The Sweet 16: Even for the No. 1 seeds, survival isn’t a given

The Hurryin' Hoosiers: Back in Atlanta to rock the tournament favorite? (AP photo)

Hurryin' Hoosiers: Back in Atlanta to rock the NCAA favorite? (AP photo)

Survive and advance. In the NCAA tournament, that’s supposed to be all that matters. Jim Valvano coined the phrase in 1983, the year his North Carolina State Wolfpack survived Pepperdine and Jim Harrick in double overtime, UNLV and Tark the Shark on a Thurl Bailey tip-in, Virginia and Ralph Sampson on Lorenzo Charles’ free throws and Houston and Phi Slama Jama on the most serendipitous air ball in the history of the sport.

But now, 29 years later, we ask: When is surviving and advancing not enough?

Maybe when your point guard suffers a broken wrist, as happened to North Carolina. Maybe when your starting center is gone for the duration, as is the case with Syracuse. Those four No. 1 seeds who looked unassailable only a week ago. Two have been weakened, and the other two had nervous moments in the Round of 32. Michigan State nearly blew a lead against St. Louis, and Kentucky was tied with Iowa State in the second half.

If you picked the four No. 1’s to reach the Final Four, your bracket has held up better than Dick Vitale’s, who had Missouri and Florida State. But that top-seeded foursome seems a bit less fearsome. Carolina’s Kendall Marshall had surgery on his right wrist Monday, and there’s no guarantee he’ll play against Ohio in the Sweet 16. (This comes after forward John Henson returned from missing three games with an injured wrist of his own.) Yes, Marshall is left-handed, but still.

Two days after announcing that center Fab Melo would miss the NCAA tournament, Syracuse nearly played its way out of the thing. It needed a rally and an official’s whiff on an out-of-bounds call to subdue UNC Asheville, and its Round 2 triumph over Kansas State wasn’t as emphatic as it appeared. The Wildcats were without second-leading scorer Jamar Samuels, declared ineligible 20 minutes before tipoff.

With Carolina and the ‘Cuse in flux, some see the No. 2 seeds in the Midwest and East — Kansas and Ohio State, respectively — as smarter choices. But the Jayhawks required a furious fightback to subdue Purdue, which finished sixth in the Big Ten, and Ohio State, which should have won the Big Ten outright, is playing under the weight of long-deferred expectation.

For all their gifts, the Buckeyes might not be the best team still playing from the Buckeye State. Their next opponent is Cincinnati, which has a history of thwarting Ohio State in this event. (The Bearcats did it in the NCAA final of both 1961 and ‘62.) Xavier, which was Cincinnati’s partner in December’s infamous Crosstown Punchout, has reached the Sweet 16 for the fourth time in four seasons, and Ohio, formerly known as Ohio U., became the first 13th seed to win two NCAA games since 2006.

The West, which seemed on Selection Sunday an unimposing regional, has lost No. 2 seed Missouri but somehow gained in stature. Louisville could give Michigan State a run, although Tom Izzo has made a career of whipping teams from the Bluegrass. (Indeed, in 2009 his Spartans took down the Cardinals, then the No. 1 overall seed.) And Florida, which has won its two NCAA games by an aggregate 60 points, will face a powerful Marquette team headed by Jae Crowder, once the starting quarterback for Villa Rica High.

Darius Miller of UK: He's from Maysville, Ky. (AP photo)

UK's Darius Miller: He's from Maysville, Ky. As am I. (AP photo)

The South Regional will be staged in a dome 32 miles east of Villa Rica, and it features a collision of royalty. Between them, Kentucky and Indiana have taken 12 NCAA titles. Indiana was the first — and, until Selection Sunday, the only — team to beat these Wildcats, having prevailed in Bloomington on Christian Watford’s buzzer trey. Logic suggests that the Hoosiers, without injured point guard Verdell Jones III, cannot do it again. But there’s perilous precedent afoot.

