Game 5 – (5) 1987 Providence v. (12) 2005 West Virginia
Traditionally, the 5-12 matchup is the populist pick among the upset-minded. Twelve seeds are the considered the Cinderellas who fit the glass slipper perfectly. They are either underachievers from the BCS schools or the head of the class among the mid-majors. Five seeds typically look good on paper but lack an essential ingredient that prevents them from reaching elite status, be it heart, head or discipline.
The 1987 Providence Friars couldn’t be accused of not having the first quality. Rick Pitino’s charges hustled around the court like mad waterbugs who used an outside arsenal to stun favored opponents. Despite their helter-skelter style they used their heads, led by a future college head coach who would win more national championships than his mentor.
The 2005 Mountaineers also used the three-pointer as a favored weapon but also possessed ruggedness in the persona of Mike Gansey, Joe Herber and Darrius Nichols. Would their attention to the dirty details allow them to join the list of successful 12-seeds?
True to form, the Mountaineers did have plenty of players ready and willing to leave skin cells on the floor. But despite the common axiom of basketball being a team game, fans became captivated by a one-on-one matchup that really wasn’t. Billy Donovan and Kevin Pittsnogle played an offensive game of “Everything You Can Do, I Can Do Better.” Eventually, Pittsnogle would narrowly outscore Donovan 32-31.
As a team, West Virginia tried to take away Providence’s opportunities from the outside, but when the Friars got the opportunity they made the most of it, going eight for 12 from downtown. Amazingly, the Friars were the team that ended up winning the rebounding battle, and in doing the dirty work just a little better ended up avoiding becoming another 5-seed casualty.
Final Score: Providence 82, West Virginia 75.
Game 6 – (27) 1999 Oklahoma v. (22) 1997 Providence
Normally, a contest between journeyman NBA small forwards isn’t grist for a compelling story. But as often happens with good stories the subplots make people pay attention.
Providence’s Austin Croshere had honed his game in the city of Angels while Oklahoma’s Eduardo Najera cut his teeth in San Antonio by way of Mexico. They were the name players of their respective teams but it was their lesser-known supporters that would be on the lips of fans after this game was over.
Ryan Humphrey eventually tired of the Sooner scene and would leave for Notre Dame but would contribute mightily before he donned the colors of the Irish. Jamel Thomas couldn’t match Humphrey’s production that night but even more surprising was the play of Sooner guard Michael Johnson. God Shammgod found himself continually perplexed as Johnson went for 15 points and eight assists while Shammgod had trouble distributing the wealth. Johnson wouldn’t play at the next level but would be at another level tonight.
Final Score: Oklahoma 80, Providence 71.
Game 7 – (26) 2002 Missouri v. (10) 1993 Temple
If you found yourself pining for the days of super sixth men this was not the game for you. Both the Tigers and Owls relied on iron-man squads of five starters. It depended on who could control tempo.
John Chaney took the reigns back from Dean Demopolous following the battle between the 1993 and 1991 editions in the first round. Chaney instructed William Cunningham to worry about stopping Arthur Johnson’s offensive game and nothing else. Cunningham, helped by Derrick Battie, followed his coach’s instructions to the letter. Meanwhile, Wesley Stokes, who had memorably orchestrated a fast-paced allegro in the opening salvo against the 2000 Wisconsin Badgers, didn’t have the reserves to match baton sticks with Temple’s Rick Brunson. His teammate Kareem Rush once again led in scoring, but by the end the Tigers ran out of gas.
Final Score: Temple 68, Missouri 60.
Game 8 – (8) 1986 LSU v. (24) 2001 Temple
What if Nikita Wilson had hit the books? Maybe the Tigers wouldn’t be on the list and maybe Ricky Blanton wouldn’t have ran down the court with his arms flailing. But Wilson’s ineligibility would play a factor in this matchup. His teammate, John Williams, hadn’t yet discovered the wonders of all-you-can-eat buffet living. As a result, he didn’t quite have the bulk to defend Owl Kevin Lyde, who was having the tournament of his life.
Meanwhile, Lynn Greer and Quincy Wadley kept finding openings against Dale Brown’s “freak defense”. Finally, Ricky Blanton would indeed flail in this game, but not because of last-second heroics. Instead, the defense of Alex Wesby handcuffed the All-SEC forward.
When it was over, even Brown would have probably conceded that having Wilson wouldn’t have been enough.
Final Score: Temple 66, LSU 52.