Why trust those Johnny-come-latelies? We've been covering these guys all season. Here, then, is the first of four capsule sets of the mid-major teams who will appear on your television screens starting on Thursday, along with a few clips of their TMM appearances.MontanaSeed:
161st Round Opponent: WashingtonRecord:
18-12 (12-5 Big Sky
)Big Nonconference Wins:
November 30 vs. Cal State Northridge
Kamarr Davis, a 6'7" senior forward, is the Grizzlies' centerpiece. He was last season's BSC Newcomer Of The Year (juco transfer) and led the team in scoring (14.8) and rebounding (5.9). If he didn't have to sit out January for bad grades, he might have beaten out former MMBOW Seamus Boxley
for conference Player Of The Year honors.What's a...?
The Grizzly Bear, or Ursus arctos
, is the most ferocious and dangerous mammal in North America. A threatened species in the United States, it reaches weights of 300-1500 pounds.Season Story:
Larry Krystowiak (Kriss-Stove-EE-ack) is the Other Coach K, hired to turn around Montana basketball after writing UMT's record book and having a decent little NBA career. And that he's doing, as the Griz enjoyed their first winning season in three years. In a regular season where Portland State
dominated and defending champion Eastern Washington
disappeared, Montana hung around the edges until it mattered. After a lackluster 4-3 January with Davis out of the lineup due to academic problems, two losses were all that stood between them and Tournament glory. They've won 9 of 10 since Groundhog Day, and received a favorable draw at 3 in the conference tourney: they did not have to play a team with an overall winning record because of Portland State's semifinal exit.Cinderellability:
Virtually non-existent.Clip Show:
March 10: Montana grabbed the lead and held off the hard-charging Wildcats, Heisman-style, after an 11-0 run put them up by ten with four minutes left. Weber had used two late runs to upset the four and one, but this one fell short - the Grizzlies are the champions of the little northwestern conference with the big name.ChattanoogaSeed:
151st Round Opponent: Wake ForestRecord:
20-10 (13-6 Southern
)Big Nonconference Wins:
December 5 at Tennessee
(69-68).100 Game Project Appearances:#60Key Player:
Mindauga Katelynas is a 6'9" Lithuanian monster who nearly averaged a dub-dub this season (12 and 9).Season Story:
Stormed into SoCon North division play with a 4-0 streak, but muddled around in a year that was all about the South division's Davidson and their undefeated league season. The Mocs lost 4 of 5 during one February stretch, and ended up 4-4 in the shortest month. Lost their Bracket Buster to Creighton 100-68 and dropped their season-closer against Furman by eight. Ducked Davidson in the tourney, which was held on their own home floor.What's a...?
A Moccasin snake was the original symbol in the 1920's, replaced with a Native American logo. That was used until they realized in the 1990's that it was a mean thing. Nowadays, "Moc" means mockingbird, the state bird of Tennessee.Cinderellability:
December 6: Chattanooga 69, Tennessee 68 - Despite their recent success in the SoCon, the UTC Mocs had not won a tussle with their orange-clad big brothers since 1925, and hadn't beaten an SEC team in seven years. They got the last LOL in this one, though, hitting 12 triples in the win while forcing the Vols to take bad shots. Said new Chattanooga coach John Shulman moments after his memorable first victory, "I want to hurry up and get out of here. They might change the score."WinthropSeed:
January 16: Chattanooga (11-2, 4-0 SoCon) continued their vice-like grip on the North division, whomping Wofford 88-64.
January 18: Georgia Southern 102, Chattanooga 84 - Throw out the record book! The SoCon team record for three-point goals made in a game was set last night in Statesboro, Georgia, where the Eagles (8-7, 4-2 SoCon) nailed 22 to bring down the North division-leading Mocs. Diminutive (5'8") guard Elton Nesbitt made 11 of those and finished with 43 points (tied for best in Division I so far this year), and his backcourt-mate Terry Williams dropped eight on the way to 26. On any other night, Chattanooga's 84 points would probably have been enough to win and stay undefeated - they fall to 4-1, 11-3 overall.
January 30: North Carolina-Greensboro 62, Chattanooga 57 - The stylish Mocs stormed to a 19-point halftime lead, but UNCG came out of the break sporting the hottest winter fashion of all: stingy, effective full-court pressure. After this tail of two halves, the Spartans (12-6, 6-2 SoCon) pull themselves up into a tie for first in the SoCon North. The metaphorically depantsed Chattanoogans get 9-0 South division leaders Davidson next; they unseamed The Citadel yesterday 81-59.