On March 22, 1984, the fourth-seeded Hoosiers faced the nation’s No. 1 team in the Sweet 16. Like these Kentucky Wildcats, the North Carolina Tar Heels of that vintage had gone unbeaten in regular-season conference play. Like these Wildcats, those Heels had lost only twice — once on a final shot (to Arkansas), once in its conference tournament (to Duke). Like these Wildcats, those Heels were brimming with talent. Sam Perkins, Brad Daugherty and Kenny Smith would all enjoy distinguished NBA careers, and none was even first among equals.

The famous-beyond-measure Michael Jordan was whistled for two early fouls against Indiana and was pulled by Dean Smith. He returned in the second half but, dogged by the dogged Dan Dakich, never got going. Jordan finished with 13 points on 14 shots. The Hoosiers won 72-68. Two days later, they would lose the East final to the post-Sampson Virginia, a team Carolina had beaten twice.

And where, you’re asking, was Indiana’s stunner hatched? In the old Omni, which stood next to where Friday’s game will be played. If you’re Kentucky, which is as heavy a favorite to win this tournament as North Carolina was in 1984, the parallels are surely cause for pause. The Valvano Method– survive and advance — is easy to remember, somewhat harder to implement.

By Mark Bradley

27 comments Add your comment

Rickster

March 21st, 2012
3:36 pm

Rickster

March 21st, 2012
3:36 pm

Cool! Let the next streak begin! (After all… my bracket’s totally finished.)

Mark Bradley

March 21st, 2012
3:37 pm

Kudos to Rickster, who’s on a new roll.

wes

March 21st, 2012
3:42 pm

Can’t wait to be at the DOME!!

And Bradley, the WEST regional was the toughest from top to bottom, imo. It was not the least imposing….I called it the “M&M’s” Regionals.

Michigan State, Mizzou, Marquette, Murray State, Memphis, and Mexico (the Newer one). Toss in Florida and Louisivlle and it’s a no-brainer this was the toughest Regional.

At least Atlanta has the highest profile Sweet 16 game. The Rematch.

DawginLex

March 21st, 2012
3:42 pm

Kentucky 78
IU 58

It won’t be that close because the Cats will call off the dogs because of the friendship between the 2 coaches

ChopAttack

March 21st, 2012
4:00 pm

I agree that Kentucky is the favorite, but they’re not THAT big of a favorite. Let’s not forget they’re a team full of Freshman. Yes, they can win, but this isn’t UNC 2009.

DawginLex

March 21st, 2012
4:06 pm

Darius miller-Senior
Doron Lamb-sophomore
Terrence Jones-Sophomore

All 3 have Final Four experience. This game will be a blowout.

Old School

March 21st, 2012
4:36 pm

Me thinks this will not be a Big Blue Mist descending on the dome but a Big Blue Typhoon in a major blowout. Hey Mark, what did you think about Norfolk St., especially Kyle O’Quinn? Love that guy, and maybe the best post game interview ever! How the heck did he receive only one scholarship offer?

Tim Tebow

March 21st, 2012
4:41 pm

Mark: I thought I was Bronco, then I thought I was a Jet.
What the H____ happened?

bill

March 21st, 2012
4:42 pm

I’m with you, DawginLex, but the ‘Cats better shoot better than they have so far in the postseason, or it will be Calapari’s latest edtion of the “One & Dones” to NOT win his 1st NC…it would be nice to see how good these Wildcats could be in a few years with Davis & Teague as upperclassmen (like in the old days)…

Beast from the East

March 21st, 2012
4:42 pm

DawginLex,
I agree with you. I think UK cruises through that game.

Mark,
What do you think about the Gators? Marquette seems to be everyone’s darling right now and seems as if no one is giving Billy’s boys a chance.

Farnsworthy

March 21st, 2012
4:48 pm

Vitale had Fla. St. in the final 4? FSU? A primary reason they won the ACC tournament was because both Duke and UNC were shorthanded, having to play without key starters; Kelly (Duke) and Henson (UNC).

Paul in NH

March 21st, 2012
4:49 pm

UNC may win on Friday, but I can’t see any way that they will get by Kansas without a healthy Kendall Marshal (even one-handed he is better than the backup). UK will blow out Indiana and then have a close win over Baylor. I expect OSU to come through from their region.
As for the West, who knows, although I wouldn’t bet against a Tom Izzo coached team. For some crazy reason I picked Mizzou in my brackets.

