Not sure how often business travelers make pit stops in D.C. before heading to Atlanta, but that's exactly the plan for one of the four teams remaining in the East Region. Because no bracket chaos occurred unlike its South, Midwest and West counterparts, several familiar faces will be at the Verizon Center Thursday and Saturday, bringing Final Four dreams along with them
The top four seeds - Indiana, Miami, Marquette and Syracuse - all advanced through the second and third rounds, and all with various degrees of difficulty.
Since no Cinderella exists among the four, expect many of the non-partisans on hand to back the No. 2 seeded Hurricanes, who will face No. 3 Marquette in Thursday's opener at 7:15 p.m. No, not because of their ACC affiliation, but rather because head coach Jim Larranaga is back where his national fame grew exponentially after leading George Mason to the 2006 Final Four. Having already stunned the bracket-loving world The colorful coach directed the upstart Patriots into the East Regional that year and then kept the good times flowing with two more wins, including the stunner of stunners, shocking No. 1 Connecticut on the Verizon Center court.
This time Larranaga enters with pure favorite in Miami, the ACC regular and tournament champion. Sophomore point guard Shane Larkin directs the on-court traffic while a deep supporting cast backs him up. Reserve guard Rion Brown scored 21 points in Sunday's 63-59 win over Illinois - or 15 points above his season average, sending his coach into a stupendous dance routine.
Top seed Indiana avoided upset on Sunday by rallying for a 58-52 win over Temple. The decisive score came from Al-American candidate and DeMatha product Victor Oladipo, whose a top-of-the-key 3-pointer pushed the margin to four in the final seconds. The Upper Marlboro native paced the Hoosiers with 16 points and now leads IU against No. 4 Syracuse.
"It's a great feeling. I'm just glad that we're going," Oladipo told reporters about playing next in his hometown. "We want to be successful there. So it's going to be fun playing in front of family and friends and all that, but it's a business trip. We're on a mission."
Marquette, which had the most escape artist run to D.C. with two last minutes victories over Davidson and Butler, shared the Big East regular season title despite a February loss to Georgetown at the Verizon Center. Golden Eagles guard made the winning score against Davidson in the final seconds and then tallied 29 against Butler.
Then there is Syracuse, which had the most comfortable run of the four and should also have a large contingent of rooters on hand this week. The Orange defeated Cal 66-60 on Sunday after coach Jim Boeheim's team dismantled Montana 81-34 in the second round. Of course, we all remember what happened the last time they played inside the Verizon Center. At least this time the bulk of the paying crowd won't be against them - except for those Oladipo and Larranaga rooters out there.