One of my fondest sports memories is when I traveled with one of my college friends to Syracuse in spring 2010 for the Sweet 16. This wasn't just any Sweet 16 matchup, though; this was to watch No. 1 seed Kentucky face off against our alma mater, Cornell University. Once the Big Red, a 12 seed that had actually been ranked during the regular season, stormed through Temple and Wisconsin in opening rounds on the way to the Carrier Dome, it was a no-brainer to attend. They hadn't even been in the Big Dance more than a handful of times. Naturally, coming from the Ivy League, the Big Red had never won a single game in the NCAA Tournament until that season.
And yet here they were, the perennial Ivy League doormat, the team I watched and even announced play-by-play for while an undergraduate, making noise as the darlings of the ball. Pitted against future lottery picks John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, this was must-see TV. Cue the cliches. David vs. Goliath.
You all know what happened, or at least the final result. Kentucky had NBA-caliber athletes; Cornell had zero scholarship players. But the energy, anticipation and excitement for the underdog, MY underdog, is something I will never forget. There's a pretty good chance there will never be another Cornell run like that in my lifetime, which made it all the more special.
The point of that story? Cornell may not be anywhere close to March Madness in 2012, but the Ivy League could have another Cinderella this season in the Harvard Crimson. Although maybe not as under the radar at 18-2, Harvard is ranked in the Top 25 and undefeated in conference play. It's beaten Florida State, a team that's taken down both Duke and North Carolina this season. The Crimson are extremely balanced with three scorers averaging double-digits and eight players seeing at least 10 minutes on the court per game. The key for a run in the tourney will be the interior play of Keith Wright and Kyle Casey; can they handle bigger, more physical teams in the paint? Only time will tell, but the possibility is certainly there for another tournament crawling with Ivy.
Travon Woodall, G, Pittsburgh - It's no coincidence that the Panthers have won three of their four games since Woodall's return, including impressive wins over Georgetown and West Virginia. Once 0-7 in the Big East and largely written off by the pundits, Pitt has stormed back behind its 5-foot-11 junior guard. Woodall had 10 dimes in the victory over the Hoyas, then shot 8-of-12 from the floor en-route to a game-high 24 points in the triumph over the Mountaineers. With Woodall back at the helm, the Panthers could be a darkhorse come Big East tourney time, much the same way that UConn limped down the stretch in the regular season last year before turning on the jets when it mattered most.
DeShaun Thomas, F, Ohio State - With Jon Diebler and David Lighty graduating, many wondered if the Buckeyes would have enough scoring outside of stud Jared Sullinger and wingman William Buford. Enter Thomas, an athletic 6-7 sophomore forward who played limited minutes as a frosh. This season he has catapulted himself into the national spotlight, sitting just behind Sully and Buford at 14.6 points per game for OSU. Thomas is hitting an impressive 54 percent of his shots from the floor and can often be seen hovering above the rim for a dynamite slam. His rebounding needs some work, as he is averaging just 4.4 boards per game. However, his talent is certainly evident, and the Buckeyes have not skipped a beat with Thomas inserted into the starting lineup.
Cody Zeller, F, Indiana - Just in case you didn't believe the hype, check out Zeller's line from Sunday's game against Iowa. The 6-11 freshman shot 11-of-12 from the floor en route to 26 points for the Hoosiers. He also tallied four rebounds, four assists three steals and a block. The icing on the cake? Tyler's little brother did not record a single turnover in the contest. He has been the main reason for Indiana's incredible turnaround and has Indiana thinking about past glory once again.
Jae Crowder, F, Marquette - Crowder has really been a monster for the Golden Eagles during his senior campaign, accumulating 16.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.9 dimes and 2.3 steals per game. He's notched three double-doubles in his past five games, all victories for Marquette. He's second on the squad in scoring, first in rebounding and steals and fourth in assists. With fellow senior Darius Johnson-Odom doing plenty of heavy lifting alongside Crowder, the Golden Eagles have an excellent inside-outside combination that could prove deadly come tourney time.
