Terriers hope to make splash in crowded, competitive pool
Princeton’s Douglas Davis shot Harvard out of the NCAA Tournament. Boston College shot itself out. And that leaves those spunky Boston University Terriers alone to represent our local interests as the spectacle known as March Madness sets up residence in the hearts, minds, brackets, and wallets of Americans for the next three weeks.
BU’s quixotic return to the tournament after a nine-year absence will end quickly, the No. 16 seed Terriers having drawn traditional power Kansas in a second-round game to be played Friday in Tulsa, Okla. No 16 has defeated a 1 since seeding as we know it began in 1985. BU is unlikely to become the first.
But before BU’s 11-game winning streak comes to an end, attention must be paid to just how Pat Chambers’s pups squirmed their way into the tournament. They are coming off an America East championship game against Stony Brook in which they shot 31 percent and had an almost surreal total of two assists. Of course, they only had 15 baskets, which leads us to . . .
Thank God For Free Throws!
In BU’s last four games, ending in victory margins of 2 (in overtime), 9, 6, and 2, BU has attempted 116 foul shots to opponents’ 44. They have made 87, to opponents’ 30. Even Duke doesn’t dream of such an advantage. Chambers must know somethin’. He is likely to be in big clinic demand this spring and summer. For all we know, Bill Self lay awake last night worrying about how he was going to keep that resourceful BU team from getting to the line.
But BU is there, and so are the Long Island Blackbirds, the Cal Santa Barbara Gauchos, the Wofford Terriers, and the Saint Peter’s Peacocks, not to mention the Princeton Tigers. They are all champions of their leagues, and unlike the Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners, the Alabama State Hornets, the North Carolina-Asheville Bulldogs, and the Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans, the two Terriers, Blackbirds, Gauchos, and Peacocks will not have to play one of those “First Four’’ games in Dayton. As Tevye would say, it’s no great honor to do so.
The greatest honors belong to the No. 1 seeds, which are, in order, Ohio State, Kansas, Pittsburgh, and defending champion Duke. The selection committee has nothing to apologize for with these choices. Notre Dame and North Carolina played themselves out of it, and there really was no other serious candidate for a No. 1, unless you pay alumni dues to San Diego State, which should be immensely pleased to secure an unprecedented No. 2 seed, thanks to a 32-2 season.
There will always be questions and squawks about seeds. Florida a 2? Kansas State a 5? Georgia a 10? This stuff is never easy.
As always, who got in and who didn’t was the main subplot. After all the talk, the Big East really did get 11 teams in, with five of them seeded fourth or better. The biggest pressure is on Pitt, which has had one of the elite programs in the land for the last decade, but has yet to make the Final Four.
For the 100th, no 10th, OK fourth straight year they are crying a river in Blacksburg, Va., where the Virginia Tech Hokies, permanent February residents on the infamous “bubble,’’ were denied a bid to the tournament. Remember that raucous scene on the night of Feb. 26, when Virginia Tech beat Duke and Dick Vitale unofficially anointed coach Seth Greenberg as a tournament-bound coach? Well, the Hokies undid a lot of that nice work by submitting a stinkbomb in their very next game against BC. It’s funny. This year, they actually did play some decent nonconference games. Problem is, they lost to UNLV, lost to Purdue, and lost to Kansas State. They did beat Penn State, but they also had two unforgivable losses to Virginia.
Among the other stunned omissions were Saint Mary’s, Colorado, Missouri State, and Alabama, the Crimson Tide wondering how fellow bubble-dweller Georgia got in when they defeated the Bulldogs twice (the committee says it pays no special attention to head-to-head).
OK, what about our guys?
Harvard never really had a chance, which tells you something about the essential mind-set of the committee, this or any other year. There is no difference between Harvard and Princeton. Harvard’s big problem against any good team is depth. But its core unit consists of quality athletes who can play with a lot of people. It would have been an enlightened move to give the Ivies a second team, but it was just too much to ask.
BC had ample opportunity to play itself in. Losing to Yale had to hurt, but losing to Harvard was hardly a disgrace. The two losses to Miami were harmful, no doubt, but the fact remains the Clemson game last week really was a winner-take-all final exam to get into the tourney, and BC was not in that game for even one of its 2,400 seconds. BC is a very entertaining but very erratic team, ultimately dependent on making threes, which is always a precarious way to live.
There will not — I repeat, will not — be any stories resembling Butler’s this year. Butler itself is back, but it took a lot of work to get there, and with a No. 8 seed it will be dispatched by Pitt, even if it gets by Old Dominion. There are some Little Guys capable of winning a game, among them Oakland and Belmont. You also needn’t be struck dumb if Wofford gives BYU a go in a Southeast Regional 3-14 game.
If you’re looking for a team that’s just plain fun, and loosey-goosey enough to bring its ‘A’ game against anyone, it’s Washington, the No. 7 seed in the East. Or maybe the Huskies need to see Arizona lined up against them in order to bring out their best. But I would keep my eye on Washington, were I you.
I’m stopping short of giving you a champ, but I will tell you whose best is the best. Ohio State is the best combination of talented experience and talented youth, as well as being the best combination of inside-outside scoring capability. Fifth-year senior David Lighty played on the 2007 Final Four team. All-time Big Ten 3-point shooter Jon Diebler and bruising Dallas Lauderdale are also quality seniors. Junior William Bedford is a nice midsized player. Freshman Aaron Craft is a spark off the bench.
And there’s the little matter of 6-foot-9-inch, 270-pound inside mauler Jared Sullinger, a scoring-rebounding puzzle few foes have solved. He’s right there with Duke’s Nolan Smith and BYU’s Jimmer Fredette as a Player of the Year candidate.
The only problem is this happens to be the NCAA Tournament. Last year, Kansas and Kentucky towered above the field at this time. One bad night and you’re out. Any of the other No. 1s could win. Carolina could win. (No, I don’t think Notre Dame can win.) Hey, get BU to the line enough times and the Terriers could win. Then we’d have a story.