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NCAA favorites, that's you Arizona and Gonzaga, better be on alert

Heavy underdogs such as No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast, No. 14 Harvard and No. 12 Ole Miss are to be feared in March.

March 22, 2013|Chris Dufresne
  • Gary Bell Jr. and Gonzaga were left with some anxious moments in a 64-58 victory over No. 16-seeded Southern on Thursday.
Gary Bell Jr. and Gonzaga were left with some anxious moments in a 64-58 victory… (Streeter Lecka / Getty Images )

SALT LAKE CITY  -- Arizona is thrilled to be playing Harvard on Saturday on its way to next week's West regional in Los Angeles.

No one can say that, but it's only human Tucson nature.

Wanting to play No. 14 instead of No. 3 to reach the Sweet 16 is a no-brainer.

Arizona in its head is thinking, "We get Harvard instead of a New Mexico team some had penciled for the Final Four."

Arizona is thrilled, but it should also be terrified.

Have you been paying attention?

The fastest way to get eliminated from the NCAA tournament is to get into the assumption business.

Everyone presumed No. 2 Georgetown would prevail over No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast in a South Regional game played in Philadelphia.

Georgetown was established in 1789, and FGCU was established, well, Friday.

The Eagles stunned the Hoyas with a 78-68 bracket buster in the city where underdog Rocky ran up those steps.

FGCU won its first NCAA game on its first try in its second year of eligibility.

Hey, isn't this basketball thing neat?

Also know San Diego State would rather face FGCU than Georgetown.

In the West, top-seeded Gonzaga probably got the team it wanted too, Wichita State instead of Pittsburgh.

The Bulldogs drew the lower-seeded school from the Missouri Valley Conference instead of a power-conference team from the Big East.

Gonzaga should also be petrified.

"They can play," guard Kevin Pangos said of Wichita State.

To put this in Ivy League terms, people assumed No. 3 New Mexico would handle Harvard on Thursday the way No. 4 UCLA, in 1996, was going to handle No. 13 Princeton.

New Mexico got shown the front door Thursday while UCLA, years ago, got shown the back door.

This tournament is unfolding like a 20-piece camping tent. The NCAA selection committee on Sunday declared Pac-12 wasn't very good by saddling its tournament champion, Oregon, with a No. 12 seeding.

The Pac-12 responded by going 3-0 on opening day with Oregon and Cal scoring wins from the No. 12 line.

Oregon easily dispatched Oklahoma State.

"We downplayed it, because we weren't going to change it," Ducks Coach Dana Altman said of the seeding snub. "Our guys did a great job of blocking it out and saying, 'It's a number.'"

Cal defeated fifth-seeded Nevada Las Vegas, a school from the obviously (now) overrated Mountain West.

"So all the bad press we were getting before maybe wasn't true," Cal guard Justin Cobbs said.

No. 5 Wisconsin, out of the West, was supposed to take care of No. 12 Mississippi because everyone knows Bo Ryan never loses in the first round.

It is true Wisconsin had won 10 of its last NCAA openers, but it wasn't true Friday.

Final score from Kansas City: Ole Miss 57, Wisconsin 46.

In the same pad, No. 4 Kansas State had a breeze-past against play-winner La Salle for all the obvious reasons. Kansas State was essentially playing a home game while La Salle would be exhausted having just flown in from Dayton after beating Boise.


"I'm good, I'm excited, I'm ready to play the next game," La Salle's Jerrell Wright said.

You forget some of these guys are 18.

So now the Mississippi-La Salle winner on Sunday gets a plane trip to Los Angeles.

And you just know Ole Miss, maybe to its own demise, is happier playing La Salle instead of Kansas State.

"I'm telling you," La Salle Coach John Giannini insisted. "Everyone is good."

New Mexico and Georgetown found out and Gonzaga did against Southern.

The odds in Salt Lake still favor No.1 Gonzaga and Arizona, but no one should be popping corks.

Wichita State is a very dangerous proposition for Gonzaga.

The Shockers are a deeper, taller and more athletic version of the Southern team that put Spokane on heart-attack alert.

"They crash the glass and they're great on the boards," Pangos said of the Shockers.

Arizona, similarly, can't get caught in what's supposed to happen against Harvard.

New Mexico did that, and the Lobos are back in Albuquerque.

Harvard needs to thread another needle; and shooting 52% again, while holding its opponent to 37%, might just do it.

Arizona players spent Friday absorbing the idea of Harvard being formidable.

"They beat Cal," senior forward Solomon Hill said. "They're a basketball team that can beat anybody, and they showed that last night."

Harvard is like Belmont in that it relies on the three-point shot. Harvard made 44% of its three pointers and won, while Belmont shot only 29.6% and lost.

"Most teams are probably thinking, 'Oh, it's Harvard, we can get this team and we will worry about the next game.'" Hill said. "You can't do that now."

The best bottom-line assessment came from Arizona Coach Sean Miller:

"You can never take for granted being in this tournament," he said.

Ask Georgetown.

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