- The Washington Times - Monday, March 20, 2006

Less than two weeks before Selection Sunday, it looked like there were seven legitimate Big Ten teams ready to make runs in the NCAA tournament.

And now there are none.

Michigan took itself out of the tournament with a horrid finish to the regular season, and then the Big Ten’s six remaining teams gradually faded away. Iowa predictably folded against Northwestern State. Wisconsin sputtered to the finish in a loss to Arizona. Michigan State was emasculated by George Mason. Indiana ran out of gas against Gonzaga. Illinois collapsed late against Washington.

Ohio State was the last to stumble out, losing big to Georgetown. Based on some of the illogic bandied about last week, these foibles should influence the league’s number of NCAA berths in future seasons.

That’s balderdash, of course, but it’s interesting the Big Ten was rated highly for much the same reason the Missouri Valley worked its way into the national consciousness: It was a deep league of solid teams that beat up on each other, nothing more, nothing less.

Lucky 13

Bradley was blatantly underseeded on Selection Sunday, but it was hard to think of the Braves as a possibility for an extended run. Matchups with Kansas and Pittsburgh seemed likely to wear down the runner-up from the Missouri Valley tournament, regardless of how good center Patrick O’Bryant is.

So much for conventional wisdom. The Braves simply picked apart Pittsburgh to advance to the third round for the first time in 51 years.

Bradley is the fourth No. 13 seed to reach the second weekend, joining 1988 Richmond, 1998 Valparaiso and 1999 Oklahoma. None of those teams reached a regional final, but the Braves have a chance against a Memphis squad that has more than lived up to its No. 1 seed.

Patriot games

Maybe there’s a conclave of true believers in the area who penciled George Mason into a trip to Verizon Center, but there couldn’t have been many. The Patriots had done enough to earn an NCAA berth despite Tony Skinn’s one-game suspension, but it seemed a stretch to think they could survive both Michigan State and North Carolina in Dayton.

Instead, George Mason destroyed many a bracket. There were murmurs a week ago the Patriots would have a nifty homecourt advantage if they made it to Fun Street, but they certainly earned it. Up next is a rematch with Wichita State, which lost at home to the Patriots in February. The Shockers are another efficient team that plays well together, though they had a more favorable road (Seton Hall and Tennessee) in the first weekend.

(As an aside, two of the three highly seeded teams obviously built for long runs next year — North Carolina and Kansas — lost to mid-majors. The third is UCLA, which will face Gonzaga, the patron saint of mid-majors, in the next round).

Shooting stars

Patrick O’Bryant dropped 28 points on Pittsburgh to help engineer Bradley’s impressive defeat of the Panthers. The 7-footer’s act has played well in Peoria, especially since the Braves are 13-3 since Jan. 21.

To stay with the theme of effective giants, 7-foot-2 Georgetown center Roy Hibbert helped ensure Georgetown’s first trip to the second weekend since 2001 with 20 points and 14 rebounds. The Hoyas outrebounded Ohio State 37-22.

Mascot madness

It might be some sort of a record that two teams with the same nickname will meet in three consecutive rounds.

First, there was trouble Bruin between Ursa Major (UCLA) and Ursa Minor (Belmont). Then there was yesterday’s Wildcat strike between Villanova and Arizona in Philadelphia.

Coming up late Friday night at Verizon Center: Huskies vs. Huskies as Connecticut and Washington meet.

Loose balls

Memphis is into the second weekend for the first time since 1995. … The four No. 1 seeds advanced to the second weekend. It’s the first time since 1987-89 that has happened in two straight seasons. … Allan Ray scored 25 points in Villanova’s victory over Arizona. Not bad for what some feared might be a one-eyed jack.

Air traffic control

Props to Billy Packer for pointing out late in the Villanova-Arizona broadcast that the Missouri Valley and Colonial Athletic Association combined for three Sweet 16 berths, the same total as the ACC, Big 12 and Big Ten combined. Both he and broadcast partner Jim Nantz poked fun at the firestorm they created during their interview with selection committee chair Craig Littlepage after the brackets were unveiled. However, perhaps in the future both coaches and analysts will be a little more reluctant to rip mid-major teams they never have seen play.

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