March Madness 2011: 6 Surprises to Watch out for in the Sweet 16

Kelly CohenCorrespondent IMarch 23, 2011

March Madness 2011: 6 Surprises to Watch out for in the Sweet 16

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    Let's face it, March is everyone's favorite time of the year.  Every sports fan enjoys turning on the television to see clips and highlights from the NCAA Tournament games played that day. 

    There is nothing more exhilarating to see than the underdog take out the top team, or to see an unknown player sink a buzzer beater.

    So far this year's NCAA Tournament has been one of the best.  Everyone's bracket has undoubtedly been turned upside down by the upsets and letdowns, including our own president's. 

    There have been many surprises so far this March Madness, but these six are without a doubt the most intriguing and must be closely watched.  College basketball fanatics beware, March is about to get very crazy.

The 11 Seeds

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    Marquette and Virginia Commonwealth (VCU) both play Friday night. The Golden Eagles battle a number two seed, North Carolina and VCU takes on a number ten seed, Florida State.

    The Golden Eagles are one of two Big East teams left in the tournament, which originally sent 11 teams into the field.  In their first round win over Xavier, Marquette was able to hold them to just 55 points on 41.2 percent shooting.  This was thanks to amazing defense on their star Tu Holloway who was one-of-nine with only five points.  They were then able to squeak by Big East rival Syracuse, 66-62, on Sunday with help from Darius Johnson-Odom’s game tying three-pointer with less than 30 seconds left to play. 

    Despite trailing by 10 at one point to the Orangemen, Marquette was able to get the second round win with sharp defense and three-point shooting.  They haven’t reached the Sweet 16 since 2003, despite making the tournament the past six years.  They now face UNC, who they haven’t faced in a tournament since 1977, where they beat them for the title.

    Despite losing the CAA title game to Old Dominion, the Rams have rebounded by winning their past three games against USC, Georgetown, and Purdue.  They continue to prove critics wrong, as they now face a usually tough Florida State team. Despite their own weak offensive performance against USC in a play-in game, VCU was able to hold them to 46 points on less than 40 percent field goal shooting.  Although they hit just nine of 24 three-pointers, the Trojans only hit one of 11, giving the Rams the edge.  They then beat the Hoyas, who lost to a double-digit seed for its third straight NCAA Tournament, by knocking down 12 three-pointers having four players in double figures. 

    They then completed their third tournament win in five days by stunning the Boilermakers.   Their 18-point second round win was their largest ever in the tournament, as they never trailed by more than five and led by as much as 20.  Six players scored in the double-digits, as they proved they deserved to be in the tournament. 

    They now face Florida State in the first 11-10 seed matchup ever, who has beat Texas A&M and upset a number two seeded Notre Dame.

Jimmer Fredette

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    As the number three seeded BYU Cougars and the number two seeded Florida Gators renew a rivalry from last year’s first round, the headline continues to be BYU’s senior guard.  Despite playing for a team with a bit of a national scandal, Jimmer Fredette has become one of the best players and scorers in the country, lighting up the highlight reels in all sports media outlets. 

    Although they lost the Mountain West Championship game to San Diego State, BYU has won their past two tournament games against Wofford and Gonzaga.  Fredette, who averaged 28.6 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 4.3 APG, and 1.3 BPG in the regular season, has been his team’s top performer in both wins.  Against Wofford, he had 32 points, four rebounds, and seven assists; against Gonzaga he had 34 points, two rebounds, six assists, and one steal.

    BYU is now in the Sweet 16 for the first time in 30 years.  They have not been to the Elite Eight since 1981, their only time.  They face a giant hurdle in the Gators, who have experience and a well-balanced frontcourt.  Will Fredette be able to continue to carry his team, as he has all year?  Or will Florida be too much?  Many may be surprised.

    All eyes will be on this game, the first of the Sweet 16 matchups, Thursday night

Harrison Barnes, Kendall Marshall & UNC

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    The best rebounding team in the country has become one of the most dangerous and explosive, as well. 

    Freshmen Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall have stepped up for their team, who had a strong turnaround to end the season. They now face streaking underdog Marquette in the Sweet 16. 

    Against Long Island, Barnes had 24 points and 22 against Washington.  Despite having just three against Long Island and 13 against Washington, Marshall was great around the rim and assisting. 

    UNC, who has reached the Final Four 18 times, will have a tough test with a deep and experienced Marquette team. Many believed the Tar Heels to be down and out, but they are a legitimate team that has the ability to make it to the Final Four.

Arizona vs. Duke

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    While it was expected for defending champion Duke to make it to the Sweet 16, the return of Arizona was quite a surprise.  After making the Sweet 16 in the 2008-09 season, they fell to 16-15 during the 2009-10 season and out of the tournament. 

    Now, they have pulled out close wins over Memphis and Texas in the first two rounds to set up a matchup with the top-seeded Blue Devils.  Their All-American star and potential first-round NBA Draft pick, Derrick Williams, who leads the team as the only double-digit scorer is able to elevate the playing level of the complementary players who surround him. 

    The matchup may seem lopsided at first, due to the fact that Duke has more obvious advantages, but when it is broken down, the game might be closer than many expect. 

    The Blue Devils rank in the national top 20 in both defense and scoring, while the Wildcats excel in shooting accuracy and three-point shooting.  Duke struggles with defensive rebounding, while Arizona struggles with offensive rebounding. 

    Although Arizona’s rebuilding stage hits a high note by reaching the Sweet 16, Duke is too powerful for Williams and the Wildcats to keep up.

University of Richmond

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    The 12th seeded Richmond Spiders have made an unlikely run that has landed them in a Sweet 16 matchup against a number one seeded Kansas team.  The Big 12 champions are on a 10-game winning streak and rank first in field goal percentage (51.4 percent average). 

    But the Atlantic 10 champions have won nine in a row including two tournament wins over Vanderbilt and Morehead State.  They have leadership in senior point guard Kevin Anderson and senior forward Justin Harper, who are also the team’s two leading scorers.  

    Getting past the Jayhawks would be one of the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history.  They have the momentum on their side, and all eyes will be on them as they look to pull off the upset against Kansas in neutral territory.

Butler Returns

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    The eighth seeded Bulldogs are on an 11-game win streak, including a Horizon League championship victory and a win over top-seeded Pittsburgh.  They have become a true fairy tale story, and have proven to the country that they deserve to always be considered a top team. 

    Although they have advanced to the Sweet 16 by beating their two opponents by a combination of just three points, many have said they are “back.”  Senior Matt Howard and junior Shelvin Mack lead the team in scoring and will continue to lead this team past Wisconsin on Thursday night.           

    Their experience, determination, and familiarity as an underdog and Cinderella story makes them a perfect candidate to make a run into the Final Four.  They succeed at playing fundamental basketball, and their coach gives them the guidance and leadership necessary to be patient and finish strong.  Whether or not they reach the title game is still uncertain, and anything is possible, but the whole country is more than excited to see them back at the top in the Big Dance.