After all the parity and punditry that has been satellite-dished out this season, it's a welcome confirmation of the college game's singular appeal that the NCAA basketball tournament should still startle, stun and otherwise surprise.
Yes, all four No. 1 seeds—Nevada-Las Vegas in the West, North Carolina in the East, Indiana in the Midwest and Georgetown in the Southeast—advanced to the regionals last week. But as we saw the field reduced from 64 teams to 16, who among us knew there was an outstanding center squirreled away in the Rockies? That the Association of Mid-Continent Universities (AMCU-8) would send forth another team that would upset a major-conference power? That a variation of a wonderful early '70s cheer—"The Fly is open! Let's go Peay!"—would be unzipped and put to use in a couple of unrelated ways?
And how many really knew that Fennis Dembo, a consensus All-Namer three years running, could actually play? That Dale Brown, LSU's maven of the Freak defense, could really coach? And that Dallas Comegys could do both at the same time?
Fess up, now. You had no idea. Nor did you guess there would be six 100-point games after only two rounds, an NCAA record. That the five teams from the Big East, supposedly mired in a down year, would win their first eight games and come close to taking all 10 of their first- and second-rounders. That there was any way a 6'8", 260-pounder would launch 13 three-pointers in a single game, let alone make five of them, let alone have his coach countenance it all without protest.
The hoops seismologists will tell you that this year's first- and second-round upsets weren't quite as tremulous as last season's, but there were several nonetheless. To measure them, we might make use of something we'll call the Leckner Scale, after Eric Leckner, the hitherto unknown center for the Wyoming Cowboys, who lassoed favored Virginia and UCLA in the West Region. It's really quite simple: The size of an upset is measured by the disparity between the respective seedings of upsetter and upsettee.
For instance, when Austin Peay State, No. 14 in the Southeast, shocked Illinois, a third seed, it registered an 11 on the Leckner Scale. By defeating Clemson, the No. 4 team in the same region, No. 13 Southwest Missouri State of the AMCU-8 got a 9 on the Leckner, just as Xavier did in xapping Mixxouri in the Midwest. Brown's LSU Tigers recorded an 8 by beating Temple, the Midwest's No. 2 and the highest seed to fall. And when Leckner and Dembo's No. 12 Cowboys knocked off the Cavaliers (No. 5) and Uclans (No. 4) out West, the needle hit 7 and 8, respectively.
Yet more participants were upset by the logistics of the NCAA's new drug-testing program, which called for the seven players on the winning team with the most regular-season playing time, plus one reserve chosen at random, to undergo urinalysis after the team's first-round game.
The reality of drug testing was more Kafkaesque. Countless players were detained for hours after games, while they tried to overcome dehydration and produce specimens. Others, in legitimate need of medication, feared taking it, lest they test positive for a banned substance. Florida coach Norm Sloan went so far as to move his Gators from their Syracuse hotel, fearing his players might test positive because of passive marijuana smoke from another room. "The road to New Orleans," observed Missouri center Gary Leonard, "starts in the bathroom."
Favorites ran into their biggest problems in this region, where Austin Peay's improbable win over Illinois obliged Dick Vitale to make good on a promise to—freeze it!—stand on his head, and Southwest Missouri State proved that six juco transfers and a point-on-the-compass name do not necessarily an outlaw band make. Seriously, folks: Do names like Winston Garland, Basil Robinson and Kelby Stuckey belong in a lineup or in liner notes on a Simon and Garfunkel album? Clemson must have been unsure, at least until after Southwest Missouri's pressure man-to-man, the nation's stingiest, held the Tigers 27 points below their average and kept the ball from ACC Player of the Year Horace Grant, who didn't score a field goal in the second half. Meanwhile, the patient Bears from Kathleen Turner's old school had no problems finding Garland, their splendid guard, who scored 24 in a 65-60 win.