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Bracket busters, top seeds all part of round of 16
Butler is at it again. So are the boys from Tobacco Road. The Bluegrass State is represented and so are the Cheeseheads. There’s room for a few double-digit seeds. And, of course, The Jimmer.
The second week of the NCAA tournament features a field that should make the traditionalists every bit as happy as those who love underdogs.
It’s the sort of well-balanced blend _ equal parts favorites and bracket busters _ that helps make March Madness what it is.
After a one-point win over top-seeded Pittsburgh on Saturday night, Butler coach Brad Stevens said he spoke with point guard Ronald Nored, a key component of the Bulldogs’ magical run to last year’s final.
He “came up to me and said, ‘Coach, I’ve played in 10 NCAA games and nobody has ever picked us to win,’” Stevens said.
Such is life in America’s biggest office pool.
Those who chose Duke and North Carolina, the traditional powers from Tobacco Road, still have someone to pull for. Both teams won last-second games Sunday to advance. Ohio State joined the Blue Devils and Kansas as the three top seeds to move on.
Other underdogs included a pair of No. 11 seeds. Marquette beat Big East rival Syracuse, while Virginia Commonwealth _ one of the last at-large teams selected for the field _ had to win three games, instead of the usual two, to move to the second weekend. Then there was No. 12 Richmond, a program that made its name pulling upsets in the ‘80s and ‘90s and is at it once again. The Spiders will play the Jayhawks.
“A lot of teams get (worked up) about where they’re seeded,” Richmond coach Chris Mooney said. “You can’t worry about it too much. In the NCAA tournament, you’re not going to see too many teams get overlooked.”
One team that certainly doesn’t: Brigham Young. The third-seeded Cougars aren’t quite an underdog, but are lovable in their own way, thanks to the nation’s top scorer, Jimmer Fredette, who scored 66 points over two games to lead them to the regional semifinals for the first time in 30 years.
“It was very important,” Fredette said after BYU defeated Gonzaga on Saturday to move on. “It was one of my goals coming into this season. I wanted to get to the second weekend and so did this team, so it’s extremely important.”
The Cougars will play No. 2 seed Florida in the Southeast regional. The Gators beat UCLA on Saturday in a rematch of their Final Four meeting from four years ago when Florida won its second straight national title. After a down year or two, Billy Donovan rebuilt the program, now led by Erving Walker and Chandler Parsons.
In the other Southeast game, it will be No. 8 Butler vs. No. 4 Wisconsin. The Bulldogs, who practice and play in the gym where the classic hardwood movie “Hoosiers” was filmed, lost their best player, Gordon Hayward, to the NBA and struggled at times this year. Surely, they couldn’t make another run to the Final Four. Or maybe they can.
In a free-throw-filled finish that will be debated for a long time, Butler beat Pittsburgh 71-70.
“It’s exciting and a lot of us have been here before, so we know what to expect and we have to show the freshmen the ropes,” senior guard Zach Hahn said. “But this is what you play for, and you never want it to end.”
By John R. Bolton
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