The road to the Sweet 16 varies from one region of the NCAA Tournament bracket to the next, but one constant between all games played in the first two rounds is that anything can happen.
The Frank Erwin Center was one of four regional sites for the first two rounds of tournament action and served as the backdrop for six games that would decide two of the Sweet 16 members.
There weren’t any crazy upsets by a 15-seed over a heavily favored No. 2 seed, or any games marred by a controversial call with time winding down, however there were still plenty of chances for fans inside the Erwin Center to get their fix of March Madness.
Friday was a long day filled with several tantalizing matchups and 16 games that were played in Dayton, Ohio, Philadelphia, Pa., Kansas City, Mo. and Austin. While other sites experienced mid-majors taking down established powerhouse schools, buzzer beaters and come-from-behind wins, Austin’s first round of the 64 games were much more subdued.
No. 2 seed Miami made quick work of a tired Pacific team and held the 15-seed Tigers to their lowest offensive output of the season. The Hurricanes made a tournament-high 12 three-pointers and dealt long time Pacific head coach Bob Thomason a loss in his final game at the helm for the Tigers. A graduate of Pacific in 1972 who has spent the last 41 years coaching, Thomason earned a school record 414 wins in 25 years with the Tigers. Oddly enough, the last time the Hurricanes made it to the tournament in 2008 they were eliminated in the second round 75-72 by Texas.
Seventh-seeded Illinois nearly blew a 16-point halftime lead against 10-seed Colorado, but would grind out a 57-49 win to advance to play Miami on Sunday night.
No. 3 Florida flirted with the idea of letting the nation’s highest scoring team, 14-seed Northwestern State, hang around for an upset bid but quickly muffled the small contingent of Demon fans who made the trip from Natchitoches, La. and dominated in a 79-49 win.
In Friday’s last game 11-seed Minnesota knocked out sixth-seeded UCLA in an 83-63 win. Although Bruins head coach Ben Howland declined to comment on rumors about his imminent firing after the game, by Sunday night his termination was all but official. The Bruins had not made it past the NCAA second round since 2008 under Howland, who was let go after ten years with the program.
Minnesota head coach Tubby Smith expressed intrigue in playing former SEC foe Billy Donovan for the first time in six years, but the Gophers would bow out Sunday as Florida cruised to a 78-64 win to advance to its third consecutive Sweet 16. Mike Rosario scored 25 against the Gophers and is the Gators’ leading scorer through two tournament games with 33 total points. The Gators will play the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles, the first 15-seed to make it to the Sweet 16, Friday at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.
The sixth and final game on Sunday night featured Illinois up against Miami, who looked every bit deserving of its No. 2 seed until the Illini fought back and began alternating leads with the Hurricanes late in the game. Junior guard Rion Brown made 5-of-10 three point shots and is shooting 8-of-13 from three in his first two tournament games. Through eight lead changes the Hurricanes held on and will advance to the Sweet 16 to play Marquette at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. on Thursday.
After the dust settled, the two top-seeded teams playing in Austin advanced to their respective Sweet 16 and Elite Eight sites. With the surprise appearance of Florida Gulf Coast there are three teams from the state of Florida in the Sweet 16 for the first time in NCAA Tournament history. Miami and Florida may not have blown the socks off anyone watching, but their ability to pull out two tough wins apiece reinforces why they were rewarded for solid regular seasons with high seeds in the tournament. Both teams have the same goal of winning a national title, and they could clash in the Final Four if they remain hot.
Published on March 25, 2013 as "Florida, Miami join Sweet 16".