- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 19, 2006

Sometimes elite teams get a relatively early scare before an extended tournament run (hint, hint, Connecticut), but it can happen to middle of the bracket teams as well. LSU has to hope that’s the case after Darrel Mitchell’s 3-pointer in the closing seconds ensured the Tigers’ precocious-yet-massive frontcourt will get a shot at Duke in the Georgia Dome.

LSU still has the pieces to contend with Duke and Shelden Williams, but it can’t get away with another shaky performance. The Tigers shot less than 36 percent and were not terribly convincing against a plucky Texas A&M; team that should continue to improve under recruiter extraordinaire Billy Gillespie.

Much of the discussion in Atlanta next week could center around a potential Duke-Texas rematch in the regional final, and that bodes well for LSU. The Tigers have done virtually nothing in the tournament in recent years, but a victory over the vaunted Blue Devils next week would shake away the anonymity of Tyrus Thomas, Glen Davis and the rest of the SEC regular season champions.

Capital idea

There are already some interesting teams headed to Verizon Center next weekend. Fifth-seeded Washington overcame a horrendous mid-game stretch to rally past fourth-seeded Illinois. U-Dub hasn’t been past the Sweet 16 since 1953, and there’s little reason to believe they would beat Connecticut in the battle of the Huskies in a regional semifinal. UConn faces Kentucky today for a spot in D.C.

Meanwhile, one of the Missouri Valley standard bearers will be in the District as well. Valley regular season winner Wichita State knocked off a vastly overseeded Tennessee in a result that should not be construed as an upset. The Shockers will face either reigning national champ North Carolina or local favorite George Mason on Friday.

Perfect 10

The Greensboro Coliseum is Duke’s home away from home. The Blue Devils improved to 10-0 all-time in NCAA tournament games in the Emerald Arena, and are 6-0 there this season.

Yesterday’s victory over George Washington also ensured the Blue Devils reached the regional semifinals for the ninth straight season. As a reminder of the circumstances surrounding Duke’s last missed Sweet 16, it was God Shammgod and Providence who scuttled the Blue Devils in 1997. The Friars were coached at the time by Pete Gillen, and Duke was only two seasons removed from the Pete Gaudet Asterisk Era. And yes, Wojo was the Dookies’ point guard, not an assistant coach by Coach K’s side.

Brave new world

Florida has to be wondering what it has gotten itself into. The perpetual disappointment is into the second weekend of the tournament for the first time since a run to the title game in 2000. Billy Donovan usually does less with more, but the Gators brushed aside giant killer Wisconsin-Milwaukee to make it to Minneapolis. It’ll take another win or two to convert most fans who routinely expect the Gators to tank in the first round, but this could be a different Florida team.

Tech-nically speaking

There’s something strangely appropriate to the fact Indiana coach Mike Davis’ tenure was brought to a close in part because of some key technical fouls, even if the unpredictable Hoosiers boss didn’t receive one in the loss to Gonzaga. Indiana’s Roderick Wilmont and the Zags’ Adam Morrison picked up offsetting technicals early in the second half, and Hoosiers big man Marco Killingsworth followed with one 22 seconds later in the emotional environment that gave him four personal fouls. The Hoosiers never re-established the inside and the balanced Bulldogs rolled to a 10-point victory.

This should not be the last anyone sees of Davis. Though he had his uneven moments in Bloomington, the guy can still coach and should get a crack at some of the best jobs available this offseason.

Hot hands

Few big men are as polished as Boston College’s Craig Smith, and he showed it again with a 22-point, 16-rebound performance against Montana. The Eagles are in the regional semis for the first time since Bill Curley guided them past defending champ North Carolina in the 1994 second round. Smith will be critical in a likely matchup with size-deficient Villanova.

P.J. Couisnard was 6-for-7 from the field to engineer Wichita State’s victory. His 3-pointer in the closing minutes helped secure the Shockers’ first Sweet 16 trip since 1981.

Bracket busters

There weren’t any egregious upsets that should wreck too many pools. Tennessee was ripe for an upset against Wichita State, while Illinois’ game with Washington was a bit of a jump ball. LSU barely survived to earn a date with Duke in the regional semifinals, but it still knocked out Texas A&M.; Perhaps today will wreak more havoc on brackets nationwide with three No. 1 seeds in action.

Conference call

The ACC is still perfect, but no one is likely stumping at this point that Maryland should have been in the field. A home NIT loss to Manhattan will do that. … The Missouri Valley needed to get one team into the Sweet 16 to silence its critics, and it has that in Wichita State. If Bradley upends Pittsburgh today, everyone should stop whining about the Valley and just acknowledge there are some pretty good teams in that league. … Five Big East teams are in play today, while Texas is the only Big 12 team left in the tournament.

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