Wednesday, March 24, 2010

With Much Obscurity, Cinderella's Glass Slipper Captivates Sweet 16

So this is the cultural standpoint of the NCAA Tournament, witnessing Cinderellas emerge into the biggest bracket killers and stun the at-large teams.

It’s amazing to see teams dominate at will during the regular season but disappear suddenly into the darkening clouds.

With the Kansas Jayhawks collapsing in the second round, it’s clear evidence that their loss abolished all brackets and uplifted spirits for underappreciated teams.

From agony to ecstasy, tourney observers have seen some of the craziest basketball, titillating those of us awaiting breathtaking buzzer-beaters, miraculous finishes, shooting spectacles, and whatever else is left.

I’m starting to believe this is only an appetizer en route to the Final Four, amid a year when the class slipper, seemingly, fits on the foot of many underdogs. If there are countless upsets projected to change facial expressions or obliterate more brackets, it’s the personality of an obscure Sweet 16, which gets under way Thursday.

What’s incredible about college hoops is the dramatic excitement that leaves us curious to which team is relevant surviving a field of 64 teams.

Better than college football’s chaotic system, the wildest and most unpredictable spectacles happen in March, when the madness absorbs much attention.

It’s funny how we tend to ignore the unprecedented, over-hyped of anointing the powerhouse conferences such as the Big 12 and Big East because of mystique, tradition, and athleticism. But lately, basketball lords have failed to realize that any team is vulnerable to losing in any given contest or round.

The same people who picked Kansas to win it all or even Villanova to orchestrate another spectacular run to the Final Four are stunned and angry at the way things turned out.

Nobody predicted St. Mary's to survive Villanova. Nobody envisioned No. 3 seed New Mexico falling apart against undefined Washington, a team representing the Pac-10 conference like no other. Nobody pictured No. 4 seed Vanderbilt dropping dead to Murray State.

And nobody anticipated a hard-fought battle from Northern Iowa, an unheard-of school from the Missouri Valley Conference, sending Kansas away heartbroken and in tears.

That’s a sigh of relief for top-seeded Kentucky, Duke, and Syracuse.

Still, has anyone realized they are just as vulnerable to fall to a Cinderella?

Just thought it was worth a reminder.

The elements haven’t been viewed respectively in recent memory, as mostly every smaller school was disregarded for its unpopularity or athletes. Other teams are refining the principles of college basketball and earn much acknowledgment for eliminating and humiliating top-notch conferences or teams.

The perception in a sport with much obscurity has compelling scenes that aren’t seen often in the pros, even if the best team collapses.

Besides hearing about the prominent favorites, parity is recognized among any team that has reached the Sweet 16, which means a multitude of teams are considerable. Other than constant debates, March Madness is the one sporting event an average human being cannot discuss too heavily. Ninety percent of the time, individuals are wrong about which team advances to the final.

Meanwhile, what we do know, four teams are deserving of traveling to Indianapolis, the Hoosier State. For all we know, one of the No. 1 seeds could relapse in a week that dictates whether a team’s worthy of making the Final Four. Make no mistake, a number of athletes and bracket killers have awakened in recent weeks, understanding there’s much at stake and winning is ensured.

It’s not an awful suggestion to bet on an underdog team. There’s no reason to downplay a feel-good story or an epic Cinderella tale. Like everyone else, St. Mary’s, Northern Iowa, or Cornell is as just elite. What enables premier teams to keep their respect is the prior history and values of an athletic program.

But unfortunately, it takes away from the underdogs, forgetting the athleticism they possess. This March has defied the laws of captivation, but more than anything, the principle of sleepers. Sure, some of them didn’t play well during the regular season, but whoever has enough toughness, faith, and momentum normally lasts until the ending of an epic sporting event.

In fairness, as it stands in the West region, Syracuse has the nod. It’s the region with the fewest upsets, shattered hearts, and tears. With the Sweet 16 only a day away, there’s no Cinderella putting fear in the Orange. Four of the region's top six seeds are still alive, angling to reach the most noteworthy part of the tournament. Make your pick.

While No. 1 Syracuse is the favorite to survive a high-regarded region, there has been much debate as to whether or not someone else could cease the Orange’s hot run.

The truth is, there are other teams as capable as the Orange to earn the privilege to compete in the Final Four. Still, it’s hard to imagine when Syracuse has the components, despite the loss of senior center Arinze Onuaku to a right quadriceps injury. Even with the loss feeling like a momentum default, the Orange is overlooked and has tremendous talent.

Now that Wes Johnson is playing at such a high level, compiling 31 points and 14 rebounds against Gonzaga, he’s stout to replicate his finest results. Andy Rautins is also a key piece to their hot offense, scoring 24 points, and is one of the nation’s most talented shooters.

As it seems, the ‘Cuse are the most well-balanced team in the tourney.

Or has Tennessee increased their status as one of the threatening teams in the Sweet 16? Head coach Bruce Pearl has the Volunteers playing at their highest level, and no better timing than March. This time of year wins are critical, and the Vols responded in an 83-68 rout against Ohio, a program everyone believed in as a Cinderella. For now, we’ll have to wait and see before calling the Vols a Cinderella.

This, however, is a scary March, if not the scariest ever. The underdogs are Butler or Kansas State. There’s no surprise, if either team pulls off a win against their opponents.

No player is more impressive in the West Region than Kansas State’s Jacob Pullen, whose speed and outside shooting are dangerous, especially in the late minutes. In the second round, he managed to outscore BYU’s Jimmer Fredette in an up-tempo battle.

What’s surprising is Purdue remains alive, without their second-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder Robbie Hummel, who went down at the end of the regular season with an injury. It’s a good thing the Boilermakers have contributed to rise during critical situations. Without their star, Chris Kramer and E’Twaun Moore are playing more minutes and averaging more points in the absence of Hummel.

The Big Ten, a conference with its own television network and a conference with much basketball talent, has three schools playing in the Sweet 16. But there’s no team as brilliant as Ohio State, mainly because of the impressive season that Buckeyes sensation Evan Turner has produced.

He’s now considered a top prospect in the upcoming NBA draft, leading the Buckeyes with his amazing ability to influence pro scouts. Whatever happens, he’s as good as Kentucky’s John Wall and Georgia Tech’s Derrick Favors.

End of discussion.

Aside from debating the NBA’s best No. 1 pick overall, St. Mary’s embarrassed and pummeled Villanova badly. Just ask the Wildcats. I think they’ll tell you the Gaels are the next upsetting team.

Once again, Omar Samhan, who had 32 points in the win against Villanova, may humiliate someone else inside the paint. He may post up someone else and average high scores against someone else, and as a result, the Gaels may ride straight to the Elite Eight. That wouldn’t be a surprise.

If anything, the nation awaits this time of year. If there’s one way to describe March, it’s talking about the amazing upsets and sleepers stunning the world with their abilities to captivate us. If there’s another way to describe March, it’s St. Mary’s and Northern Iowa.