Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Upsets Galore

The nasty scratch on Mississippi senior Jada Mincy's right cheek suggested it wasn't a completely bloodless revolution, but the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament were marked by a mostly peaceful uprising of the hoops proletariat.
Mid-majors and major-mids of the world unite.

"Absolutely, we watched it all night," Mincy said about a second-round upset frenzy that began on Monday night in Stanford, Calif, when Marist upset Middle Tennessee and Florida State topped the second-seeded Cardinal.

"Armintie [Price] is my roommate, so we watched it -- curfew was at 11, but we were up until 12-something watching Marist. I love Marist, I fell in love with Marist four days ago when they played Ohio State. Those girls are just wonderful."

Sorting through the wreckage of the bracket -- something usually reserved for the men's side when it comes to the first two rounds -- you find three No. 2 seeds out of commission in Maryland, Stanford and Vanderbilt. Also absent from the Sweet 16 is fourth-seeded Texas A&M, knocked out by George Washington from the Atlantic 10.

For the first time since the bracket expanded to 64 teams, no region will have all four top seeds in the Sweet 16. And for the first time ever, the MAC and the vowel-happy MAAC will be represented during the tourney's second weekend.

Geno Auriemma's top-seeded Connecticut Huskies avoided the upset bug against Wisconsin-Green Bay, but not before the Phoenix headed to the locker room with a 40-38 halftime lead. Like the Mississippi players, Auriemma had watched the revolution unfold on television the night before. Unlike the aptly named Rebels, he wasn't entirely comfortable with the coup.

"I don't know what you're supposed to think," Auriemma said. "You almost start to think, 'Well, they all can't lose.' And then you see another drop and you say, 'Why not?'"

But with his ticket to Fresno safely punched after a second-half run that allowed the Huskies to win by 24, Auriemma offered the perspective of someone who has seen enough of these tournaments unfold to know of what he speaks.

"I think it's been the best tournament we've had in a long, long time," Auriemma said. "And I don't know that you can say the committee didn't get it right. I don't think there is anything wrong with where they put people and who they matched up. I just think maybe we're underestimating how large the pool is of good teams. There is still a huge disparity, obviously, between 1 and 16, 2 and 15, but as you get closer now, it's really good, it's really fun."

Although they come from different backgrounds, small-conference champions like Marist and Bowling Green and major-conference teams like Florida State and Mississippi are united in a common goal. And they're feeding off the energy each creates.

"That was really inspiring for us," Mississippi's Ashley Awkward said. "We were calling each other in the rooms, 'Oh my God, Marist won … Oh my God, FSU,' so it's like the underdogs are taking over. We're not worried about the seeding, we're not worried about that number behind us, we just want to play ball."

And while the four top seeds are now even more the prohibitive favorites to reach Cleveland, you never know what might happen.

"This is the year of miracles," Mincy said. "This is the year anything can happen. This is the year that the aggressor, the one that has the most heart, will win."

Those in Dallas, Dayton, Fresno and Greensboro have been warned. The revolution is coming.

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