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NCAA COLLEGE BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT | COLLEGE BASKETBALL

Another 'One' Bites the Dust

Tournament brackets wasted away in Upsetville with two No. 1s and three No. 2s eliminated.

March 20, 2000|CHRIS DUFRESNE

This isn't Bracketville, it's Nutsville.

For Arizona, Stanford, Temple, Cincinnati, it's now officially Loserville.

Duke? It squeezed past Kansas and raced out of Winston-Salem in a coup d'ville.

And to think it started so innocently Thursday, when the lone upset was No. 10 Gonzaga over No. 7 Louisville, which really was about as much of an upset as Gore over Bradley.

Friday was the harbinger: No. 11 Pepperdine over No. 6 Indiana, No. 10 Seton Hall over No. 7 Oregon.

Saturday, the balls came tumblin' down: No. 6 Purdue over No. 3 Oklahoma, No. 6 UCLA over No. 3 Maryland, No. 10 Gonzaga over No. 2 St. John's and No. 8 Wisconsin over No. 1 Arizona.

Sunday?

Sunday, we all tossed our brackets in the shredder.

Hope you weren't sitting in a hall when Seton Hall upended No. 2 Temple, No. 8 North Carolina put a heel to No. 1 Stanford and No. 7 Tulsa drilled No. 2 Cincinnati.

"Ridiculous, totally ridiculous," Cincinnati Coach Bob Huggins screamed last week of the NCAA selection committee's decision to penalize the Bearcats in wake of star center Kenyon Martin's injury. "We may be the first team in history to be No. 1 in the RPI and not get a No. 1 seed."

"Stupendous, totally stupendous," is our reaction to the committee's decision now that Tulsa toppled Kenyon-less Cincinnati.

To say this was the most upsetting first weekend in NCAA tournament history would not be a stretch.

This year marks the first time five of the top eight seeded schools have failed to make it to the Sweet 16 and only confirms what we've espoused all along:

The NCAA tournament is the most Machiavellian of all sporting events.

Only the end matters.

Schools fight and claw and scratch all season to win conferences and conference tournaments. Hayseed coaches moan about the difference between the No. 2 and No. 3 seeded teams, and then the tournament starts and you can't tell the difference between a No. 3 and No. 14.

Big surprise, the regular season meant squat.

St. John's won the Big East tournament and is tournament toast. Stanford and Arizona dominated the Pacific 10 Conference, yet UCLA is the team left standing.

Wisconsin finished 8-8 in the Big Ten and plays on. Temple, maybe the best team in the field, gets to watch the rest of the games on CBS.

The tournament lives and breathes in its Terrapin hairpin twists and turns. What the regular season taketh, the tournament can return in spades.

Consider one-fourth of the 16 schools remaining.

* UCLA. After rescuing his team from the throes of Dante's Inferno, Steve Lavin can rightly serve crow to his detractors.

But only with the NCAA tournament is this sort of Jekyll-and-Hyde transformation possible.

Nothing about UCLA's remarkable turnaround changes the facts. The Bruins were a bad team when everyone was writing they were bad, and they're sizzling hot now. No one who watched the Bruins fall to 13-11 after a 29-point loss at Arizona State could have imagined they were 35 points better than Maryland.

No one can deny the depth of UCLA's despair when it fell behind by 19 at California on March 2, or its good fortune when a loose ball found its way into JaRon Rush's hand to secure a NCAA berth-clinching win at Stanford.

Serendipity is not to be underestimated.

Screw up most of the season? Play hard when you have to? Get a backdoor pass to the dance and wash away a season's sins with an adrenaline rush?

UCLA might want to include this tournament course in its prospectus.

* North Carolina. What an awful, horrible, miserable season it has been in Chapel Hill. What? No it hasn't?

OK, while it's true 13 losses are the most a North Carolina team has suffered since 1952, and that the team lost four of its final six games and probably made the tournament on reputation, the Tar Heels are back in good graces after weekend wins over Missouri, coached by ex-Duke Blue Devil Quin Snyder, and Sunday's ouster of No. 1 Stanford.

Isn't life Sweet (16)?

"Maybe now we're pushing all the right buttons," North Carolina Coach Bill Guthridge said Sunday.

Maybe, baby, now is the right time.

* Wisconsin. The Badgers limped into the Big Ten tournament at 16-12, needing two victories to clinch an NCAA bid. They had already lost games to schools from all directions: South Florida and Northern Illinois.

So, guess what? Wisconsin beats Northwestern and Purdue before losing to Michigan State, makes the field of 64 and proceeds to dismantle Fresno State and Arizona with probably not one player who would start for either team.

Why worry about December, January and February when you can always bank on March?

* Gonzaga. Sure, the Bulldogs are back in the Sweet 16 now, but wasn't that America's Team losing to San Diego and Santa Clara a few weeks ago?

No matter how well the West Coast Conference has ultimately fared in this tournament, with a record of 3-1, Gonzaga would not have made the field of 64 if not for a rousing overtime victory against Pepperdine in the WCC title game.

Since, Gonzaga has disposed of Louisville and St. John's.

The moral of the story?

Get in.

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