|Gonzaga narrowly survived a second-round game against No. 16 seed Southern. (espn.com)|
It is common knowledge that a No. 16 seed has never bested a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Even in years with high parity, the talent gap is usually wide enough for top seeds to glide to easy victories over their less lauded opponents. The knowledge still holds true, but the Southern Jaguars nearly made college basketball and tourney history by upsetting the Gonzaga Bulldogs. It took the Zags a late surge to escape with a 64-58 win that wasn't as close as the final score indicates.
So how did Southern do it? It was a perfect storm. Jaguars head coach Roman Banks built this season's team in the Gonzaga mold and his players knew they were to consider themselves to be like the former Cinderella program. When the round of 64 game was announced on Selection Sunday, the comparison already existed; Southern saw itself on par with the Zags in spite of seeding.
Speculation about Gonzaga already filled national headlines, maybe not concerning overall record but questioning strength of schedule during West Coast Conference play and the legitimacy of the Bulldogs' No. 1 ranking heading into the tournament, which parlayed into a No. 1 seed.
Banks knew all this and one would expect his players did, too. Southern came out hitting 3-pointers and tightened the screws on defense, playing Gonzaga to a 34-34 draw at halftime. The Jaguars didn't let up in the second half and it wasn't until Gary Bell, Jr. and Kevin Pangos hit a pair of treys as Southern went cold from the field that the Bulldogs had some breathing room with under four minutes to play.
Half psychological. Half physical. All Southern. The Jaguars were truly not intimidated, something another 16-seed has already taken to heart when Western Kentucky put a scare into Kansas Friday night. Expect the trend to continue because, eventually, a No. 1 seed will lose in the round of 64 and Banks' Jaguars will be the prototype for the No. 16 team seed that makes history.
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