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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Southeast: Surprise in store no matter who makes Final Four

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NEW ORLEANS -- Jimmer Fredette is the show.

It's been that way most of this season, and the 66 points he scored in BYU's first two NCAA tournament games -- followed by this week's Sports Illustrated cover -- did nothing to change it. Turn on your television, you look for Fredette. Travel south, you do it for Fredette. But if you can move your eyes from the target for just a moment -- and, I acknowledge, it's difficult to do -- what you'll see is a regional that's now as wide open as the mouth of the Mississippi, a four-school mini-tournament guaranteed to deliver a Final Four surprise.

Doesn't matter which team makes it -- that team wasn't supposed to make it.

When the Southeast Regional's top-seeded Pittsburgh Panthers lost last weekend in a game that was equal parts enjoyable and bizarre, college basketball was left with the following reality: Either a Florida team that lost four games to non-NCAA tournament teams, a BYU team that lost its best interior player to suspension, a Wisconsin team that scored 33 points in a 40-minute game two weeks ago or a Butler team that lost five games in the Horizon League will play in next weekend's Final Four.

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"We're thrilled to still be a part of it," Butler coach Brad Stevens said, "and [to] see if we can't just keep this thing going."

At this point, why not?

There is no Ohio State, Kansas, Duke or other seemingly insurmountable entity down here.

There are only great stories.

We could end up with Billy Donovan going from back-to-back national championships to back-to-back NITs to another Final Four thanks to a group of prospects who enrolled in the gutted program and led it back to prominence. Or we could have Butler making consecutive Final Fours after losing its best player and entering Selection Sunday outside of the Associated Press Top 25. Or we could have Bo Ryan, one of the nation's most consistent coaches, finally breaking through and making his first Final Four after nine consecutive NCAA tournament appearances that ended short of the third weekend. Or we could have the CBSSports.com National Player of the Year and nation's biggest attraction carrying a diminished roster to Houston.

If the latter happens, let's hope the pregame press conference is respectable.

Or at least more professional than the one that unfolded here Wednesday.

"Why couldn't you guys have just let [Brandon Davies] slide on that [Honor Code] violation" a reporter asked BYU coach Dave Rose, apparently unaware that letting things "slide" defeats the purpose of having the Honor Code. Later, Fredette was asked what he'd do if he saw a strip club. Then reporters started asking Florida players about BYU's policies. Someone asked Chandler Parsons how many Gators would remain if Florida suspended players for premarital sex.

"That's really none of my business," Parsons said.

What a nice and mature comment.

Look, I've cracked jokes on Twitter and radio since Davies was suspended for violating BYU's Honor Code; I laughed when other people did it, too. But isn't it a bit disrespectful to ask BYU's coach and players to join us in making light of their religion? Their way of life isn't for me, and it might not be for you, either. But the questions they faced from amateur comedians aren't the same questions we'd ask Catholics or Muslims on the same stage.

Would a Catholic player be asked about how wild it is that priests take a vow of celibacy?

Would a Muslim player be asked why he can't just forget about all that praying for a day or two?

Of course not.

But for some reason it's considered reasonable to question BYU players about their beliefs, to put the nation's leading scorer in a hypothetical situation and ask what he'd do if he walked past a strip club. How is that any different than asking a Muslim player what he'd do if he walked past a barbecue joint?

Anyway, the whole thing was weird.

Which makes me glad the games are on deck.

We've got two Thursday night, then another on Saturday.

Either Florida, BYU, Wisconsin or Butler is headed to the Final Four.

Doesn't matter which team makes it -- that team wasn't supposed to make it.


Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for CBSSports.com and frequent contributor to the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts the highest-rated sports talk radio show -- The Gary Parrish Show -- in the history of Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two children and a dog.
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