Paul in NH

March 21st, 2012
4:56 pm

@Beast
Sorry but I have to cheer on Marquette against the Gators. Darius Johnson-Odom (Wakefield HS, Class of 2008, the best player on the 2007 state championship team) was one year ahead of my son in HS.

George Stein

March 21st, 2012
4:58 pm

Huh. I always thought it was Al McGuire who said “survive and advance.”

Beast from the East

March 21st, 2012
5:08 pm

Paul in NH,
I agree on Izzo and I have him winning it all in my bracket. In my opinion, he’s second only to Coach K amongst active coaches. I have to admit that I get a little ticked about the lack of respect shown to Coach Dovovan. He’s turned UF into one of the top programs in the country from literally nothing. He’s been to 3 NC games, winning 2 of them. Has a 14 year string of 20+ win seasons and has always acted with class. All of this, yet he’s never been voted Coach of the Year in the SEC? Go figure.

Paul in NH

March 21st, 2012
5:17 pm

Beast from the East
Coach of the Year in most conferences seems to get awarded to whichever coach exceeds expectations by the most. For example, since Coach K last won an ACC coach of the year title, he has won 2 NC’s while a couple of coaches with 8-8 records were ACC COY.

Beast from the East

March 21st, 2012
5:30 pm

Paul in NH,
I guess you’re right, but it still gets under my skin. I’m sure Donovan doesn’t lose any sleep over it, but it’s a sore spot amongst us Gators. Of all the great coaches that Foley has hired in all the sports at UF, Billy Donovan has been the best…BY FAR! I hope he stays in Gainesville coaching the Gators well into his 60’s. He’s a great coach along with a great representative of the school and the community. What more could you ask for?

Jack

March 21st, 2012
7:54 pm

Beast, Billy won SEC COY in 2011 for the first time but your bigger point is spot on. The lack of respect the media pundits show Donovan is a joke. What he’s done at UF is simply amazing yet Dook Vitale and ESPN would rather jockey K, Izzo, Williams, Self, etc. Heck even Crean gets more love. He will go down as the best coach in State of FL history HS, Pro or College no matter the sport. As far as SEC history he’s second to Rupp and he’s only in his mid 40’s.

Promethius

March 21st, 2012
9:26 pm

UNC still has the best frontcourt in BB by far. Three 1st rounders. Throw in MacAdoo, Bullock and Hairston, and they will be still be a tough matchup for anyone. Stillman White is a better athlete than most people know. Sleep on them and you just might get robbed.

ormewood

March 21st, 2012
10:21 pm

Doubt Marshall plays Friday, but if UNC gets by Ohio, and they should, he might pull a Willis Reed on Sunday. I’m not that impressed by KU. They might lose to NC State. Who would’ve thought that UNC and NC State would meet in NCAA tourney before UNC and Duke would?

Paul in NH

March 21st, 2012
11:12 pm

Donovan is a good coach, and he may be behind Rupp as an SEC coach, but the greatest basketball coach in SEC history is currently in Knoxville

Paul in NH

March 21st, 2012
11:18 pm

ormewood
The only way UNC and Duke will ever meet in the NCAA Tourney is if they both make the Final Four. The selection committee will NEVER put them in the same region.

DetroitBraves

March 22nd, 2012
7:33 am

George Stein, have heard the phrase but didn’t know who is credited for making it popular. A quick Google search later it appears MB is correct, Valvano made it famous in 1983. Obviously, that doesn’t mean McGuire or someone else didn’t use the phrase before that but there’s solid agreement that Valvano popularized the phrase during his team’s famous 1983 run.

The Mighty Quinn

March 22nd, 2012
8:05 am

“…dogged by the dogged Dan Dakich…” Love it! Alliteration thy name is Bradley!

Alphare

March 22nd, 2012
9:05 am

Florida looks awfully good.

Hoosier4life

March 22nd, 2012
8:20 pm

I love hearing you all say the Kentucky/IU game won’t even be close. Our team thrives on being the underdog and while we may not win on Friday (I’m a realist), they’re going to put up one hell of a fight.