February 1: Davidson 67, Chattanooga 53 - Davidson built a fourteen-point lead going into halftime, and both teams treaded water for the second half. Despite outrebounding their hosts, the Mocs shot themselves in the foot by shooting just 30% from the floor. Davidson (14-7, 10-0 SoCon) tightens its grip on the SoCon South, and their nine-game streak has featured just about every possible way to win a basketball game. The Mocs stay atop the North at 6-3 because co-leaders North Carolina-Greensboro lost as well, dropping an embarrassing 54-50 decision to a 3-19 Elon club.
March 6: (E1) Chattanooga 66, (E2) North Carolina-Greensboro 62 - Their three games this year make a nice little SoCon trilogy: Chattanooga ran out to huge leads in each game, and had to withstand furious second-half rallies by the Spartans. The first UNCG comeback, in Greensboro, was successful. The second rally at the McKenzie was stopped and stymied by a group of Mocs that wouldn't be fooled again. This third Spartan attack, in which UNCG cut a 14-point lead with six to go to a two-point deficit with 1:27 remaining, was pushed back with made free throws - the Mocs will be listed on the Big Bracket for the first time since 1997.
141st Round Opponent: UMPFNRecord:
27-5 (18-1 Big South
)Big Nonconference Wins:
November 30 at Providence
(60-54), December 17 at East Carolina
(70-55). It should be noted that these wins looked much bigger at the time than they do now.Key Player: Former MMBOW Torrell Martin
, a gutsy little guard who can shot the lights so out, they come back on again.Season Story:
Went into BSC play 9-4 and looked to dominate. They did, rebounding from a season-opening drop to win 18 straight. The most notable part of this streak was the Winthrop Gauntlet, a stretch of four wins in six days that came about due to weather postponements.What's a...?
Any of various large diurnal birds of prey of the family Accipitridae, including members of the genera Aquila and Haliaeetus, an eagle is characterized by a powerful hooked bill, keen vision, long broad wings, and strong soaring flight*
Fairly low.Clip Show:
December 1: Winthrop 60, Providence 54 - The once-mighty Eagles of the Big South are rebuilding (only one upperclassman on the roster) but put in a respectable performance at the Paradise Jam, beating Troy State and Austin Peay after being thrashed by Arkansas. The Friars gift-wrapped this one, going cold from the floor (19% in the second half) and letting Winthrop rally from a 16 point deficit.Louisiana-LafayetteSeed:
December 18:Winthrop 70, East Carolina 55 - With embarrassing losses to D2 teams and potential school-poaching by the Atlantic Sun, it hasn't been the Big South's day, their week, their month, or even their year. But Winthrop has been a big bright spot, running out to a 7-2 record that includes two wins over power-conference teams - last night's victims were the C-USA's East Carolina Pirates. The Eagles built an 18-point halftime lead on the strength of a 29-9 run, and they didn't have to expend much energy protecting that lead in the second half.
January 6: Coastal Carolina 76, Winthrop 68 - Winthrop compiled a respectable 9-4 non-conference record and figured to cruise through a BSC riddled with squads with losses to Division II schools. But then their league schedule got off to an inauspicious start when they were beat by a team with a 20-person student section and a gigantic teal-colored chicken for a mascot. Quoth TMM's favorite quote machine, Eagles coach Gregg Marshall: "You play for Winthrop, the other team gets up for you and really wants to beat you. It makes me upset."
January 23: Winthrop (13-5, 5-1 BSC) won its fifth straight after a league-opening loss at Coastal Carolina by avenging the decision 80-66 in the home-and-home's back end: they broke their first-place tie with Charleston Southern, who lost to Birmingham Southern.
February 8: "Nobody would choose to play four games in six days," said Winthrop coach Gregg Marshall recently. Last night saw the start of the Winthrop Gauntlet, a hellish series that came about due to schedule reshuffling. The Eagles (16-5, 8-1 BSC) passed their first test by beating North Carolina-Asheville 67-60 at home; it was their eighth straight win. Three to go.
February 20: All hail mighty Winthrop (20-5, 12-1 BSC); they dusted Radford last night 65-55 to run their win streak to 12 and clinch the tourney one-seed.
March 6: (1) Winthrop 68, (7) Charleston Southern 46 - When the bright lights of ESPN2 descended upon the Mid-Majority for another year, former MMBOW Torrell Martin was the star of the show - he netted 13 and nabbing nine. Winthrop's (27-5, 18-1 BSC) victory seemed a foregone conclusion, but the conclusion finally came and the Eagles will be Dancing. "We had the home-court fans," senior James Shuler told the press afterwards. "We had the chemistry, the confidence. There was no way we were going to lose." The Buccaneers of CSU made a brave run as road warriors out of the seven seed, pretty much living in their bus since last Monday.
