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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Underdog Teams Put NCAA on Its Guard

WASHINGTON -- Tennessee-Chattanooga, Coppin State and the College of Charleston have a long way to go to catch North Carolina and Dean Smith, who became the leader in college basketball's all-time coaching victories by winning NCAA tournament first- and second-round games this past weekend.


But that monumental achievement was nearly overshadowed by the efforts of unheralded teams such as Tennessee-Chattanooga. The Moccasins, champions of the Southern Conference, beat third-seeded Georgia and sixth-seeded Illinois to become just the second No. 14 seed to advance to the Sweet 16.


Coppin State became just the third No. 15 seed and the first Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference team to win an NCAA tournament game, routing second-seeded South Carolina, 78-65. The Eagles then nearly became the first No. 15 seed to win a second-round game, falling short against Texas, 82-81.


Other lower seeds also made strong showings, including No. 12 College of Charleston, another first-round winner (over Maryland) and narrow second-round loser; No. 16 Fairfield, which played Smith and North Carolina virtually even before losing, 82-74; No. 15 Murray State, which played Duke to the final seconds in the first round; No. 14 Old Dominion, which did the same against New Mexico; and No. 12 seeds Princeton and Valparaiso, who respectively gave California and Boston College extremely difficult games.


Following his team's 73-70 escape from Murray State, Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski said part of the reason for the early-round upsets and close calls is the timing of the tournament -- players from smaller leagues aren't worn down from nightly battles in leagues such as the Atlantic Coast and Big Ten conferences.


But perhaps at least as germane is Krzyzewski's acknowledgment that players such as Murray State guard Vincent Rainey could excel anywhere. "If you get one player like that who can set an aggressive tone, then it becomes an entirely different team." Krzyzewski said.


A team that has no fear of going against the likes of Maryland or Georgia.


Before their first-round game against fourth-seeded Villanova -- a team with at least four solid pro prospects -- the players from 13th-seeded Long Island University expressed so much confidence that one would have thought they were going to apply for entry as an NBA expansion franchise.


In this year's NCAA tournament, the teams that once were the big bullies are learning that they're the ones who should be afraid.