It’s Tournament Time!
Whether you like the favorites or the underdogs, this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament draw offers something for everyone.
Unless you’re looking for a team from the great state of Georgia in the field. How can a state that grows as much basketball talent as this one get shut out of the Tournament?
Vermont has a team in the Tournament. So does South Dakota. And Montana. New Mexico has two! Even Long Island was able to sneak a team in, and it’s not even a state!
Atlanta does host the South Regional, so we got that going for us. But that’s about it.
Beyond the dearth of local schools, this Tournament is virtually busting with possibilities. None of the favorites look indomitable, and lots of the underdogs look intriguing.
How wide-open is this field? Try this: three of the four number one seeds couldn’t even win their conference tournaments. The fourth, Michigan State, did, but the Spartans became a number one only after Kansas got bounced by Baylor in the Big 12 tournament.
So, then, what about the teams that won those conference tournaments? Teams on a roll, right? Due to make some noise in the Tournament?
Florida State beat Duke and North Carolina on successive days, thus earning legions of fans among those who detest the Twin Powers from Tobacco Road. In fact, FSU pulled off the rare double-double, beating both Duke and Carolina twice in the same season.
Of course, FSU also stands as that rare ACC tournament champion who also lost two games to Ivy League schools. One of those Ivies, Harvard, makes its first Tournament appearance since 1946. The Crimson get an SAT match-up with Vanderbilt, the same Commodores who finished the SEC regular season losing two of three.
Like Kentucky, Syracuse lost its second game of the season during its conference tournament. After several weeks of close calls, the Orange lost to Cincinnati. Apparently, mayhem pays. Both the Bearcats and Xavier made the Tournament after their hideous December melee.
Cincinnati lost the Big East tournament final to Louisville, which rolled through the Big East tournament after rollicking through the end of the regular season losing four of six.
Likewise, every number two seed enters the Tournament on a losing streak. Except Missouri, which entered the Big 12 tournament after splitting its last four games.
So much for the heavyweights show of force entering the Tournament.
Among the other entrants, good teams and good stories abound.
Ray McCallum of Detroit poured in 21 points and added four steals as the Titans beat Valpariso, 70-50, to win the Horizon League tournament. It’s Detroit’s first Tournament berth since 1999.
The win came on coach Ray McCallum’s 51st birthday. “I told him, ‘Dad, this is your gift. I hope you like it!’” young Ray told his coach after the win.
Creighton features Doug McDermott, the best player for his Dad, coach Greg McDermott. The Blue Jays rolled to the Missouri Valley title, beating Illinois State, 83-79, in a tournament final as spirited and engrossing as any. The Blue Jays enter the Tournament on a seven game winning streak.
South Dakota State earned its first Tournament berth with an exciting 52-50 win over Western Illinois. Isn’t it high time we had a team in the Tournament whose mascot is the jackrabbit?
Western Kentucky made the Tournament despite a 15-18 record. Here’s a team that started 5-11 and got its coach fired in January. The last straw was a failure to discern that Louisiana-Lafayette had six players on the floor while scoring the winning basket.
Assistant Ray Harper took over, and instructed his Hilltoppers to get better every day. By the end of February, they had beaten Sun Belt beast Middle Tennessee, and Harper was no longer the “interim” coach. They roll into the Tournament on a six-win streak.
You’ve also got the St. Louis Billikens, back in the field under coach Rick Majerus. It’s the 11th Tournament for coach Rick, who reached the championship game with Utah in 1998. After a brief retirement to battle health issues, Majerus’ fifth St. Louis team brings a stingy defense to the Tournament.
There’s even a Knight in the Tournament. After his ouster from Texas Tech, Pat Knight led Lamar to the Southland championship with a resounding 70-49 thumping of McNeese State. The Cardinals improved drastically after Bobby’s son let loose a tirade at his seniors in late February, accusing them of “stealing money by being on scholarship.” They haven’t lost since.