Just when you worry that the NCAA Tournament was too by-the-sports-book and devoid of the madness that defines March, fate delivers a beautifully zany Friday.
Lower seeds won half of the battles on the second marathon day of games, including two new darling sweet 15s that should make South Carolina fans feel a little better about that 1997 Coppin State debacle.
Prior to Friday night, No. 15 seeds had beaten No. 2 seeds only four times in 108 previous tries since the NCAA Tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1985. That number increased by 50 percent thanks to Lehigh and Norfolk State disposing of Duke and Missouri, respectively, within hours of each other.
“WOW!” blurted the massive headline on The Virginian-Pilot after the state produced its third giant-slayer with Norfolk State joining Hampton (2001 over Iowa State) and Richmond (1991 over Syracuse) as No. 15 seeds to pull off major upsets. Factor in recent Final Four No. 11 seed Cinderellas Virginia Commonwealth (2011) and George Mason (2006) and it’s safe to say the worst thing a favorite can wish for is a matchup with a mid-major from the Old Dominion. (Gamecocks fans won’t soon forget Richmond beating them as a No. 14 seed in 1998, either.)
Many are already calling the victory by the Patriot League’s Lehigh – from the not-so-little-town of Bethlehem, Pa. – over Duke as the greatest upset in NCAA Tournament history. Considering Duke’s pedigree, that sounds reasonable.
However, if you’ve seen this Blue Devils team play lately, that’s a hyperbolic reach. The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champ Norfolk State’s win over the Big 12 champions was a much bigger surprise and sends Missouri off to the Southeastern Conference next season with a sour taste.
With Lehigh, Norfolk State, VCU and Ohio representing the smaller conferences in the remaining field of 32, there could be more magic left before the weekend is over.
PLAYOFF? PLAYOFF! As we watch all the great elements that make college basketball’s postseason so enjoyable, there is hope that college football will finally join the playoff party.
Last weekend brought joyous news that the presidents and CEOs of the Pac-12 – one of the two most obstructionist conferences along with its Rose Bowl mate the Big Ten – has “agreed in principle” to end the BCS after the contract expires in 2014 and replace it with a playoff system.
“We need change,” Oregon president Edward Ray said, finally expressing what the vast majority of college football fans have been saying for years.
As the momentum builds for the major conferences that make up the BCS to announce some kind of limited playoff this summer, the most heartening news is a stipulation that the Pac-12 and Big Ten seem to favor – only inviting conference champions to play for the national title.
This is the perfect solution that would not only eliminate the farcical Southeastern Conference rematch that we were all subjected to this year, but it would essentially turn a four-team format being proposed into a broader playoff when you factor in the various conference championship games that every big league except the shrinking Big 12 will now have.
A champions-only postseason would enhance the regular season while also keeping in tact the framework of the bowl system, since a bevy of quality non-champions will create a strong pool for the major bowls.
Keep your fingers crossed.
SLICE OF PI: Former Aquinas baseball star Andrew Williams celebrated National Pi Day in style Wednesday.
The Presbyterian shortstop hit three home runs in a 9-6 victory over Kennesaw State, the most by a Blue Hose player since the program joined Division I in 2008. He also set the single-game record for total bases with 12.
The homers are Williams’ first in 20 games this season. While his batting average is only .239, Williams boasts a team-high .365 on-base percentage.
It was almost a perfect Pi performance on 3/14, but Williams finished with 3 homers, 2 walks and 4 RBI. Can’t blame Kennesaw for not wanting to pitch to him any more that day.
FROM WD TO MARATHON: Tiger Woods dredged up lingering concerns regarding his health when he walked off the course at Doral last Sunday with seven holes left to finish citing pain in his Achilles tendon.
Well, I guess he feels pretty good about the prognosis of what he later declared just a strain, since Woods has committed to playing seven consecutive days this week in his old hometown of Orlando, Fla.
Woods will play for the Albany, Bahamas, team in the two-day Tavistock Cup at Lake Nona starting Monday. Then he’ll be required to play in the pro-am Wednesday before competing at Bay Hill, where he’s a six-time champion.
If pulling out of Doral seven holes prematurely was playing it smart, what would you call this seven-day forced march just two weeks before the Masters Tournament?
Woods doesn’t see any risk in it, apparently.
“I’m playing very well,” he said on his Web site. “It’s all starting to come together.”