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Tampa is NCAA Tournament's dream factory after a day of upsets

Fans tell the tale of Friday night’s NCAA Tournament games in Tampa during Villanova’s upset of Clemson.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Fans tell the tale of Friday night’s NCAA Tournament games in Tampa during Villanova’s upset of Clemson.

TAMPA — The joint is quiet now. The carcasses of fallen giants have been carted away, and the shards of shattered egos of the brand names have been swept up. All that remains is the sound of a basketball bouncing in the distance.

Welcome to Upset City.

Check your glass slippers at the door, won't you?

Here in Tampa, the meek have inherited the earth largely because, as it turns out, the meek are dynamite 3-point shooters. We have Rocky to the left of us and Rudy to the right. We have Vince Papale over here and Jim Corbett over there. We have underdogs and overachievers, Bad News Bears and Mighty Ducks.

Also, we have the wackiest basketball site that the NCAA Tournament has ever seen.

And isn't it fun?

We have become the place for dreamers, and the St. Pete Times Forum has become the arena of dancers. We are the party hosts for Hilltoppers and Toreros and Saints and Wildcats (no, not those). We are the place where a pair of No.  12 seeds would be the talk of college basketball, if not for the No.  13s that stand in their way.

We are Sparta.

We are the Alamo.

We are Prince Charming's Castle, and the next dance goes out for all the scullery maids in attendance.

Think about this: With two Sweet 16 berths on the line, No.  12 Villanova will play No.  13 Siena and No.  12 Western Kentucky will play No.  13 San Diego.

Remember all of those critics who want to blow up the tournament system so other teams can get in? These are the type of schools they would leave out.

Well, oops. One round in, and the seed numbers add up to 50. Not even March is used to this kind of madness.

True, much of the charm of the NCAA basketball tournament is the occasional delight of watching one of the little guys knock off one of the power programs that has all of the advantages. Usually, that happens once, and every now and again twice, at a site.

But four times in a day?

Two-time national champion UConn? Gone. Story of the year Drake? Gone. SEC representative Vanderbilt? Gone. ACC representative Clemson? Gone. Villanova coach Jay Wright referred to it as "the Tampa Turmoil." That describes it as well as anything.

After Friday, the NCAA Selection Committee should just throw up its hands and abolish seeds. It should simply pair teams by picking their pingpong balls out of a hopper as if they were conducting a lottery. Wouldn't that be as trustworthy?

How does this happen? It happens because we tend to think too much of name programs and not enough of others. It happens because great 3-point shooting can be an equalizer. It happens because the powerhouses are more likely to lose players to the NBA early. It happens because of scholarship limitations.

More and more, it happens because, really, the players of the mid-major schools aren't that impressed by the names on their opponents' shirts.

Put it this way: If anyone picked these four results out of these four games, they either know everything there is about college basketball, or they know nothing at all.

"Maybe someone could have picked them if they had relatives on the teams," Western Kentucky's Courtney Lee said. "Or if they were a psychic."

Most of us love underdogs, of course. Otherwise, Hollywood wouldn't keep spitting out movies about them. But how are you supposed to separate one overachiever from another? Perhaps by the way the underdogs view underdogs.

Think of Western Kentucky as Rudy. I asked three players their favorite movie about an underdog Saturday. Tyrone Brazelton and Ty Rogers both picked Rudy. Lee picked 300.

Think of San Diego as Glory Road. De'Jon Jackson, Brandon Johnson and Gyno Pomare all picked Glory Road. No Hoosiers? "I've never seen Hoosiers," said Pomare, which may be the biggest upset of the tournament. A college player hasn't seen Hoosiers?

Think of Villanova as Coach Carter. Both Dante Cunningham and Dwayne Anderson picked Coach Carter. Scottie Reynolds picked Hoosiers. Gee. A team from Philly didn't pick Rocky?

Think of Siena as, well, diverse. Ronald Moore picked Hoosiers. Kenny Hasbrouck picked The Replacements. And Tay Fisher? He picked Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.

"You've got to see it," Fisher said.

So Siena is Macaulay Culkin. Oh.

Today, they crank it up again, four dreamers fighting over the same pumpkin.

After this weekend, who is to decide who are the underdogs and who are the favorites?

That's the beauty of it. It doesn't matter.

With the NCAA Tournament, perhaps it never should.

Tampa is NCAA Tournament's dream factory after a day of upsets 03/22/08 [Last modified: Sunday, March 23, 2008 9:39pm]
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