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NCAA tournament: Upset potential in Sweet 16

Eddie Murray and the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles' style of play has earned their hometown of Fort Myers the name 'Dunk City.' (Source: FGCU Athletics Department) Eddie Murray and the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles' style of play has earned their hometown of Fort Myers the name 'Dunk City.' (Source: FGCU Athletics Department)
The FGCU Eagles celebrate as the clock expires in the game Sunday versus San Diego State. (Source: FGCU Athletics Department) The FGCU Eagles celebrate as the clock expires in the game Sunday versus San Diego State. (Source: FGCU Athletics Department)

(RNN) –The Sweet 16 usually marks the point where the blue chippers of college basketball separate from the upstarts. There's not much of "the usual" going on this season, though.

The first week of March Madness had several double-digit seeds advancing. A No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 got knocked out in their openers in addition to the more expected upsets found in 5-12 and 6-11 matchups.

The weekend's contests saw a No. 1 go down (Gonzaga) and another come really close (Indiana). It also saw the first time a 15 seed made its way past the round of 32.

But all these "surprises" aren't that surprising. It's the same way the rest of the 2012-2013 campaign went down.

At least 21 times, top-5 squads lost to an unranked opponent. Broken down into seeds, that means a No. 1 got beat by a No. 7 or lower more than once per week.

Two of the remaining top dogs, Kansas and Louisville, both had three-game losing streaks – five of those six combined losses came to teams not ranked at the time.

Even the typically stable No. 1 in the AP Top 25 became a revolving door, with several teams climbing to – then promptly dropping from – the top slot.

So don't be surprised if another favorite gets knocked off in the next two rounds, and a team no one gave a second thought to a couple of weeks ago is cutting down the nets instead.

All times Eastern:

Marquette Golden Eagles (3) vs. Miami Hurricanes (2), 7:15 p.m. Thursday

Milwaukee's best rallied from nine down Thursday to beat Davidson 59-58, winning on a last-second shot by junior Vander Blue. On Saturday, the Golden Eagles rallied from an eight-point deficit at halftime to beat Butler by two and make it to their third straight Sweet 16.

Miami cruised through its initial tourney bout with Pacific on Friday, 78-49, but could get little separation Sunday against Illinois late in the game. Down two with one minute left, point guard Shane Larkin hit a 3-pointer for the game's final lead change, and the Hurricanes won 63-59.

Blue's individual performance has been as good as anyone's to this point, but he should have Durand Scott, the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, shadowing him all game. The ‘Canes cannot rely on Rion Brown, who averaged 6.5 points per game, to have a repeat of his 21-point performance. They need others besides Larkin to find their shooting stroke.

Both teams bring extra large big men to the party, too, and the inside battle could be the difference in the game. Marquette's Davante Gardner (6'8", 290 pounds) and Chris Otule (6'11" 275) will fight for rebounds against Miami's Kenny Kadji (6'11", 242), Julian Gamble (6'10", 250) but not the injured Reggie Johnson (6'10", 292).

Arizona Wildcats (6) vs. Ohio State Buckeyes (2), 7:47 p.m. Thursday

The Cats have been in no danger of getting upset in either of their two games. After taking down Belmont on Thursday, they prevented Harvard from getting anything going on offense and won 74-51. Senior Mark Lyons was the best player on the court both nights, tallying 50 points between the two games.

Ohio State's Aaron Craft made sure the game was in his hands Sunday against Iowa State. After missing free throws and allowing the Cyclones to catch up, the point guard allowed time to tick down to a second before hitting a 3-point shot to win 78-75. Deshaun Thomas, the Buckeyes' leading scorer, has put up 24 and 22 in the two tournament matchups.

Craft, an elite perimeter defender, should be face to face with Lyons most of the time to limit his output. Arizona may lean on its big men to wear down the smaller Buckeyes and find points in the paint.

Arizona's Solomon Hill and Thomas have similar size and offensive playing styles. Both will be asked to step up defensively and on the glass in the matchup of two NBA-caliber talents. 

Oregon Ducks (12) vs. Louisville Cardinals (1), 7:15 p.m. Friday

The Ducks showed everyone, including the NCAA selection committee, how deserving they were of a higher seed. Freshman Damyean Dotson led the Pac 12 champs to a 68-55 victory over No. 5 Oklahoma State on Thursday and followed it up Saturday with a masterful 23-point performance against No. 4 St. Louis in the 74-57 win.

Louisville's signature full-court press defense has been suffocating its opponents, causing turnovers and never allowing opposition to find any rhythm. They forced Colorado State to cough the ball up 19 times on the way to winning 82-56 to make the Sweet 16.

Russ "Russdiculous" Smith emerged as a No. 1 scoring option on a roster that remained almost entirely intact from last year's Final Four team. The junior averages 18.4 points per game and 2.2 steals on defense.

The Ducks have a pair of guys who have run the point this year in Dominic Artis and Johnathan Loyd. Their combined experience may give the Ducks an advantage over most teams in handling the Cardinals' constant on-ball pressure.

Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (15) vs. Florida Gators (3), 10:07 p.m. Friday

FGCU has become the media darling of the Big Dance for two reasons: Their fast-paced, oft-dunking style and their history-making run as a No. 15. Oh, and the head coach is married to a supermodel ... so three things.

Most teams play with a lot of passion, but the sheer joy exuding from the Eagles in their first two games has caught on with fans. And it fueled scoring runs like the 17-0 advantage over San Diego State during 7 1/2 minutes of the second half, leading to the 81-71 win Sunday.

The Gators are a favorite to win the tourney among the number-crunching crowd. They are among the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, or points scored and allowed on a per-possession basis.

With four guys averaging double-digit points, Florida shot a better percentage than all but seven teams this season. That balance carried them through the first two games of the tourney, most recently a 78-64 win over Minnesota that was never in doubt after the first half.

Against Florida Gulf Coast, expect them to keep the tempo slow and try to beat them in the halfcourt. Erik Murphy has scored 15 or more in the two tournament contests and, at 6'10", will have a size advantage on the inside.

The Eagles already showed they can handle a stellar defensive team when they knocked off Georgetown (10th nationally in points allowed). But they had the advantage of being off the radar in the first two games; the Gators have no doubt prepared to counteract the up-and-down-and-up-again approach on offense.

Still, if FGCU stays loose like it was the first week and retains the hot shooting touch, it could dunk its way deeper into the bracket. Not bad for the program's second year of tournament eligibility ... make that four reasons.

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