- Associated Press - Friday, March 18, 2011

DENVER (AP) — First, Morehead State won one for the underdogs.

Then, Richmond.

Then, Gonzaga.

A 13 seed, a 12 and an 11 turned Denver into Upset City on Thursday and gave America an early refresher on why the NCAA tournament is also known as March Madness.

The crazy day at the Pepsi Center began with the most unexpected surprise, courtesy of Morehead State, the 9,000-student school in northeast Kentucky. Demonte Harper made a 3-pointer with 4.2 seconds left to lift the 13th-seeded Eagles (25-9) to a 62-61 victory over a cross-state opponent that’s a little better known: Louisville.

“I think to be a first-round game against an in-state power, to be able to knock them off, I don’t think it’s ever been bigger than that in the history of our school,” said coach Donnie Tyndall, who came up with the idea to let Harper shoot the game-winner during a nearly sleepless night on the eve of the game.

A few hours after Morehead’s upset, it was No. 12 Richmond knocking off fifth-seeded Vanderbilt 69-66 behind 25 points from Kevin Anderson. Unlike Morehead State’s players, who fell to the floor in jubilation after their win, Richmond’s calmly shook hands and walked to the locker room.

The Spiders (28-7) have been there before. Well, maybe not these Spiders. This program made its name as a double-digit seed pulling big upsets in the tournament — against Auburn in the 80s, Syracuse and South Carolina in the 90s. And now, No. 5 Vanderbilt in the 2010s.

“We have a program that can compete on a national level,” coach Chris Mooney said. “We’re proud of our tradition and history. But at the same time, right now we feel like we’re a national program.”

Pretty soon, one of these two winners will really take it to the national level. In what figures to be the weekend’s biggest bracket-buster game, it will be No. 12 vs. No. 13 with a trip to the Southwest regional on the line.

“We won one game. But we didn’t win the tournament,” Anderson said. “That’s our ultimate goal.”

Given Butler’s trip to the national finals last year — and George Mason’s trip to the Final Four in 2006 — nobody can snicker at that kind of statement from these mid-majors anymore.

Not that anyone would think twice if Gonzaga said it.

The 11th-seeded Zags (25-9) beat No. 6 St. John’s 86-71 in the last game of the day in Denver.

Some people felt Gonzaga had a “down” year this year. They struggled early. “Only” won 24 games. Many bracketologists thought they needed to win the West Coast Conference tournament to secure their trip to March Madness. Which they did. And once they made it, they looked every bit the tournament regular against the Red Storm of the Big East, leading by as many as 18 points in a game that was never really close.

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