131st Round Opponent: LouisvilleRecord:
20-10 (14-4 Sun Belt
)Big Nonconference Wins:
November 19 vs. Louisiana Tech
(84-63), November 27 vs. Rice
(75-61), January 5 vs. Southern Illinois
Tiras Wade is a 6'6" juco transfer guard who averaged over 20 points per game this season. He can beat anyone off the dribble, anywhere, anytime.Season Story:
The defending champs labored in the shadow of upstart Denver
all year, dropping two decisions to the Pioneers in the regular season. But while everyone was talking about the Pioneers, ULL quietly won 11 of 12 and beat Denver the time it mattered most - in the Sun Belt title game.What's a...?
A Ragin' Cajun is a resident of the Louisiana Delta region who happens to be very angry.Cinderellability:
Medium-lowish. But they did shock Oklahoma
back in 1992, remember?Clip Show:
November 30: Georgia State 85, Louisiana-Lafayette 78 - A good Atlantic Sun club beat a bigger and stronger Ragin' Cajun team - one picked by many to storm through the Sun Belt Conference this year - by making their free throws down the stretch. It was the front end of a rare non-conference home-and-home; as GSU coach Mike Perry told the Opelousas Daily World, "Louisiana is a lot like us in that they have trouble scheduling, because nobody really wants to play either of us."George WashingtonSeed:
December 21: Louisiana-Lafayette, a school that has ruled the Sun Belt recently, had as many coaches in 2004 as Southern California did. When Jessie Evans, the architect of the recent success, left to resurrect the formerly proud San Francisco program, the school went outside the family. When hot assistant Glynn Cyprien was brought in from Oklahoma State, longtime assistant Robert Lee was quite non-plussed at being passed over. When Cyprien was fired for lying on his resumé about a Texas-El Paso bachelor's degree he never earned, Lee was given sloppy seconds. Now Lafayette is searching desperately for an identity under Lee, Evans is already pulling upsets at USF, and now Cyprien has filed a lawsuit seeking ULL's proverbial trousers. Days of our lives, etc.
January 30: Defending champions Louisiana-Lafayette (12-6, 6-1 SBC) have reeled off six straight and are 6-1. The Ragin' Cajuns find themselves in the West division's first place after Denver stumbled for the first time in Sun Belt play, a 71-61 dropped decision to New Orleans lowlighted by 15 turnovers that led to 19 Privateer points. Lafayette, for their part, held down Middle Tennessee State 54-44 in a three-point brickfest dominated down low (glass tally: 45-31) by ULL.
121st Round Opponent: Georgia TechRecord:
22-7 (14-5 Atlantic 10
)Big Nonconference Wins:
That fateful BB&T Classic sweep. December 4 vs, Michigan State
(96-83) and December 5 vs. Maryland
Pops Mensah-Bonsu (avg. 12 and 6) is an 6'9" Englishman who likes to say "dunk you very much." The Colonials play a speed game with their letterific guards, T.J. Thompson and J.R. Pinnock.Season Story:
The Colonials were picked to storm through the A-10, but a 97-76 loss to Wake Forest
cooled heels around Hoops Nation. One weekend in December was enough to get the media flocking back to D.C., and GW put together a respectable - but not dominant - 11-5 record in a down A-10 West division. They went on to win all three of their tourney games in convincing fashion.What's a...?
A Colonial is one who inhabits or possesses one or more colonies.Cinderellability:
December 6: George Washington 101, Maryland 92 - OMG, what an upset! Watching this game on TV out of the corner of my eye, I had the distinct impression that Maryland was being swarmed and engulfed by tiny dark-blue insects. GW, who also upended Michigan State on the way to the BB&T Classic "championship," simply outtempoed the Terps to death - senior guard T.J. Thompson had 27 on L33T 10-for-15 shooting, and sophomore J.R. Pinnock chipped in 22 with three steals.CreightonSeed:
March 13: (W1) George Washington 76, St. Joseph's 67 - St. Joe's dictated the flow (hard and slow), but the freewheeling Colonials earned their first A-10 basketball championship ever by playing along for most of the game. They turned aside a brave 25-point performance from co-player of the year Pat Carroll, and pulled away late for the victory, dropping a 10-0 run as the minutes ticked away in Cincinnati. GW will be making their seventh entrance to the Great Ball.
101st Round Opponent: West VirginiaRecord:
23-10 (14-7 Missouri Valley
)Big Nonconference Wins:
November 24 at Ohio State
(65-63), November 30 at Xavier
(73-72), February 19 vs. Chattanooga
If you want the Funk, Creighton's got it. Nate is a 6'3" All-MVC guard who netted 17 points a game this year.Season Story:
After a 7-0 start and an 8-2 preleague mark, stayed in a pack of four teams around .500 until a 82-68 win at Wichita State
on February 16 (that featured a tremendous second-half burst) cemented a regular-season sweep, broke the Shockers' backs, and touched off an eight-game Bluejay tear. In retrospect, it was the most important half of basketball played in the MVC all season.What's a...?
