Exceeding their seeding: Cinderellas having a ball

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Norfolk State's Kyle O'Quinn (10) and Brandon Wheeless, Norfolk State's Kyle O'Quinn (10) and Brandon Wheeless, right, celebrate after defeating Missouri 86-84. (March 16, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

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John Jeansonne Newsday columnist John Jeansonne.

Jeansonne has been a reporter in Newsday’s sports department since 1970 and has covered 11 Olympic Games and

COLUMBUS, Ohio

For those college basketball fans (and probably some coaches and players) who long have believed that the NCAA Tournament selection committee is peopled by guys wearing tinfoil hats and propeller beanies, Sunday's lineup of games offers ammunition. Eight of the 16 teams in action advanced by defeating -- upsetting? -- higher seeds on Friday.

This is becoming an annual rite, of course, though No. 15 Norfolk State's elimination of No. 2 Missouri in the West Regional and No. 15 Lehigh's shocker against No. 2 Duke in the South Regional were especially dramatic. Or were they?

Could it be that carrying a low seed has come to act as a talent camouflage? That No. 13 Ohio was cast as unlikely to knock off No. 4 Michigan simply based on the teams' "mid-major," "power conference" labels? That No. 11 Colorado was seen as inferior to No. 6 UNLV only because of UNLV's demonstrably better tournament history (a 33-17 won-lost record and one national title compared to Colorado's 9-12)?

"You're foolish if you go into the tournament and look at the numbers behind the names and assume that, just because of that number, one is significantly better than the other," Georgetown coach John Thompson III said.

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"With parity across the board in college basketball, whether it be high major, midmajor, low major, what's that mean?"

As a No. 3 seed, of course, Thompson wants his players thinking respectful thoughts about their game against No. 11 North Carolina State here Sunday.

"You look at the upsets," said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, already worried about playing No. 9 Saint Louis Sunday, "and I don't know if there are a lot of upsets anymore, the way college basketball is."

N.C. State junior forward Richard Howell confessed to "not knowing who Norfolk State was, but they definitely showed they belonged in the tournament with teams like us and teams like Missouri."

Players and coaches are every bit as tuned into The Big Dance as fans are, "and when outcomes like happen," Saint Louis guard Kwamain Mitchell said, "it gives other teams hope and confidence that any team could beat anybody."

Thompson made the point that several so-called mid-major basketball operations "have better facilities than the high majors," raising their recruiting clout. Saint Louis has improved its profile and competitive level by hiring formidable veteran coach Rick Majerus and building a new on-campus arena through the considerable largesse of moneyed graduates.

"There are so many good mid-majors our there," Saint Louis senior forward Brian Conklin said. "Players are realizing they can go to those schools and compete with the big schools.

"I loved watching Butler and VCU over the years, and having played VCU my sophomore year and seen what they did last year, that was really special."

Thompson cited the fact that those programs just below the North Carolina/Kansas/Kentucky level, while not as able to recruit NBA-ready talent, conversely rarely tend to lose players to the pros early -- and benefit from having mature, battle-tested juniors and seniors.

So given how coaches -- especially coaches of top-seeded teams -- increasingly dismiss seeding numbers as meaningless, might March have just as much Madness if seeding were eliminated entirely?

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Or, at the least, that a maximum of four seeds were assigned within each 16-team regional, just to ensure that the likes of Kentucky and Syracuse, for instance, didn't meet in the first round?

"Well," Majerus said, "it certainly would be different then," and launched into a criticism of how the Indiana state high school tournament was the "greatest in America . . . then they got a committee together, which is the same thing that put together the camel."

An NCAA Tournament without seeds?

Majerus considered the possibility for a moment. "The more I think about it," he said, "the more I don't like it."

So: Just keep riding this NCAA camel.

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