Parity being the theme for this year's basketball season, it comes as little surprise the Sweet Sixteen features a No. 15 seed for the first time ever, plus a No. 13 and No. 12 seed.
Parity being the theme for this year's basketball season, it comes as little surprise the Sweet Sixteen features a No. 15 seed for the first time ever, plus a No. 13 and No. 12 seed. The No. 15 seed Eagles of Florida Gulf Coast took the nation by storm with convincing victories over second-seeded Georgetown (78-68) and seventh-seeded San Diego State (70-55). Not only did the Eagles beat two highly regarded teams, they displayed a knack for highlight reel plays with enough alley-oops, follow slams and no-look passes to fill up an entire segment of ESPN's Sportscenter. Florida Gulf Coast, established in 1991 in Fort Myers, held its first day of classes in 1997. Now in the middle of the school's first NCAA appearance, the Eagles will look to extend their stay on Friday, when they play SEC champion Florida in Arlington, Texas at 8:57 p.m. Incredibly, No. 13 seed LaSalle won its play-in game on Wednesday night, taking down Boise State 80-71 in Dayton, Ohio before traveling to Kansas City, where the Explorers toppled fourth-seeded Kansas State 63-61 and 12th-seeded Ole Miss, which upset Wisconsin. La Salle, one of five division-1 basketball schools located within the city limits of Philadelphia, beat Ole Miss 76-74 on a last-second driving shot in traffic from Tyrone Garland. Philly has indeed enjoyed this dance with Villanova and Temple joining La Salle, giving the "City of Brotherly Love" a strong presence. Temple won its opener over North Carolina St. before falling to Indiana, while Villanova lost its opener versus North Carolina. La Salle attempts to keep its Cinderella slipper intact on Thursday, when they battle No. 9 seed Wichita State at 9:17 p.m. in Los Angeles. The Shockers of Wichita State dismantled No. 8 seed Pittsburgh 73-55 and held off top-seeded Gonzaga 76-70. The state of Florida boasts the most impressive resume, sending three teams to the Sweet Sixteen as second-seeded Miami punched its ticket along with Florida and Florida Gulf Coast, which beat Miami early in the season. Southern University nearly became the first No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 seed (Gonzaga), further proving undisputed parity in college basketball. Louisville, the top seed out of the Midwest Region, seems to be playing the best entering the Sweet Sixteen. The Cardinals beat North Carolina A & T and Colorado State by an average of 28.1 points, setting up a matchup with another surprise team in Oregon. The No. 12 seed Ducks are not a typical Cinderella team considering they hail from the Pac-12 ¬ one of six “power conferences”. Speaking of conferences, the Big 10 has been superb, with four teams reaching the Sweet Sixteen, including top-seeded Indiana (East Region), No. 2 seed Ohio State (West), No. 3 seed Michigan State (Midwest) and No. 4 seed Michigan (South). This tournament has four big winners at this point: The city of Philadelphia, the state of Florida, the state of Michigan and the entire Big 10. Unfortunately, winners create losers such as Marshall Henderson of Ole Miss and announcer Charles Barkley, who doesn't need to analyze the tournament if he isn't going to bother researching the teams involved. Barkley admits on a regular basis that he isn't familiar with the teams. Barkley called out Kansas center Jeff Whithey, who scored 31 points on 13-of-20 shooting and pulled down 22 rebounds in tournament wins over Western Kentucky and North Carolina. At halftime of the Western Kentucky game, with Kansas struggling, Barkley blurted out that 'Whitey or whatever his name is' needs to assert himself in the paint. That begs the question…What would happen if a white announcer referred to the lone African-American starter on a team as “Blackey or whatever his name is” rather than Blachey? Barkley's favorite Caucasian player, Henderson of Ole Miss, gave a double bird to the crowd after the Rebels' loss to La Salle. In two tournament games, Henderson made 14-of-42 shot attempts while scoring 40 points. I would take Whithey's 31 points and 22 rebounds on 20 shots over Henderson's 40 points on 42 shots all day. Oh, and Henderson also had a combined seven rebounds and four assists in the Big Dance, while committing seven turnovers. Hype doesn't always win over production, Charles. And the bad guys don't always win over the good guys, Marshall. (Will Gilbert is sports editor for The Sun-Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org)