Archive for March, 2008

Mount St. Mary’s comes to town

March 19, 2008
Mount St. Mary’s will take the floor Friday night to face top-seeded North Carolina in an NCAA Tournament contest.
 
The Mountaineers, with a stop in Henderson for a practice at Kerr-Vance Academy Wednesday night, are facing not only the nation’s top-rated team, but a mountain of negative history as well.
 
Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, no No. 16 seed has ever beaten a top seed in 92 tries. Some have come close.
 
There have been 11 games decided by 10 points or less, five that came down to five points or less and one — Michigan State and Murray State in 1990 — that went to overtime with the Spartans claiming a 75-71 victory.
 
The last such game took place in 1996, when Western Carolina had a shot to win at the buzzer rim out in a 73-71 loss to Purdue, injecting sadness into a room full of college kids at Gardner-Webb, not to mention what was going on down the road in Cullowhee.
 
“The Mount,” as they like to call themselves, ended up in Henderson because of Jeremy Goode, a former player of KVA coach David Carrier at Providence Day in Charlotte. Goode, the Mountaineers’ leading scorer, dropped 21 points on Coppin State in Tuesday’s opening round game in Dayton to give his squad the right to face the Tar Heels later this week.
 
“Jeremy’s the ultimate underdog,” Carrier said. “He’s 5-8, 150-pounds, but he’s all heart.”
 
Goode and his mates will need to embrace that fighting spirit Friday night at the RBC Center. The Tar Heels (32-2) are coming off ACC regular-season and tournament championships and boast a truckload of potential NBA players, including national player of the year candidate Tyler Hansbrough.
 
Meanwhile, the Mountaineers (19-14) finished fourth in the Northeast Conference before winning the conference tournament with a 68-55 win over Sacred Heart. Goode (14.5 ppg) and Chris Vann (14.3 ppg) lead a guard-oriented attack for Mount St. Mary’s, who will certainly have its hands full.
 
Milan Brown, coach of the Mountaineers and friend of Carrier, was looking for a place to workout after playing 24 hours earlier.
 
“I talk to him all the time, even though I haven’t seen him since I left (Charlotte),” Carrier said. “He called me and told me he wanted to check the place out and practice.”
 
The folks in the desert have installed “The Mount” as a 25-point underdog, matching the spread for Texas-Arlington against Memphis and surpassed by only the 32-point bulge separating Mississippi Valley State and UCLA.
 
There’s a reason they have all those tall buildings and palatial casinos in Las Vegas, so I’m slow to dismiss such a large margin. After all, seven of the Tar Heels’ 32 wins have come by at least 30 points.
 
Still, the fact that this game is even being played is what makes March Madness great.It gives a team that got hot at just the right time a chance to share the floor with a team they’ve only watched on ESPN.
 
Aside from a win over Winthrop and losses at Oregon and Oklahoma, the Mountaineers haven’t faced much top-level competition this season.
 
But that doesn’t matter. For 40 minutes Friday night, the Mountaineers will share the stage with college basketball royalty. They’ll have a punchers’ chance, a glimmer of hope that, if everything goes just right, maybe they can be the team to rewrite the history books and blow up brackets all over the country.
 
Of course, it’s more likely that the Tar Heels will turn “The Mount” into nothing more than a speed bump in what they hope is a run to the national championship.
 
Either way, we’ll be watching.
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No crying on the bubble

March 18, 2008

From Tuesday’s Dispatch

Usually, the day after selection Sunday, I have great sympathy for some team whose bubble got busted when the NCAA Tournament bracket was released.
Today, not so much.
In a year that cries out for a smaller-than-65-team tourna­ment field, I’m amazed the selection committee could find enough decent teams to fill out the at-large spots.
But just because I don’t think anyone out there has a case doesn’t mean there isn’t a certain amount of whining go­ing on.
So let’s break down the pretend­ers before getting into the teams that actually got on the dance floor.
Arizona State is the team that most pundits are stump­ing for, and I understand the argument. The Sun Devils beat Xavier, Stanford and Wash­ington State while sweeping Arizona and finishing ahead of Oregon in the Pac-10.
And they got absolutely jobbed in the Pac-10 Tourna­ment on a phantom over-the­back call.
But aside from his obligatory complaint about being left out, Coach Herb Sendek himself spelled out why his team was sent to the NIT.
It was all about schedule.
Want to get in? Don’t lose to Illinois and Nebraska by double digits. Don’t sign up to play Cal Poly, Florida Gulf Coast and Montana State.
Truth be told, the Sun Devils weren’t expected to be any good this year, and scheduled ac­cordingly. Next year, especially if James Harden doesn’t leave early, they’ll be in with a bullet.
Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenburg is crying the blues about his Hokies getting left out, but if he really wants someone to blame for his team’s exclusion, he should pause the next time he passes a mirror.
He scheduled four teams with RPI numbers higher than 200. His team lost to Penn State, Old Dominion and Rich­mond. Virginia Tech managed to beat one tournament team all season, and that was Miami in the ACC Tournament.
Sorry, but that just doesn’t cut it.
Dayton and Illinois State?
Please. Beat somebody, then call me.
There are some quality games on tap for this year’s edition of March Madness, however.
I think Miami/St. Mary’s, Washington State/Winthrop and Clemson/Villanova could be fun to watch.
Looking for upsets? I like Davidson over Gonzaga in Charlotte, St. Joseph’s over Oklahoma and Baylor to knock off Purdue.
Final four picks? I’ll take North Carolina, Georgetown, Texas and UCLA. Carolina will get its revenge on the Hoyas in one semifinal game while UCLA will avenge an earlier loss to the Longhorns.
I’m no fan of UCLA, but it’s hard to bet against a team that plays lock-down defense, has great guards and a big man inside to clean the boards as a potential national champion.
Check, check and check.
I’ll take the Bruins over Carolina in a physical contest.
Let the madness begin.

