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CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE BASKETBALL

NCAA tournament provides shock and chalk value

The top-seeded Jayhawks are rocked by Northern Iowa, the biggest upset on a day that also claims Villanova, New Mexico.

March 20, 2010|Chris Dufresne

Saturday in the NCAA tournament was as uneasy as one ... two ... three.

If you saw it coming you may have ties to Nostradamus but definitely not to Barack Obama, who is lobbying hard for bracket reform now that Kansas is not going to win the national title and Villanova is not going back to the Final Four.

A guy from the L.A. Times made the same Oval Awful mistake and is paying for it by typing the words you are reading now for this emergency-access-the-NCAA carnage weekend (it couldn't, obviously, hold until Monday).

Who knew Kansas would have a meltdown flashback to 2005 of playing Bucknell -- in Oklahoma City, of all places?

Or that a tiny Catholic school from the East Bay in California could go across the country to Providence and ring the bell of a star-spangled team from Philadelphia?

Or that any team from the pacifist Pacific 10 -- Washington and/or Cal -- would survive the first weekend?

But it all happened.

Thursday was always going to be hard to top, when three opening-day buzzer-beaters got people off their seats and six double-digit-seeded schools pulled off upsets.

Saturday, though, delivered letters of exit transit to the overall No. 1, Kansas; a No.2 that played in the Final Four last year, Villanova, and a sleeper No. 3, New Mexico, which was, actually, effectively tranquilized.

The schools doing the ushering out were a conga progression of No. 9 Northern Iowa, No. 10 St. Mary's and No. 11 Washington.

The seeding order was also the order of shock value.

1. Northern Iowa 69, Kansas 67.

Oklahoma City put the voodoo hex on the Jayhawks, five years after No. 14 Bucknell shocked No. 3 Kansas at the same venue. Who could have guessed that a finely-tuned basketball machine with a pedigree to James Naismith could get outplayed by a Farmer's Almanac Recreational-center team from Cedar Falls, but it wasn't even close.

Kansas was the team with chops; Northern Iowa boasts a guy with mutton chops (sixth man Lucas O'Rear). Kansas had the polished center, Cole Aldrich, while Northern Iowa's balding big man, Jordan Eglseder, is a guy you want on your side in a fight.

Yet, it was Northern Iowa that led from the start and played with cold-hearted swagger. The Panthers were definitely feeling it.

Up one with 30 seconds left and needing to burn clock, guard Ali Farokhmanesh left fly a three-point attempt ... that went in.

"I don't know if Coach really wanted him to shoot that when he was like in that position," teammate Johnny Moran said. "But if you know Ali, you know that shot is going up at the end of a game like that."

What, Ali worry? Two days before, Farokhmanesh hit the game-winning three to beat Nevada Las Vegas.

Northern Iowa plays Sunday's Michigan State-Maryland winner on Thursday at the Midwest Regional in St. Louis.

2. St. Mary's 75, Villanova 68.

The Gaels are now officially the double-digit seeding darlings after knocking off Richmond and Villanova in Providence. The most valuable player (and quote) of the tournament so far is 6-11 center Omar Samhan, who followed up 29 points in the first game with 32 against Villanova, then pronounced it the best victory in school history. "Ever," he said. "Quote it. Omar Samhan said best win ever. It was."

So many of St. Mary's prayers are being answered right now, guard Mickey McConnell banked in an important 25-footer he wasn't trying to bank. "Lucky the backboard was there," he said.

St. Mary's is headed to a South Regional semifinal against Baylor on Thursday in Houston.

3. Washington 82, New Mexico 64.

Maybe 50 million people were wrong about the Pac-10. The Huskies are in the Sweet 16 after some said they wouldn't have gotten in if not for winning the Pac-10 tournament. The Huskies, though, have won nine in a row and are certified dangerous in the East.

Washington, which will play the Missouri-West Virginia winner next Thursday in Syracuse, is led by Quincy Pondexter, a highly motivated senior and leader. Pondexter hit the game-winner against Marquette and scored 18 against New Mexico in San Jose.

"I'm really curious to see how the season ends up," he said. "It's truly a senior's dream."

The good news is Pondexter gets to dream on.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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