Glen Rice, Jr., G, Georgia Tech - Rice injured his right big toe in practice last week, and was clearly hobbled in Sunday's 93-81 loss to UNC. Rice finished the game with just four points on 2-of-7 shooting, while also collecting a mere four rebounds, more than two below his season average. Rice has shot just 33.3 percent from the floor over his last five games, all losses for the Yellow Jackets. Rice has lacked his usual explosiveness of late, as well as lift on his shots. As a result, both he and the Ramblin' Wreck have suffered. It appears Rice will play through the injury, which could nag him for a while.
Draymond Green, F, Michigan State - Green sprained his left knee in Tuesday's loss to Illinois. Though he's listed as day-to-day, he struggled mightily at Illinois, tallying a season-low five points on just 1-of-6 shooting. He also battled foul trouble and played just 16 minutes for the game, notching eight rebounds while turning the ball over five times. Green is a dynamic player for the Spartans when healthy, a 6-7 quasi-point forward who is also managing a double-double on the year with 14.9 points and 10.3 rebounds per contest. The results of the MRI performed on Wednesday should shed some light on Green's status moving forward.
Jordan Swing, F, UAB - Swing will miss at least another week of action due to a broken hand suffered on Jan. 21 against UCF. The 6-6 sophomore swingman has already missed two games due to the injury. Swing is second on the team in scoring at 11.1 points per game. He also averages 3.6 rebounds and 1.5 assists per tilt. This is a tough blow for the 7-13 Blazers, as they have rather limited scoring after Swing and double-double machine Cameron Moore.
Shabazz Napier, G, Connecticut - The Huskies have been sliding recently after a sizzling start, and Napier's play has been anything but sparkling. In the most recent game of their three-game losing streak, Napier shot 0-for-7 from the field in a 50-48 home loss to Notre Dame. In the game before that at Tennessee, Napier connected on just 6-of-18 from the floor. He also collected eight assists in total in those two contests; he's averaging 6.1 dimes per game on the year. Filling the void of Kemba Walker hasn't seemed nearly as easy of late for Napier, as he's been forced to play 36.0 minutes per game on a rather thin Connecticut squad. Napier could be hitting a wall right now due to seeing unusually extended minutes.
Faisel Aden, G, Washington State - A stellar collegiate career is over for Aden, as the 6-4 senior guard tore the ACL in his left knee, effectively ending his tenure on the court for the Cougars. Aden was second on the squad in scoring at 14.5 points per tilt, while also averaging 3.1 boards per game. He had been surging too just before the injury, averaging 25 points per clip in the three games before he went down. That included a 33-point effort against Stanford on Jan. 19 in which he connected on a perfect 13-of-13 from the charity stripe. The Cougars will be forced to rely even more heavily on 6-10 forward and leading scorer Brock Motum in Aden's absence.
Patrick Heckmann, G, Boston College - One of the lone bright spots for the Eagles in an otherwise lackluster 7-14 campaign, Heckmann will likely miss at least one month after being diagnosed with mononucleosis. The 6-5 guard from Mainz, Germany had been averaging 9.1 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.7 dimes per game. The Eagles do not have a player on their roster averaging double-digits in points, and are a putrid 318th in the nation in scoring. In other words, they'll likely have even more problems keeping pace with the opposition with Heckmann sidelined.
Kevin Parrom, G-F, Arizona - Parrom broke a bone in his right foot and will the remainder of the season for the Wildcats. It's been a tumultuous year for the 6-6 swingman, who was shot last offseason in the same foot, and also lost his mother three weeks later. Not surprisingly, Parrom's stats were down across the board this season, averaging 4.9 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.7 dimes per contest. He may apply for a medical hardship and an extra year of eligibility, but his 2011-2012 season is finished.
Deville Smith, G, Mississippi State - The 5-11 freshman guard was hospitalized in mid-January after a scary bout of dizziness, headaches and memory loss. Thankfully he was finally released after 11 days of observation and tests. However, it is unknown when or if Smith will return to the squad. Smith had been averaging 5.4 points, 1.9 boards and 2.4 assists per game for the 17-5 Bulldogs before being hospitalized.