After an unexpected NCAA Tournament result had been turned in Saturday, Ohio State Coach Jim O'Brien could only shake his head.
"It's hard for me to imagine that they came in sixth in their league," he said. "The Big 12 must be an unbelievable conference. They are a great team."
He was speaking of the Missouri Tigers, who early in the regular season were ranked in the top 10 and then fell on hard times as they trudged through the Big 12 schedule. After a bland regular season and a loss to Texas in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament, Missouri was very much on the NCAA bubble.
But after receiving one of the last at-large spots in the tourney, Missouri has turned very nasty. After scoring the first dozen points and coasting past Miami in the opening round, the Tigers crushed Big Ten Conference tournament champ Ohio State Saturday, 83-67.
And just to back up what O'Brien said about the Big 12, the Kansas Jayhawks returned to form against the Stanford Cardinal Saturday. Kansas, the top seed in the Midwest, had a scare put into it by Holy Cross in the opening round. But the Jayhawks jumped to a 15-0 lead and smashed their way into the Sweet 16 with an 86-63 victory.
Missouri and Kansas City were joined in the various regional semifinals by the survivors of a series of close games -- Duke, Arizona, Kentucky, Oregon, Indiana and upstart Kent State.
Kent State advanced as a No. 10 seed with a 71-58 victory over second-seeded Alabama, 71-58.
The rest of the round of 16 will be determined Sunday, with the matchup between Cincinnati and UCLA expected to be the highlight attraction.
The only regional semifinal matchup to already be determined is that between top-seeded Duke and No. 5 Indiana in the South, which will be played in Lexington, Ky. Duke advanced Saturday with an 84-77 win over Notre Dame in a toe-to-toe slugfest that was not decided until the final moments. And Indiana moved on by fighting off a North-Carolina Wilimington comeback, 76-67. Indiana saw a once-comfortable lead reduced to three in the final minutes.
Kent State also will be in the South Region semifinals, awaiting the winner of Sunday's California-Pittsburgh matchup.
Kentucky is the only representative determined thus far in the East semifinals. The Wildcats also had a close call against Tulsa, getting a career-high 41 points from Tayshaun Prince to outlast the Golden Hurricane, 87-82.
Kentucky will be in Syracuse to take on the winner of the Maryland-Wisconsin game. The other regional semifinal will be determined Sunday when Southern Illinois takes on Georgia and Connecticut faces North Carolina State.
Arizona joined Missouri in the West Region semifinals with a 68-60 win over stubborn Wyoming. Arizona played in last year's national championship game, but lost four starters from that team.
"It feels good to be a team that maybe was supposed to go to the NIT make the Sweet 16," said Arizona's Luke Walton said, who scored 21 points Saturday. "There's no better feeling."
In games that will be played in San Jose, Calif., Missouri will take on the Cincinnati-UCLA winner and Arizona will meet the team that emerges from the Xavier-Oklahoma matchup.
Kansas, which should have regained its confidence with the strong showing against Stanford, will play either Creighton or Illinois in the Midwest Region, which will be played out in Madison, Wis. And Oregon, which survived a back-and-forth meeting with Wake Forest, 92-87, will play the Texas-Mississippi State winner.
Although Stanford fell in lopsided fashion to Kansas, wins by Oregon and Arizona gave the Pacific-10 Conference seven victories -- the most in the tournament. The loss by Wake Forest was the first setback for the Atlantic Coast Conference.