The first two rounds of the NCAA tournament are supposed to give us enough upsets and feel-good stories to tide us over until next season.
The second weekend, the round of 16 and the regional finals, are supposed to be the time the teams from the power conferences remind us why the schools from those leagues dominate the Top 25 all season and fill the upper seed lines in the tournament bracket.
Not this weekend.
There is one of those pesky "mid-major" teams in each of the regionals.
Davidson had a shot in the air to beat Kansas and reach the Final Four in 2008. George Mason beat three former national champions on the way to the Final Four in 2006 as a No. 11 seed.
It can happen, and three No. 1 seeds and three No. 2s can only hope everything returns to form.
At Syracuse, N.Y.
No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 12 Cornell
It would be tough to find a matchup of more different approaches to college basketball. Kentucky comes into the Carrier Dome with a roster full of future NBA players — including freshmen John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe. Coach John Calipari is seeking his third Final Four with as many schools and this group hasn't shown any signs of being too young to win a national championship.
Cornell starts three seniors and is a true team with a 7-foot defensive specialist (Jeff Foote), a dead-on 3-point shooter (Ryan Wittman) and a steady point guard (Louis Dale). Don't be misled thinking this team is an Ivy League throwback that uses most of the shot clock and waits until there is a backdoor open. The Big Red do that but they also averaged 82.5 points in winning their first two tournament games by an average of 15.5 points.
Look for talent to take over. Kentucky pulls away for an 87-71 victory.
No. 2 West Virginia vs. No. 11 Washington
All the talk around this game concerns West Virginia's ability to handle the loss of starting point guard Darryl "Truck" Bryant, who broke his foot in practice Tuesday. Still, the Mountaineers have Da'Sean Butler, who hit two game-winning shots in the Big East tournament title run. Joe Mazzula, a redshirt junior who averaged 2.2 points in 14.9 minutes this season, should get the ball but don't be surprised if coach Bob Huggins goes with a four-forward lineup.
Washington is one of the hottest teams in the country, having won nine straight, a streak that has allowed the Huskies to change what many considered to be an unsuccessful season. Their NCAA wins were different as they rallied from 15 points down in the second half to beat Marquette and they led by as many as 23 in cruising past New Mexico. Quincy Pondexter and Isaiah Thomas need 20 points combined to become the highest-scoring duo in school history.
West Virginia might take a while to get used to not having Bryant, but the Mountaineers truck on to a 71-64 victory.
At Salt Lake City
No. 1 Syracuse vs. No. 5 Butler
Syracuse wasn't affected at all in the first two rounds by the absence of center Arinze Onuaku, who hurt his knee in the Big East tournament, and he won't be there for the regional semifinal, either. Without Onuaku, the back of the 2-3 zone isn't as tough to navigate and the Orange will be down to a six-man rotation. Although the zone is what most people talk about, Syracuse is among the nation's best in scoring (81.6) and shooting percentage (51.7).
Butler was a mid-major that spent a good part of the season ranked just outside the top 10. The Bulldogs steamrolled through the Horizon League and then squeaked by Murray State to reach this round. Six-foot-9 sophomore guard Gordon Hayward will be the key man against the zone. He will have to make sure the ball goes inside to come back out and he will also have to find a way to get into the zone and hit the 12- to 15-foot jumper. An explosive scorer such as Shelvin Mack could be the zone breaker.
Even without Onuaku, the Orange will be able to keep up its offensive pace and get away with an 83-69 victory.
No. 2 Kansas St. vs. No. 6 Xavier
Kansas State has been a quiet No. 2 seed, just cruising along with easy wins to reach this round for the first time since 1988. The backcourt of Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente has attracted attention, but the frontcourt of Dominique Sutton, Curtis Kelly and Jamar Samuels has allowed the Wildcats to outrebound their opponents by almost six a game while holding them to an average of 67 points. Pullen's defense on BYU's Jimmer Fredette in the second round was one of the best individual efforts of the tournament.
Xavier is in the round of 16 for the third straight year, a feat only Michigan State can match. The Musketeers are definitely a major team, having lost the mid-major label many years ago. First-year coach Chris Mack has kept the system in place that has made the school so successful for so long. Jordan Crawford has become much more than the kid who dunked on LeBron James over the summer. The sophomore transfer from Indiana is averaging 20.2 points this season and has upped that to 27.5 in the tournament.
