True underdogs mix with pedigreed types in wide-open NCAA tournament

West Regional teams to play at Staples Center include mostly expected (Ohio State, Arizona) and very unexpected (Wichita State, La Salle). Then there's Florida Gulf Coast, the first No. 15 to make Sweet 16.

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My dream of a West Regional foursome of Wichita State, La Salle, Harvard and Iowa State came only half true.

Los Angeles fell two underdogs short from hitting for the Cinderella cycle.

The disappointment abated when, in Philadelphia, the hallucination that was Florida Gulf Coast University lived into Sunday evening.

More than Coach K calling a timeout, or Kansas Coach Bill Self's perfectly coiffed hair, these are the story lines that make the NCAA tournament the best reality show on television.

FGCU is not an eye-examination test — it is one of 16 schools left in an NCAA tournament that started with 68 on Tuesday.

The Eagles defeated San Diego State to become the first 15th-seeded school to make the Sweet 16.

That earned Florida Gulf Coast a South Regional pairing Friday against powerhouse Florida.

"We're doing something special out there," Florida Gulf Coast guard Sherwood Brown said. "We've been told that this is what college basketball is about."

Locally, we could have had Shockers, Explorers, Crimson and Cyclones under one roof at Staples Center. Laws would have needed to be enacted to curtail the paparazzi.

The aggregate seeding number of Wichita, La Salle, Harvard and Iowa State would have been a staggering 46.

But, alas, No.6 Arizona sent No.14 Harvard back to its yard Saturday night in Salt Lake City.

And Sunday, a botched official's call in Dayton helped derail No.10 Iowa State's upset chances against No.2 Ohio State.

An Iowa State victory would have left the West Regional bracket in tatters without its top-five seeded schools.

This possibly could have led to picking next year's NCAA tournament out of a hat, which might have more sense this year than a selection committee.

Purists probably rejoiced when Aaron Craft's last second three-pointer lifted Ohio State to its victory.

I had looked forward to reading the "Farmers' Almanac" with fine folks from Ames.

The West ended up providing something for everyone. You get half a bracket of basketball pedigree — Ohio State vs. Arizona — and a manager's underdog special with No. 9 Wichita State vs. No. 13 La Salle.

The West Regional perfectly represents the wide-openness of this year's tournament.

A No. 16 did not pull off the seminal upset, falling to 0-116 in the overall series, although Southern came very close against Gonzaga.

Florida Gulf Coast's story from the No. 15 line in the South, however, is just as compelling.

The Eagles were the runaway rock stars of the first weekend and are a couple of more upsets from being the sports story of the year.

The hoopla hit Friday when the school founded in 1997 stunned Georgetown, the school founded in 1789.

That game produced the can't-be-topped highlight of the tournament, Brett Comer's alley-oop dunk to Chase Fieler.

The final score sent people racing to Google to research a school many thought had to be an online college.

The Eagles turned out to be real, coached by Andy Enfield, who married a Victoria's Secret model and ventured into coaching after making millions of dollars on Wall Street.

Florida Gulf Coast followed up Friday with Sunday's win over San Diego State.

This is only the school's second year of tournament eligibility. The Eagles defeated Miami this year but didn't even win the Atlantic Sun Conference (Mercer did).

FGCU also lost twice to Lipscomb, which finished 12-18.

"We're just playing high-intensity basketball, just trying to prove we're as good as any high major team," FGCU guard Bernard Thompson said.

So the regional finals are set:

West: Ohio State vs. Arizona; Wichita State vs. La Salle

South: Kansas vs. Michigan; Florida vs. Florida Gulf Coast

Kansas beat North Carolina to advance, the third time the Jayhawks have defeated former coach Roy Williams in the tournament since 2007.

East: Indiana vs. Syracuse; Marquette vs. Miami

Top-seeded Indiana needed a three-pointer by star Victor Oladipo with 14 seconds left to secure a four-point win over Temple.

Miami's win put three Florida schools in the Sweet 16 for the first time.

Midwest: Louisville vs. Oregon; Michigan State vs. Duke.

Oregon proved the selection committee made a huge mistake by giving the Ducks a No. 12 seeding despite winning the Pac 12 tournament. Oregon followed a 13-point win over No. 5 Oklahoma State with a 17-point drubbing of No. 4 St. Louis.

The Big Ten led all leagues with four Sweet 16 teams. It has one team in each region with the hopes of making this an all-Big Ten Final Four.

The Big East has three schools in the final 16, and the ACC and Pac 12 each advanced two teams.

The refreshing news is three non-major conferences are involved: Missouri Valley, Atlantic 10 and Atlantic Sun.

Three of the four top seeded schools are still playing: Louisville, Kansas and Indiana. Gonzaga, No.1 in the West, was ousted by Wichita State.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com
 

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