cornell, Northern Iowa and Saint Mary’s?
You know you’ve got a tournament when there are as many No. 12 seeds remaining as Nos. 3 or 4. You know you’ve got a tournament when the odds-on favorite goes belly-up in Round 2. As the Sweet Sixteen commences, we must ask ourselves: Has the madness subsided, or has it just begun?
The most intriguing matchup of the millennium: Cornell versus Kentucky (East Regional, Thursday 9:57 p.m.) It’s the Big Red against the Big Blue, and the two would seem to have nothing in common. Yet Mark Coury, who once started at Kentucky, is now a Cornell sub. And even as you’re saying, “No way the Ivy League can stay with Kentucky,” please note that Wisconsin hadn’t lost a game by more than 16 points — until it played Cornell.
The next massive upset: Northern Iowa versus Michigan State (Midwest Regional, Friday 9:37 p.m.) Spartans point guard Kalin Lucas tore his Achilles in Round 2, but State wouldn’t have been a lock to beat the Panthers with everyone healthy. Northern Iowa trailed mighty Kansas for a total of 47 seconds. Don’t look now, but of the teams remaining only Kentucky and Duke, which have 10 NCAA titles between them, have won more games this season than UNI.
The major-league Cinderella’s next test: Purdue versus Duke (South Regional, Friday 9:57 p.m.) The Boilermakers lost their best player, forward Robbie Hummel, to a late-season knee injury, but they hobbled past Siena and Texas A&M — top defender Chris Kramer made the winning basket in overtime against the Aggies — to reach Round 3. You’d think the run would end against the Devils, but know this: Duke hasn’t advanced to a regional final since 2004.
The stealth game in what has become a stealth tournament: Xavier versus Kansas State (West Regional, Thursday 9:37 p.m.) Xavier has a new coach in Chris Mack, who succeeded Sean Miller, and a new star in Jordan Crawford, who transferred from Indiana, but the Musketeers look as polished as ever. Kansas State has lost seven games, but three of those were to Kansas, which is no longer in the field. The West focus will be on Syracuse’s meeting with Butler, but don’t sleep on this game.
The unobtrusive team wearing bright orange: Tennessee versus Ohio State (Midwest Regional, Friday 7:07 p.m.) A lot of folks had the Vols going out in Round 1 against San Diego State, but they won. They’re now expected to be undone by the Buckeyes, whose regional this is to lose. Be warned, though: Tennessee induces an average of 16.5 turnovers per game, and Ohio State turned it over 18 times against Georgia Tech, with half of those by star Evan Turner.
The game for unknown big men: Saint Mary’s versus Baylor (South Regional, Friday 7:27 p.m.) No, it’s not Sampson against Ewing, but it is Omar Samhan against Ekpe Udoh and Josh Lomers. The Gaels’ Samhan, who’s 6-foot-11, averaged 30.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in upsets of Richmond and Villanova. The Bears’ Udoh, who’s 6-10, had 16 points and 13 rebounds against Sam Houston in Round 1, and 7-foot teammate Lomers had 14 and eight against Old Dominion in Round 2.
The game missing a big man: Syracuse versus Butler (West Regional, Thursday 7:07 p.m.) There’s no guarantee Orange center Arinze Onuaka, who hurt his quadriceps in the Big East tournament, will play again this season. His absence hasn’t troubled the ‘Cuse to date — it beat Gonzaga by 22 points in Round 2 — but it could prove problematic against the Bulldogs, who don’t really have a big man but who have enough shooters to trouble the Syracuse zone.
The game suddenly missing a guard: West Virginia versus Washington (East Regional, Thursday 7:27 p.m.) Mountaineer point guard Darryl “Truck” Bryant broke his foot in practice Tuesday and will miss the remainder of the season. This would be bad news headed into any game, but Washington guard Isaiah Thomas has averaged 17 points and 7.5 assists in the Huskies’ two tournament victories. Working for the Mountaineers is this: Reserve Joe Mazzulla, who has battled a shoulder injury this season, was a key figure in West Virginia’s Sweet Sixteen surge of 2008.
The best possible regional final: No. 1 Kentucky versus No. 2 West Virginia in the East.
The wildest possible regional final: No. 11 Washington versus No. 12 Cornell in the East.
The wildest possible finish: Ali Farokhmanesh, Final Four most outstanding player.