Washington Huskies, Northern Iowa Panthers: Sweet Surprises?
Half of the spots in the Sweet Sixteen are now taken. For some, it was expected. For others, it could be considered a surprise. But upon close inspection, are there any teams that could be considered a huge surprise?
Butler Bulldogs - They have won 22 games in a row and rolled through conference play undefeated. Their non-conference schedule was tough and although they didn't overwhelm anyone early on, they have played some tough teams. Many writers had this team in, or close to, the top ten in the pre-season polls. Sweet surprise? No.
Tennessee Volunteers - Despite so much turbulence this season the Vols still beat Kansas and Kentucky and were rather unlucky in the seeding process (until Georgetown lost). They absolutely deserve to be here and Bruce Pearl deserves some accolades for keeping this ship afloat. They may not be done, either as they face either Ohio State or Georgia Tech, neither of whom have strong ball handlers to combat Tennessee's pressure defence. Sweet surprise? No.
St. Mary's Gaels - If there is a big surprise it might be the Gaels, but anyone who has seen them this season may not agree. This is a good basketball team, one that caught Villa Nova struggling and took full advantage. Of course, it helps that in a tie game your point guard banks in a thirty-footer. That aside the Baylor Bears are next up and have the size to counter Samhan in the middle and the quickness to match up well with St. Mary's perimeter players. Sweet surprise? Yes.
Baylor Bears - It has been a long time coming for the Bears and they are interested in hanging around for a while. A trendy Final Four pick because of the bracket in which they were placed, Baylor finds itself one game away from a potential showdown with top-seeded Duke - provided the Blue Devils get past Texas A&M, which is debatable. As a 3-seed, you are expected to advance and the Bears have done that after dispatching a solid ODU club. However, the Bears need to elevate their game in a big way to continue the advance. Sweet surprise? No.
Kentucky Wildcats - Mr. Hyde showed up for Wake Forest yesterday. Enough said. The Wildcats are rolling and probably did some internal fist-pumping upon hearing of the demise of Kansas. An Elite Eight showdown is looming with West Virginia (speculating here). Sweet Surprise? Uh, no.
Washington Huskies - If you were asked about the Huskies at the start of the year, you may have said that they were a top 15 or top 20 team, so a trip to the Sweet Sixteen would have been no great leap. After watching them play for 10 or 12 games, they didn't even belong in the tournament. Fortunately, the Huskies have turned it around and are on a roll, winning their ninth in a row by routing the highly-touted Lobos of New Mexico. Another bitter ending for Steve Alford means an opportunity for the Huskies to earn some credit for the much-maligned PAC 10. The draw for the Huskies was very good in terms of match-ups. The talent is there for Washington to play some more. Sweet surprise? No.
Kansas State - Beat a very good offensive team in BYU last night by doing what they do - wear people out. They are deep, they are tough, they have scoring and they love to rebound. A team similar to West Virginia but probably a better shooting team. If they can avoid letdowns (really, who should have letdowns at this time of year?), they are very dangerous, especially since big brother is no longer looking over State's collective shoulders. Sweet surprise? No.
Northern Iowa Panthers - Last but certainly not least, the Panthers stunned overall number one Kansas to advance. The seeding hurt Kansas - not their own but the Panthers seeding. They are veteran group that plays team defence as well as anyone. They have size, depth and good guard play, all of the ingredients necessary to play deep into March. In January, I suggested that they would be a nightmare for someone in March and I'm sure that the Jayhawks and their faithful had fitful sleeps last night. Next up for the Panthers is the winner of Maryland and Michigan State which means they may not be done. Sweet surprise? Yes, but only because it was Kansas.
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