Pack Looks To Upset Georgia Tech

By  | 

Almost every year, a 10th-seeded team unexpectedly barges into the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.

Auburn did it last year, Kent State in 2002, Georgetown in 2001, and Seton Hall and Gonzaga in 2000. Three teams, including Gonzaga, advanced in 1999.

Make way for Nevada this time around.

The Wolf Pack are the latest team to prove parity isn't just a buzz word for the tournament. Nevada knocked off Michigan State in the first round and followed with a 91-72 victory over second-seeded Gonzaga.

Now, the Wolf Pack (25-8) have made it to the round of 16 and will play third-seeded Georgia Tech on Friday night. Nevada, the lowest-seeded team left in the tournament, is eager to prove it's not just the latest No. 10 wonder.

Only Kent State, Gonzaga in 1999 and Providence in 1997 made it into the regional finals.

``Sweet 16, Elite Eight, WAC champs -- we tried to treat everybody the same,'' Wolf Pack coach Trent Johnson said Thursday. ``Have a lot of respect, but play with a level of confidence. And yes, a level of arrogance. Respect our opponent, show class and go on from there.''

Fourth-seeded Kansas plays another upstart in ninth-seeded Alabama-Birmingham in the other game.

Georgia Tech (25-9) acknowledged that it doesn't know much about the Western Athletic Conference tournament champs, but promises not to be swayed by Nevada's underdog status.

``I don't think seeding really matters a lot,'' Georgia Tech guard B.J. Elder said. ``You've seen a lot of top teams get knocked off. Everyone's really going to come out and come at you hard no matter what the seeding is.''

The Wolf Pack created a little national buzz with their closer-than-expected 14-point loss at then-No. 1 Connecticut in November and a 14-point win over then-No. 6 Kansas a month later.

That was all but forgotten by most when the brackets were announced, despite Nevada winning 11 of its last 12.

Well, except for a few people.

``I'm not surprised at all,'' Kansas coach Bill Self said. ``We saw them firsthand. You know, when we played Nevada, we had no idea at that time they were a Sweet 16 team. ... They're as good as anybody.''

So is Georgia Tech.

The Yellow Jackets won their first 12 games -- the best start in school history -- including a victory over then-No. 1 Connecticut in the preseason NIT. Georgia Tech then lost its next two, but rebounded later in the season with its first sweep of Maryland in 11 years, two wins in three games against North Carolina and a road win at then-No. 3 Duke.

Georgia Tech advanced to the St. Louis Regional semifinal by beating Northern Iowa and Boston College in the first two rounds.

Now, the Yellow Jackets are the highest-seeded team left in the regional and the odds-on favorite to advance to San Antonio for the Final Four.

``We just maintained our confidence and said each and every night: we're going to try to go out there and do our best,'' guard Marvin Lewis said. ``I think now, we're just really starting to jell at the right time.''

Another team coming together at the right time is UAB (22-9), in the final 16 for the first time since 1982, facing fourth-seeded Kansas (23-8) in the semifinals.

It would be easy to mistake the Blazers for just another underdog. But anyone who underestimates them could soon find themselves roadkill, plowed under their ``40 Minutes of Hell'' defense.

Look at Kentucky. The Wildcats were the top seed in the tournament, looking to win their eighth NCAA title. Now they're at home, beaten by Mo Finley's game-winning jumper with 12 seconds left last weekend.

``Personally, I felt that we were just as good as everybody else,'' Finley said. ``We have put the work in to be successful. The bottom line is, once the tournament starts, you have to play the game. It isn't about what's on the jersey, but it is about your effort.''

The Jayhawks promise to not overlook the surging Blazers.

``UAB is as good as anybody,'' Self said. ``It does not shock me that they beat Kentucky.''