La Salle wearing Cinderella slipper
It says something very special about March Madness that there is one team from Pennsylvania remaining in the Sweet 16, and that the usual suspects – Pitt, Villanova, Temple, even Bucknell – are nowhere to be found.
This year, one of Cinderella’s slippers is being worn by Atlantic 10 Conference representative La Salle, a 13th seed which is being upstaged only by 15th seed Florida Gulf Coast as the 2013 NCAA men’s basketball tournament’s biggest surprise.
La Salle – which faces equally surprising Wichita State, a ninth seed, tonight at The Staples Center in Los Angeles – punched its Sweet 16 ticket by knocking off fourth-seeded Kansas State in last Friday’s second round and ousting Mississippi, 76-74, in the Round of 32 Sunday on Tyrone Garland’s scoop layup as time ran down.
La Salle’s last moment of genuine relevance in this tournament occurred way back in 1955, when the Explorers made it to the championship game before losing to a Bill Russell-led San Francisco team, 77-63.
But part of the magic of March Madness is that in any given year …
Other observations about this year’s tournament:
n This weekend’s most intriguing early matchup figures to be second-seeded Duke’s Midwest Regional game with third-seeded Michigan State Friday night at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. But tonight’s East Regional battle between top-seeded Indiana and fourth-seeded Syracuse at Washington, D.C.’s Verizon Center could also be a barnburner.
n It’s hard to believe that Michigan – which entered the South Regional as a fourth seed and will face top-seeded Kansas Friday at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Tex. – is making its first Sweet 16 appearance since 1994.
n Florida Gulf Coast’s second-round upset of Georgetown marked the third time in two seasons that a 15th seed had bounced a second seed on the first weekend of the tournament. Prior to last year, however, it had only happened four times in 108 previous matchups.
n While Florida Gulf Coast and La Salle are the tourney’s biggest surprises, Oregon has emerged as its most underrated team.
The Ducks entered the Midwest Regional as a 12th seed, but proved that they were worthy of much higher regard by beating fifth-seeded Oklahoma State and handling highly-touted fourth seed Saint Louis. Oregon gets top-seeded Louisville Friday in Indianapolis.
n Speaking of teams that were highly-touted, Georgetown’s early ouster and third-seeded New Mexico’s opening-night exit at the hands of Harvard earned the tournament’s biggest flop nominations.
John Hartsock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org