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Monday, March 22, 2010
NCAA tournament yields surprise stars

By Dick Vitale

We have learned a lot of things during the first two rounds of the Big Dance, baby!

There is a much smaller gap between the David and Goliaths of the hardwood these days. Go ask Kansas and Villanova about that. The Sweet 16 includes Northern Iowa, St. Mary's, Butler and Cornell.

New names have hit the scene and become major factors in the tourney. Look at St. Mary's big man, Omar Samhan. He has been a dominant force in the first two games. All Samhan has done is hit 24-of-32 shots in wins over Villanova and Richmond, two very good basketball teams. That's 75 percent from the field: seems pretty unstoppable to me!

Then there is Ali Faroukhmanesh of Northern Iowa. He showed no fear in hitting the clutch three-pointer that sent No. 1 Kansas to the sidelines. He also hit a big shot late in the win over UNLV.

What about Louis Dale of Cornell, a guy who sent out video of himself in an effort to land at a Division I school. The Big Red is happy to have him!

These guys were not McDonald's All-Americans; they were lucky if they were Wendy's! Yet they have stepped up and made the big plays to help their teams survive and advance.

That's the beauty of college basketball. In a one-game scenario, upsets can happen. If this was the NBA, there is no way that Northern Iowa would beat Kansas in a best-of-seven series.

Another observation that shouldn't go unnoticed is the performance of the Big Ten. The conference has three schools in the Sweet 16 -- Ohio State, Michigan State and Purdue.

There have been plenty of memorable moments: Korie Lucious of Michigan State hitting the winning three-pointer against Maryland; Murray State's Danero Thomas nailing the winning shot in round one against Vanderbilt.

The Sweet 16 should be very special with many different storylines.