That’s what the Norfolk bracket of the NCAA Tournament turned into earlier this week when a No. 12 seed and a No. 6 seed snuck through the second round of play to reach the Sweet 16.
Who says the women’s bracket plays to form all the time?
Sure, for decades the seeds have held up when it came time for the Women’s NCAA Tournament. But suddenly, the Ted Constant Convocation Center is The Pod of Surprise.
When the tournament began, Norfolk was expected to be the destination of Notre Dame, Duke, Texas A&M and South Carolina. But for two of those teams a funny thing happened on the way to Norfolk.
Texas A&M ran into pesky sixth seed Nebraska and fell 74-63. That was hardly the big surprise of the early rounds, however. The BIG SURPRISE belonged to Kansas, which snuck into the tournament despite limping through the Big 12 this season with an 8-10 conference record.
Rock Chalk Jay Hawk didn’t care that they were sent to Boulder, Colo., where the Colorado Buffaloes were sporting a No. 5 seed and home-court advantage. Kansas dispatched the home team 67-52, which was a precursor to what would be a 75-69 victory over No. 4 seed South Carolina Monday night.
Kansas beat the Gamecocks behind a 27-point performance by Monica Engleman to become just the second No. 12 seed to reach the Sweet 16. And unless your name is Mel Greenberg, originator of the women’s AP Top 25 poll, chances are you can’t name the other No. 12 to reach the Sweet 16 (it was San Francisco in 1996).
It was almost more extreme than that. Duke trailed Oklahoma State by 13 points at the half Tuesday before putting Humpty Dumpty back together again and advancing with a 68-59 victory over the Cowboys.
Had Duke lost, ticket sales at the Constant Center this weekend would have assuredly been lower than expected. The Blue Devils are not only close to Norfolk – it’s about a three-and-a-half hour drive from Durham, N.C. – but they have a local connection. Center Elizabeth Williams, who had 16 points and 12 rebounds against the Cowboys, is from Princess Anne High School in Virginia Beach and her presence at this regional site is expected to put people in the seats.
So should the presence of Skylar Diggins and Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish are 33-1, their only loss this season to defending national champion Baylor and the nation’s most dominant player, 6-foot-8 center Brittney Griner. Of course, that loss was a long time ago, happening on Dec. 5.
The Irish will bring their own posse with them: Notre Dame ordered 500 extra tickets for its fan base earlier this week to sell through the school’s athletic department. Who knows how many unattached Irish fans and Irish bandwagon riders will show? It always seems en vogue to wear some Irish swag come tournament time.
This will be the seventh time The Ted has hosted NCAA Women’s Tournament games, but it’s been nine years since the site winner was punching its ticket to the Final Four. Nine years ago Minnesota was the darling of The Ted.
This time around, action begins on Sunday…Easter Sunday. Rather than downplay that, school officials are embracing it. There will be a bunny adoption with the Norfolk SPCA in the lobby and if bunnies are your cup of tea then there will be kitties to adopt as well. There will be an Easter scavenger hunt prior to each game for kids 8 and under.
ODU fans have sponsored more than 800 youths to come to at least one of the sessions through the youth sponsorship program (10 kids for $100). The tournament has pre-sold over 3,000 tickets for both days of the tournament and should sales be brisk heading in then a healthy audience should fill the seats, making the site once again attractive to television audiences.
And … should Upset City continue in this bracket, attention will follow.
It always does with the women’s tournament, for historically the seeds almost always win.