ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — With Florida State, Florida, Virginia and Maryland playing in the same venue, the Amway Center has the potential to become Upset Central in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday.
All of those higher seeds stumbled down the stretch and have enough flaws that professional and amateur bracketologists across the country have them on upset alert.
“Listen, the way college basketball is now, we always talk about the parity,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said Wednesday. “Every year it shrinks. You’ve got to be ready. … It’s reality when you’re playing this tournament. It really is.”
Only once since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985 have all four higher seeds in the same arena lost in the first round. It took place about 90 miles west in Tampa in 2008.
So there’s precedent. And the third-seeded Seminoles (25-8), fourth-seeded Gators (24-8), fifth-seeded Cavaliers (22-10) and sixth-seeded Terrapins (24-8) should be concerned.
Florida State has gone 7-6 since winning 14 of 15 in the middle of the season. Florida is 3-3 without center John Egbunu, who tore a knee ligament last month, and has failed to find the best way to play without the 6-foot-11 junior.
Virginia has some big wins on its resume, including North Carolina, Notre Dame and Louisville twice, but Bennett’s team enters the tournament having dropped six of its last 11. Maryland has been even worse, losing six of its last 10.
Not coincidentally, all four have been popular picks to get upset.
“I think it’s definitely a part of the fun,” Florida coach Mike White said. “I think it’s one of the things that makes this tournament so special and March Madness such an exciting event is that every game is huge. You win or you go home. People love to see upsets, of course, and upsets happen a bunch. There are a lot of really, really good mid-major teams.”
The Seminoles play Florida Gulf Coast (26-7), who is in the tournament for the third time in five years. FGCU is best known for its “Dunk City” run to the Sweet Sixteen in 2013. The Eagles also went to the NCAAs last season, winning a First Four game before falling to eventual national finalist North Carolina.
Now, they get a shot at FSU in the West Region.
“I feel like now it’s a new season,” Seminoles standout Dwayne Bacon said. “There’s a lot of teams that we haven’t played. All they have is the film. They haven’t really played against us, and how our tempo is and what we can do. They haven’t really seen us in person.”
Coach Leonard Hamilton seemed to take exception to a question about Gulf Coast having a “mystique” about them.
“There’s nothing mysterious about them at all,” Hamilton said. “They’re a good basketball team. They have proven that they deserve a similar respect. … Sure, I’ve heard one or two guys make statements on the television predicting upsets for all over the country. That’s kind of what they do. You’re on TV, you got to make yourself interesting. You say things sometimes that maybe you just want to create the conversation we’re having here by making certain statements.
“It doesn’t really matter. When the ball is thrown up, then that’s when you figure out what you’re capable of doing. That’s really the only thing we’re concerned with. … We’re not going to allow ourselves to get caught up in all the other conversations.”
The Gators, who play East Tennessee State (27-7) in the East Region, are still steaming after being called out during the NCAA selection show. One prominent announcer called ETSU over Florida his first upset pick.
“Yeah, we heard it,” senior guard Canyon Barry said. “Kind of fuel, motivation.”
The Gators have lost three of four and enter the tournament looking more vulnerable to an early exit than capable of making a deep run.
“Our focus needs to be on East Tennessee State and the game plan much more so than we’re going to prove everyone wrong and not get upset,” White said. “In fact, we were favored in our last game and didn’t take care of business.”
Virginia’s defense gives it a chance to win almost every game, but the team’s lackluster offense makes it susceptible against 12th-seeded UNC Wilmington. And the 5-12 match-up has been prime for upsets in recent years, with half the lower seeds prevailing in the last five years.
“Obviously, when you get on the floor, seeds don’t come into play,” Cavs guard London Perrantes said. “Just two teams looking to advance.”
Maryland is looking to advance against 11th-seeded Xavier (21-13), arguably the most favorable matchup for a higher seed in Orlando. The Musketeers are without second-leading scorer Edmond Sumner and have lost seven of 10.
“People really only remember how you finish,” Xavier forward RaShid Gaston said. “They don’t care what happens in the regular season.”
The top four seeds in Orlando are counting on it.
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