The Lehighs, Fairleigh Dickinsons, North Carolina A&Ts and Southerns have been sent home from the NCAA basketball tournament. That is no surprise. Also unpacking are such teams as Louisiana State, Nevada-Las Vegas, Southern Methodist, Virginia Commonwealth and Duke, which thought they would spend at least another week playing. They are surprised. And one team, Michigan, is in shock. The Wolverines seemed a lock to move on but played so poorly their expected invitation to the regionals was revoked.
There are 16 teams still alive as regional play begins Thursday. Actually, there are 15 teams and Georgetown. If the first week of play confirmed anything, it is that only a monumental upset will prevent the Hoyas from winning a second straight national title.
The most shocking loss of the weekend was Michigan's -- unless you saw the Wolverines play. They came to Dayton, Ohio, and behaved like a team that thought it had a bye to the Southeast Regional in Birmingham. Their touted guards, Gary Grant and Antoine Joubert, played poorly and reacted to Villanova's changing zone defenses Sunday like junior high school kids facing a zone for the first time.
"In The Big Ten, we don't see a lot of zones," Joubert said. Joubert and mates have all summer to study its mysteries.
In fact, most of the Big Ten is beginning summer vacation this week. The league sent six teams to the tournament, and by Sunday night, five were gone. Michigan State, Iowa and Purdue didn't get past the first round and Michigan and Ohio State didn't make it past the second. Only Illinois, the preseason pick as the best team in the league, made it to the round of 16. The Illini did so in the East Regional with an impressive victory Sunday over Georgia.
The two best leagues in the land advanced the most teams. The Big East has four: Georgetown, St. John's, Villanova and Boston College, and the Atlantic Coast has four: Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Maryland and N.C. State. The surprise is that the Southeast, supposedly down this year, advanced three teams: Alabama upset second-seeded Virginia Commonwealth in the West; Auburn shocked No. 3 seed Kansas in the Southeast, and Kentucky, which many people didn't think deserved a bid, also advanced in the West, beating Washington and Nevada-Las Vegas.
The surprise teams in the final 16 are Loyola of Chicago and Boston College. The Ramblers showed what happens when a bunch of smart, tough city kids takes on a team that has become enamored of its press clippings when it annihilated Southern Methodist Saturday in the East.
Once upon a time early this season, SMU was ranked No. 2 and considered the team with the best chance of beating Georgetown because 7-foot center Jon Koncak could stay in the same lane with Patrick Ewing. The Mustangs proceeded to fall to pieces, wracked by dissension and players who apparently stopped caring.
Never was that more apparent than Saturday when Koncak left the game with five minutes left and his team down by eight and didn't come back. Afterward, he claimed the game was "out of reach" when he came out and said he saw no reason to risk injury.
The other surprise is Boston College. The Eagles were picked by many to finish below .500 this season but Coach Gary Williams put together a team that gets by on the savvy of little point guard Michael Adams and a lot of heart. The Eagles got into the tournament with an 18-10 record and made the most of the opportunity in the Midwest Regional by upsetting Texas Tech and Duke.
The Blue Devils, another former No. 2 team, were never the same after Mark Alarie was hurt in the ACC tournament. Although Alarie played over the weekend, he wasn't 100 percent, and when David Henderson was hurt Sunday, Boston College was more than ready to take advantage.
The Eagles appear overmatched yet again, moving on to a regional in which they play Memphis State Thursday while Oklahoma and Louisiana Tech play in the other semifinal. Memphis State has Keith Lee and William Bedford, Oklahoma has Wayman Tisdale and Louisiana Tech has Karl (Mailman) Malone. All are great big men. This will be the Pro Scouts regional.
The wildest regional so far has been the Southeast. Maryland is the luckiest of the 16 teams still alive. The Terrapins should have lost to Miami of Ohio Friday and easily could have lost to Navy Sunday. Instead, they are going to Birmingham and they won't face top-seeded Michigan as expected. Villanova already has lost to the Terrapins once. As a headline in Sport magazine, once read: "Is This The Year Lefty Gets Lucky?"
The other half of the Southeast bracket has North Carolina playing Auburn. The Tigers, continuing The Sonny Smith Victory Tour by winning two games for their already resigned coach -- although Smith now says he might stay on -- rank just behind Boston College and Loyola as a surprise to get this far. Kansas Coach Larry Brown went so far as to say his team played very well in losing to the Tigers Saturday in South Bend, Ind.
North Carolina, by contrast, is never a surprise to reach the final 16. It has been this far five straight years (the only team to do so) and 11 times in 19 years. Many thought it was lucky to beat Notre Dame, 60-58, Saturday.
That's not quite true. The Irish had the ball and were holding for the last shot. Most coaches playing defense in that situation drop into a zone or play a soft man-to-man, afraid to foul or give up a layup. Not Coach Dean Smith. His players attacked the ball, trapping guard David Rivers and creating a turnover that produced the winning basket.
The dullest regional so far has been out West. But now that the West Coast teams are gone (no one west of Norman, Okla., is left in the field), that regional should get interesting with St. John's playing Kentucky and N.C. State playing Alabama Thursday.
The Redmen appear to have recovered from their two crunchings at the hands of Georgetown, but N.C. State, which has played superbly for six weeks, looks just as strong.
Finally, a last word about Navy. The Midshipmen's 78-55 victory over LSU in the first round is a testimony to what can be done by a smart coach and a smart team regardless of talent. Their 64-59 loss to Maryland was as much a matter of exhaustion and inexperience as anything. One can only hope that Coach Paul Evans and his team will remember all they accomplished and not that which they just missed accomplishing.