Monday, March 24, 2003

Big East has sweet record heading to round of 16

By Jim O'Connell
The Associated Press

Minutes after Syracuse's victory over Oklahoma State, Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese held an impromptu news conference just off the court at the FleetCenter.

He was smiling - all four of his league's teams in the NCAA tournament had advanced to the round of 16 - and honest.

"Our kids are playing with a chip on their shoulders without anyone saying anything to them because they felt our league was slighted," he said. "And what these teams have done doesn't change the fact we only got four in."

Big East people spent the days leading up to the tournament maintaining that definitely a fifth team, Boston College, and maybe a sixth, Seton Hall, deserved to be in the field of 65.

They will just have to settle for having one-fourth of the Sweet 16, with one team in each region.

"We think we're one of the best conferences in the country," Pittsburgh's Ontario Lett said. "We want the Final Four to be like the Big East tournament."

It almost was in 1985 when three Big East teams reached the national semifinals after four had been in the round of 16.

The only other conference to go 4-for-4 in teams reaching the regional semifinals was the Big Ten in 1980 and two of them reached the Final Four.

Syracuse beat Oklahoma State 68-56 on Sunday and Pittsburgh beat Indiana 74-52 to complete the Big East sweep. Connecticut and Notre Dame advanced on Saturday with wins over Stanford and Illinois.

The Big 12 had three of its six teams reach the third round, while the Southeastern Conference, Atlantic Coast Conference and Big Ten will have two each.

All but one of the 16 seeded teams reached the second round - fourth-seeded Dayton lost to Tulsa in the first round. Only nine of the 15 made it through to the second weekend with the No. 4 seeds all gone.

The Midwest and West will have Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 5 in the regional semifinals, while the East will have Nos. 1 and 3 joined by Nos. 10 (Auburn) and 12 (Butler).

The South has only top-seeded Texas left along with Nos. 5 (Connecticut), 6 (Maryland) and 7 (Michigan State). That means three of the last four national champions are in that regional semifinal.

Sunday's biggest upset was No. 13 Butler knocking off fourth-seeded Louisville 79-71, while not far behind was No. 10 Auburn beating No. 2 Wake Forest 68-62.

Michigan State also dispatched a No. 2 seed, beating Florida 68-46, the Gators' fourth loss in five games.

Butler and Auburn were two of the five double-digit seeds to reach the second round. Their chances to move along in the tournament now drop decidedly as only four of the 21 that reached the round of 16 over the last five years went to the regional final, including Kent State and Missouri last year.

"It means a great deal," Butler coach Todd Lickliter said of his team's accomplishment. "There was so much on the line and it's such a huge challenge."

Butler, which was left out of last year's NCAA field despite a 25-5 record, was 14-of-22 from 3-point range, including 9-of-13 in the second half.

Darnell Archey, the man known for his free throw shooting, was 8-of-9 on 3-pointers and made all six he took in the second half. He matched his career high with 26 points.

"I was in the zone. I felt like Michael Jordan in '92 against the Blazers," said Archey, who set the NCAA record this season by making 85 consecutive free throws. "My teammates just kept getting the ball to me with wide-open looks."

The loss ended a season that saw Louisville climb to No. 2 in the country under second-year coach Rick Pitino.

"Obviously, if you don't win a championship, you're going to end on a low note," said Pitino, who had won 12 of his last 13 NCAA tournament games. "To me, this is not a low note because of what our team has accomplished this year. And I'm not too disappointed, because Butler is a great team."

In other games Sunday, Maryland beat Xavier 77-64, Texas downed Purdue 77-67 and Kentucky defeated Utah 74-54.


Jim O'Connell has covered college basketball for The Associated Press since 1987. He was presented the Curt Gowdy Media Award by the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002.

NCAA Four of 16 Conferences

By The Associated Press

Conferences that have accounted for four of the Sweet 16 since the NCAA tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1985 (x-reached Final Four; y-won national championship:

1985 - ACC (Georgia Tech, Maryland, North Carolina, North Carolina State); Big East (Boston College, x-Georgetown, x-St. John's, y-Villanova)

1986 - ACC (x-Duke, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, North Carolina State); SEC (Alabama, Auburn, Kentucky, x-LSU)

1989 - ACC (x-Duke, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Virginia); Big Ten (x-Illinois, Indiana, y-Michigan, Minnesota)

1990 - ACC (Clemson, x-Duke, x-Georgia Tech, North Carolina)

1992 - ACC (y-Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, North Carolina)

1993 - ACC (Florida State, y-North Carolina, Virginia, Wake Forest)

1995 - ACC (Maryland, x-North Carolina, Virginia, Wake Forest)

1996 - SEC (Arkansas, Georgia, y-Kentucky, x-Mississippi State)

1997 - Pac-10 (y-Arizona, California, Stanford, UCLA)

1998 - Pac-10 (Arizona, x-Stanford, UCLA, Washington)

1999 - Big Ten (Iowa, x-Michigan State, x-Ohio State, Purdue)

2001 - Pac-10 (Arizona, Southern Cal, Stanford, UCLA)

2002 - Big 12 (x-Kansas, Missouri, x-Oklahoma, Texas)

2003 - Big East (Connecticut, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Syracuse)

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East: Butler breaks through, downs Louisville
Midwest: Pitt's defense sends Indiana home
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Four No. 1s advance
Big East has sweet record heading to round of 16
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