BURLISON: Frank on Friday

A couple of seismic upsets usher Kansas and Syracuse out of the tournament, and Frank Burlison offers why Duke is a prime beneficiary.


Well, I suppose it means that we no longer have a potential Kansas-North Carolina matchup to eagerly anticipate and for Tar Heels’ coach Roy Williams to fret over.

As for probable obstacles on the road to St. Louis for Duke, the No. 1 seed in the Austin region, well, you can scratch the Syracuse Orange off that list.

All in all Friday night, the last eight of the 32 first-round games played produced perhaps the most stunning single session of NCAA tournament play in many a year.

And to think, we were all abuzz over a five seed (Alabama, 83-73 to Wisconsin-Milwaukee) and a six seed (LSU, 82-66, courtesy Alabama-Birmingham) being handed their NCAA exit papers Thursday ...

No. 13 seed Vermont beating Syracuse in overtime (60-57) or Kansas losing to a 14th-seeded Bucknell (64-63), taken individually, would have jolted us Friday night.

Taken in tandem, though, they knocked us for the proverbial loop.

They couldn’t have done much for the respective equilibrium of Orange Coach Jim Boeheim and his Kansas counterpart, Bill Self, either.

So, where do the early departures of two of the five or six teams universally conceded as having the best opportunities of cutting down nets in St. Louis on the late evening of April 4 leave the now 32-team field?

The Orange, despite their No. 4 seed, were considered the Blue Devils’ most viable opposition in the Austin region, in large part because the team still had four key parts (forward Hakim Warrick, center Craig Forth, swingman Josh Pace and guard Gerry McNamara) from the squad that won the national title two years ago and captured the Big East Conference tournament in New York City last week.

And Kansas was the team that was rated No. 2 behind Illinois for much of the season.

Lost in the aftershock of the Vermont and Bucknell victories were victories by Big Ten Conference teams Michigan State (89-81 over Old Dominion) and Wisconsin (57-52 over Northern Iowa), who held off, respectively, No.’s 12 and 11 seeds Friday.

So now it’s the Spartans’ and Badgers’ turns to take on Vermont and Bucknell – which, without question, are now the official “darlings” of the tournament field – Sunday in second round games.

And we will get the Sunday Round II game of Georgia Tech vs. Louisville in Nashville that has been eagerly anticipated since the moment the brackets were unveiled on CBS.

Both withstood spirited upset attempts Friday night in Nashville, by George Washington and Louisiana-Lafayette.

And the mother of all first-round upsets – a No. 16 over a No. 1, which has never happened – was brewing in Charlotte when Delaware State stood in a 28-all tie late in the first half of its game with Duke.

The Blue Devils came back and brought a sense of normalcy back to the proceedings by pulling out to a 20-point advantage in the second half before ultimately prevailing, 57-46.

That might have been the top story of the night but a couple of unlikely sources – Vermont and Bucknell teams that none of truly envisioned would still be practicing Saturday – changed all of that in very abrupt fashion.

Recently elected to the USBWA Hall of Fame, Frank Burlison is Scout.com's National Basketball Expert and also covers college basketball for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at frank.burlison@presstelegram.com.

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