There doesn't have to be an upset in this round, but Xavier gets one here, 79-75 behind Crawford.
At St. Louis
No. 5 Michigan St. vs. No. 9 Northern Iowa
Michigan State heads into the round of 16 with several injuries. Kalin Lucas, the Big Ten player of the year in 2008-09, ruptured an Achilles' tendon during the second-round win over Maryland. Chris Allen, the team's best 3-point shooter, has been limited because of an injured right foot and forward Delvon Roe has been bothered by a bad right knee. The first of the replacements did just fine as Korie Lucious stepped in for Lucas and hit the game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer against Maryland to send the Spartans on to this round for the third straight year. Coach Tom Izzo's .750 winning percentage in the tournament ranks third among active coaches.
Ali Farokhmanesh and Jordan Eglseder weren't known outside Northern Iowa until last week's wins over UNLV and overall top seed Kansas. Farokhmanesh hit the traditional game-winning 3-pointer in the first game and buried a 3 few would have taken to give the Panthers a four-point lead over the Jayhawks in the final minute. He was 9 of 19 from 3-point range in the first two rounds and averaged 16.5 points. The 7-foot Eglseder averaged 11.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in the two games that have made Northern Iowa a team everybody knows.
Since Izzo had five days to find a way to convince his team the injuries won't affect their play on defense or how they rebound, look for the Spartans to shut down the Panthers' run, 67-58.
No. 2 Ohio St. vs. No. 6 Tennessee
Ohio State won its first game despite Evan Turner having an off game. The Buckeyes looked like a No. 2 seed when Turner returned to form with 24 points, nine rebounds and nine assists against Georgia Tech. They are more than just Turner, with sharpshooter Jon Diebler and veteran forward David Lighty both making big contributions in their nine-game winning streak.
Tennessee held off San Diego State in the opening round, then looked more like itself in taking care of Ohio University, the team that upset Georgetown. The Volunteers shot 56.7 percent from the field and outrebounded the Bobcats 41-33 with Wayne Chism and Brian Williams grabbing 12 each. The one thing Tennessee has to do is cut down on turnovers — it had 16 against Ohio.
The Buckeyes, and more specifically Turner, have found a way to handle what's thrown at them. That's what happens here in Ohio State's 78-76 victory.
No. 1 Duke vs. No. 4 Purdue
While everyone has been concentrating on Duke's 3 Ss — Kyle Singler, Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith — the Blue Devils have been playing their best defense of the season. They have held 10 of their last 13 opponents — including the two in the NCAA tournament — to 61 points or less. They outrebound teams by six per game and are no longer just a perimeter team with no inside presence.
Purdue was supposed to be out of this tournament a couple of rounds ago. The Boilermakers weren't given much of a chance to advance without second-leading scorer and rebounder Robbie Hummel, who injured his knee and is out for the season. Everyone else has stepped up to fill the void, especially 6-3 Chris Kramer, the Big Ten's two-time defensive player of the year who has lived up to his mantle of emotional leader in Hummel's absence.
Duke is just too good on the defensive end. Blue Devils win 73-58.
No. 3 Baylor vs. No. 10 Saint Mary's
Baylor boasts one of the country's best backcourts in LaceDarius Dunn (19.4 points per game) and Tweety Carter (15.1), and the two are complemented by forward Ekpe Udoh, who almost averages a double-double (13.9 points, 9.7 rebounds). The Bears liked to score during the Big 12 season, but they have taken things down a notch in the NCAA tournament, mostly because of a combined 13-of-40 effort from 3-point range.
Omar Samhan has moved up the big man charts with a bullet since the start of the NCAA tournament. A solid player all season for Saint Mary's, the 6-11 Samhan has turned it on in the post against Richmond and Villanova, averaging 30.5 points and 9.5 rebounds while shooting 75 percent (24 of 32) from the field. Samhan's presence inside has allowed the Gaels to shoot 41.1 percent from 3-point range, led by Mickey McConnell's 51.7 percent.
Samhan will muddle the middle and the Gaels are good enough around him to advance with a 75-68 victory.