A bluejay is a North American bird (Cyanocitta cristata
) having a crested head, predominantly blue plumage, and a harsh, noisy cry.*Cinderellability:
December 19: Wyoming 68, Creighton 64 - The Bluejays (8-2 after a 6-0 start) played from behind for most of this one, becoming unglued after an early rim-hanging technical. Despite a late rally and the 17-point/eight-board effort of starchild Nate Funk, the team shot 32 percent from the floor and were killed on the boards, 50-30. Weary Wyoming was playing its fifth straight roadie, coming off tough losses at Kansas State and Dayton.PacificSeed:
December 23: Evansville 63, Creighton 61 - The first Valley game for both teams offered a glimpse of the red-hot action this ten-deep league will offer. A seesaw second half culminated in a buzzer-beating jumper by Evansville guard Kyle Anslinger, the only Ace starter who didn't post double figures. Creighton has lost three of four after a seven-game win streak.
February 17: Creighton 82, Wichita State 68 - As they have in most of their recent games, the Shockers sped to an early lead. But when your opposition shoots 84% in the second half, you really don't have a chance at winning, whether you're at home or not. Bluejay Nate Funk was the hero, blasting Wichita for 35 points.
March 8: (3) Creighton 75, (5) Southwest Missouri State 57 - Arch Madness turned into the "Creighton Invitational" once again, as the Bluejays dispatched Saluki-killing Bears in rude fashion. So the biggest mystery in Hoops Nation right now: how many bids are in there Valley?
81st Round Opponent: PittsburghRecord:
26-3 (19-1 Big West)Big Nonconference Wins:
December 11 at Nevada
(72-69), February 19 vs. Texas-El Paso
Six-ten Swede Christian Maraker is a rangy big man who takes opponents to school and makes power-conference coaches drool.Season Story:
After going a round in last year, expectations were high in Stockton, but the Tigers lived up to each and every one. A tough preleague slate (which included a second round rematch with Kansas
) yielded a 5-2 record, and they wouldn't lose in Big West play until the conference final. The two regular-season contests against fellow Dancers Utah State
stand as two of the three best games to be played in mid-majorville this year.What's a...?
A tiger is a large carnivorous feline mammal (Panthera tigris
) of Asia, having a tawny coat with transverse black stripes.*Cinderellability:
Very high.Clip Show:
January 14: Pacific 73, Utah State 66 (2OT) - If only this game was televised, so I could pass out burned DVD copies to all the people who blather on at me about how boring mid-major basketball is. This battle between last year's co-regular season champions had it all: lead changes, scoring spurts, screaming fans, and serious tourney seeding implications. Pacific (11-2, 6-0 BWC) held the nation's field goal percentage leaders to 33%, but the Aggies (11-4, 2-2 BWC) had the rebounding edge and hung in with timely runs. The Tigers took control at the beginning of the second overtime, sparked by a thundering Christian Maraker drive-and-dunk, and he pulled down all of nine rebounds after regulation time had ended. Pacific, a program that finally can afford air conditioning, has won 19 straight Big West basketball contests.
January 28: Pacific 66, Cal State Northridge 62 - The Tigers (15-2, 10-0 BWC) proved last night that they are not only Mad, but Beyond Matadome as well. They marched into Northridge and held off a late run by the perennial upstart Matadors (9-9, 7-3 BWC), who sunk further into second place. Like a lot of sequels, this game had a similar plot to the unexpected title game matchup in Anaheim last March: UOP held off a fierce rally by CSN and won by a tight margin. All-Everything Pacific six-niner Christian Maraker led the house with 16 points on 6-for-11 shooting.
February 14: Pacific 64, Utah State 63 - With 31 seconds left, homestanding Utah State was leading 61-53. Warm up the bus, right? Wrong! An improbable series of events which included a lot of missed free throws brought UOP back into the game, and Christian Maraker's jumper with two ticks left won it. We'll now have to make the pair of Pacific-Utah State games a bonus two-DVD gift set, and hope like hell they meet up again in the Big West finals. Pacific is now 20-2 overall and 14-0 in conference, and their Tournament aspirations may finally be bulletproof against a possible tumble in said conference tourney.
March 13: (2) Utah State 65, (1) Pacific 52 - UOP's nation's-best win streak is over at 22, but if there's any justice in the world they should get a chance to start a new one next weekend in the NCAA Tournament. Utah State, a 24-7 team that hung around on the outskirts during January and February, finally got sweet revenge on the Tigers; they held their opponents scoreless for over eight minutes in the second half.
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