From 68 to 32 to 16...

3.23.2011

What began as the 68 most worthy collegiate basketball programs in the country, has dwindled to the final sweet 16 left in the fight. The Big East, who many believed the national champion would come out of, started off with 11 of their 18 teams in the Big Dance.

Now?

Two--the University of Connecticut and a surprising Marquette University.

I found out today that Marquette boasts four junior college transfers in their starting lineup. Not your stereotypical tournament team. Their head coach, Buzz Williams, in his third year, is proud to defend his squad’s makeup. Because after all, his roots started with junior college.
“I like guys that have had to ride on 15-passenger vans,” Buzz Williams said on Saturday. 
Teams like Marquette is what March is all about and the catalysts of Cinderella stories.

Teams like Marquette, scare me.

This team plays in the largest conference of the NCAA, which in this case means they play against some of the toughest competition in the country. They are the 11th seed that squeezed by the 3rd seeded Syracuse this past Sunday. If one Big East team was supposed to still be playing, it was not the Golden Eagles.

And they know it.  Roy Williams describes junior college transfers as this,

“...playing with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder that things didn’t go as smoothly as perhaps they wanted to, whether it was the level of offer they got or somebody said, ‘You can’t do that now, you’ve got to go here and do something else first.”
Though this particular Tar Heel squad still has something to prove, they are still the University of North Carolina. Names like Worthy, Wallace, Stackhouse, Carter and Jordan have been stitched on the back of the jerseys. And while one of the most well known NBA guards in Dwayne Wade once donned that blue and gold jersey, the Tar Heels are expected to be a post season contender.

But as I've said before...this is March. And anything can happen.

The games against Long Island University and the University of Washington proved to be a challenge for this youthful Carolina team. They have mastered the art of late game rallies and clutch shots. Decisions made the first 35 minutes may often times be more than questionable, but when that game clock hits the five minute mark, something shifts inside of the guys wearing light blue jerseys. Though this is clearly not the manner in which the guys in the suits on the sidelines expect or desire to get the victory, they're still playing.
"I'm not pleased with the way we played," {Roy} Williams said, "but I'm pleased we're still playing."
 Though called the "Sweet 16", defeat never is. And whether it's the unexpected Juco filled team from the Big East or the young, late hitting one from the ACC, someone will not be there Sunday as one of the elite. And when the last buzzer sounds throughout the Prudential Center of Newark, NJ, the nation will have its answer.  This will be a game of heart, desire, intensity and attitude. All things these Tar Heels have lacked at some point this season. Friday night they will have to prove to themselves that they are worthy of being one of the elite and just how tough they can be.

Let the games begin.

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