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UNDERDOGS MAKING TOURNAMENT FUN AGAIN

L’Observateur / March 18, 1998

Welcome to the Big Dance. No invitations are needed.Just when college basketball’s royalty thought it could hold a private ball, here comes few Cinderellas to crash the party. Take a bow Duke, NorthCarolina and Arizona. The spotlight of this dance flashes on the new bellesof the ball, Rhode Island, Washington, Valparaiso and West Virginia.

Who would have thought a week ago that heading into the Sweet 16, teams seeded sixth, eighth, 10th, 11th and 13th would still be alive. And at leastone of those teams will be around in the final round of eight as Rhode Island and Valparaiso tip off against each other Friday night in St. Louis.And that is not even taking account all the upsets that occurred in the first round by teams who have already achieved their 15 minutes of fame.

Florida State, Western Michigan, Detroit, St. Louis and Richmond have hadtheir moments in the sun before walking proudly into the sunset.

And let’s not forget one of the greatest upsets of an NCAA tournament, Harvard defeating Stanford in the first round of the women’s tournament.

The Crimson became the first No. 16 seed to knock off a top seed in eithera men’s or women’s tournament, giving hope to all the Prairie Views and Nicholls States of the world in the future.

Everybody associated with college basketball must be loving this, one of the most unpredictable of tournaments. Everybody that is except for TCU,Ole Miss, Clemson, St. John’s, Michigan, Massachusetts, Xavier, SouthCarolina, Temple, Cincinnati, Kansas and Stanford, the teams that were on the other end of these unexpected moments.

Of course, surprises in the NCAAs are nothing new. St. Joseph’s knockedoff top-seeded DePaul in the first round in the early 1980s before the tournament went to its current 64-team format. Richmond, Santa Claraand Coppin State have pulled off shockers in recent years. And perhaps thegranddaddy of them all, Villanova shooting the lights out to defeat defending champion Georgetown in the finals in 1985.

The biggest surprise of the men’s tournament this year might be Rhode Island’s 8-75 shocker of top-seeded Kansas. Kansas was an almostconsensus pick to be in San Antonio for the Final Four come the last weekend of March. Instead, the Jayhawks failed to reach the tournamentsemifinals for the fourth time in the 1990s as a No. 1 seed. The Rams’ victory was sweet redemption for coach Jim Harrick who knows all about what unexpected moments can occur in the tournament. His UCLABruins, the defending national champions, were upended in the first round of the 1996 tournament by Princeton. Harrick was fired after the seasonand is in his first year as coach of the Rams.

Rhode Island’s surprising win coupled with Valparaiso’s shockers of fourth-seed Ole Miss in the first round and 12th-seed Florida State Sunday sets up a family rivalry Friday. Harrick’s son, Jim Jr., is an assistantcoach for the Crusaders. And who was the hero of the Crusaders’ victoryover Ole Miss but Bryce Drew, the son of head coach Homer Drew.

Those are the story lines that make the NCAA tournament the glorious mayhem that it has become famous for.

A Kentucky, Duke, Arizona or North Carolina may capture the national championship but it is the Valparaisos, Washingtons and West Virginias that capture our hearts and our imagination because they prove that dreams can indeed come true.

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