Well worth a splinter

March 10, 2008

From Tuesday’s paper…

DURHAM – Visit Cameron Indoor Stadium for a Duke/Carolina game. Check
Another item went tumbling off my sports fan to-do list Saturday night as I took in the 225th meeting between the Tobacco Road rivals.
Yeah, it was cool.
I parked my car at least a half-mile from the venue, giving me the chance to walk across a lovely campus while wishing I had brought a heavier coat and a lighter computer bag.
I rounded a corner and found myself in Krzyzewskiville, the tent village outside Cameron where students sleep in order to gain entry for games.
I’ve seen pictures of what Woodstock was like the day after, and Krzyzewskiville had a similar look. I’m sure it eventually got cleaned up, but let’s just say the folks at the Sierra Club would not have been happy with the state of affairs an hour before game time.
Having successfully navigated my way past the throng of face-painted future doctors and lawyers and into the front door, I carefully walked towards the floor.
Care was required because every so often, they’d let in a new group of Cameron Crazies that would come running in the door, around the concession stand and up into the bleachers.
Ah yes, the bleachers. There’s good news and bad news about covering Duke games. The good news is that, as a member of the working media, your seat is literally right on the floor.
The view is the best around. Of course, the bad news is that you’re six inches from the student section. When they jump, you feel it. When they cheer, it rings in your ears. And when they over-enunciate a D or S sound, you wish you wore a hat. Or brought an umbrella.
I had heard that you have to climb over the table to get in your seat, but I didn’t believe it until I found my assigned seat – across from the Duke bench – wedged in between folks from Rocky Mount, Danville (Va.) and a throng of Crazies.
They clearly knew way more about the climb-over than I did, holding my bag and keeping the chair out as I risked splinters sliding over the table.
I was so absorbed with the students and getting into my seat that I hadn’t really looked around until I got into my seat.
It was amazing how many people were crammed into that building. And all of them, it seemed, had a courtside seat. It’s easy to see why Duke has such a good home record. There’s no way for most players to not be at least a little intimidated while surrounded by a sea of dark blue.
Now, let’s clear up a myth or two about Duke fans. Even though the title of the cheer sheet, passed out to the Crazies before game time, was “Go to Hell Carolina,” I think I heard one fan use profanity one time.
Perhaps this line on the sheet was well heeded, “Keep cheers clever, witty and classy. If you want to use profanity, go to Maryland.”
There was a moment of silence before tip-off to honor the memory of Eve Carson, the UNC student body president who was shot and killed last week. The only, and I mean only, sound was the clicking of cameras from press row. It was a nice gesture, well done by the fans in attendance.
The ball went up, and the fans were in full throat. You’ve seen the deal where they hold out their right arm, shake their hand and yell, “oooohhhh.” It looks different from underneath the canopy of arms – a little like sitting under a loud, blue tree.
According to the cheer sheet, Peyton and Eli Manning were on hand as guests of new Duke football coach David Cutcliffe, who coached them both in college at Tennessee and Mississippi.
I finally spotted them sitting under the basket closest to the Duke bench. Eli looked happy, like a guy getting fitted for a Super Bowl ring should, while Peyton looked a little bored. I guess crowds are nothing new for him.
At least nobody yelled, “Cut that meat.”
It was a wild scene. Former Duke player and current ESPN analyst Jay Bilas surfed across the floor, on top of rolling Duke students as the band played “Wipeout.” ESPN sideline reporter Erin Andrews attracted lots of attention from fans and reporters alike, which I suspect is true in most places the four-letter visits.
I even saw Dick Vitale, way up in the rafters, calling the game. It’s a good thing they have monitors, because my seat was way better than his.
Halftime arrived and, in one motion, reporters hopped the table to head for the pressroom. Well, almost one motion, since I didn’t get the memo.
I ran into Mike Sosna, our ACC columnist, in the pressroom. I said, “Wow, that was awesome.” His response was, “yeah, I know,” before telling me what he was writing for the ACC Tournament next week.
Maybe it gets old after a while. I just don’t see how.

Regional fever

March 1, 2008

Southern Vance, once 0-5 and looking very ordinary, knocked off previously unbeaten Graham Friday night, 79-69, to earn a spot at the Regionals next Friday night.

Not to be outdone, Northern Vance wiped out a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit to take down Rocky Mount, 76-73, in overtime.

Wow, next week is going to be fun…