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The NCAA tournament, from Bakersfield to Boomer Sooner

The field is set for the 2016 NCAA Tournament.

America’s favorite bracketed event begins Tuesday with the First Four.

Let’s put before you a number of facts — a sampler platter more than a definitive summary — of the newest edition of the Big Dance:

FIRST-TIME DANCERS

Championship Week (a fortnight, to be more precise) began with 50 Division I schools which had never made the NCAA tournament. That list is now at 48 after Stony Brook and Cal State Bakersfield made their way to Bracketville for the first time on Saturday.

See the cover photo, above? That’s Bakersfield coach Rod Barnes, gettin’ his Dance moves on. Barnes is the only coach to take Ole Miss to the Sweet 16. He now adds this feat to his resume.

Stony Brook was carried into the tournament by this guy:


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Jameel Warney scored 43 points to lead the Seawolves back from a double-digit deficit against Vermont. He’s a special player whose place in college basketball history is already secure.

FINDING THE RIGHT DANCE PARTNER

Five schools in the 2016 field have made this Dance before, but haven’t found the opponent which could provide a first-ever NCAA tournament victory. Those schools are Fairleigh Dickinson, South Dakota State, Buffalo, Hawaii, and Yale.

HAIL, YALE!

The Bulldogs are making their first trip to the NCAAs since 1962.

WHEN JIM BOEHEIM WAS AN ASSISTANT COACH

Jim Boeheim leads Syracuse into the NCAA tournament in his 40th season as the Orange’s head coach.

The year before Boeheim took over the program, he was an assistant to Roy Danforth, who piloted Syracuse to its first Final Four. That team was honored earlier this season, shown below:

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THE LAUNCHING PAD

Tulsa, which snuck into the First Four to make the outer edge of this year’s field, has launched highly successful coaching careers.

Three men made the NCAA tournament at Tulsa before winning a national championship within the next decade. Nolan Richardson left Tulsa in 1985; in 1994, he won it all with Arkansas. Tubby Smith left Tulsa in 1995; he won a national title at Kentucky in 1998. Bill Self guided Tulsa to its best-ever NCAA finish, an Elite Eight in 2000. He then left for Illinois, and later landed in Kansas, where he led the Jayhawks to the national championship in 2008.

AUSTIN’S POWERS, PART ONE

Austin Peay’s last win in the NCAA tournament came in 1987, but boy, was it a memorable one.

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This conquest of Illinois represented one of the first 14-over-3 upsets since the move to a 64-team field in 1985. Can the Governors rule the court again? Coach Dave Loos has been with AP since 1990. His team clinched this year’s NCAA tournament berth on his 69th birthday. A win would make a great post-birthday (or is it “berth day”?) present.

 

HOLY CROSSED

The Holy Cross Crusaders lost 19 games. They were the 9 seed in the Patriot League Tournament. They didn’t win a single road game during the conference’s regular season.

So, of course, they won four straight roadies to get a ticket to Dayton and the First Four.

Sports.

More on the Crusaders’ coach, next:

CARMODY’S COMEBACK

Holy Cross coach Bill Carmody spent 13 seasons trying to get Northwestern to its first NCAA tournament. He had made the Dance with Princeton in the late 1990s. That’s one fact.

Here’s another fact with a beautiful human-interest angle:

TOURNAMENT TURNABOUT IS FAIR PLAY

Green Bay, Iona, and South Dakota State all lost conference tournaments as 1 seeds earlier this decade. They tasted the sting of missing the Dance because of one bad night after two-plus months of excellent work. This year, they turned the tables. None were top seeds in conference tournaments, but they all got hot and won them to punch their tickets.

The results make the fans of other top seeds sad, but for these three fan bases, there’s a certain kind of justice in the results.

WIN DROUGHTS

Some schools in the field have never won an NCAA tournament game. These four have, but not in a long time — not since the 1980s or earlier:

Middle Tennessee (1989), Austin Peay (1987), Oregon State (1982), and Iona (1980).

SEPARATE AND SEPARATED, BUT STILL JOINED

Wichita State and Tulsa used to share membership in the Missouri Valley Conference before Tulsa left. Their rivalry in the early 1980s was fierce and memorable. Now in separate conferences and — for that matter — playing in separate First Four games, these teams are joined in history. They’re both the first teams in their respective conferences to play in the First Four. Wichita State owns that distinction in the Missouri Valley, while Tulsa is the first team in the American Athletic Conference to go to Dayton in what amounts to a play-in game.

OREGON STATE’S SUNRISE AND SON-RISE

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Three facts about the Oregon State Beavers:

* They’re in the Dance for the first time since 1990.

* That was the longest drought between bids for any team in a Power 5 conference. Rutgers is now the “leader” (1991).

* Gary Payton led OSU to the tournament in 1990. His son, Gary Payton II (above, left), has been able to bring the Beavers back to the bright lights of March.

MODERN MARVELS

Since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, a few programs have entered their most prosperous sustained periods.

These schools are all in the 2016 tournament and have made at least 30 overall appearances, while collecting under 10 in the previous 46 seasons of the Dance (1939-1984). In other words, they’ve loaded up in the modern era:

Duke, Temple, Texas, Arizona, Michigan State, and Oklahoma.

MILESTONES

Here’s one milestone: Duke is in its 40th NCAA tournament, the sixth school to notch that mark.

Here’s a shared milestone for three schools: Michigan State, Cincinnati, and Oklahoma are in their 30th tournament this year, putting them among 21 schools to accomplish the feat.

GIANT-KILLERS RETURN

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Two teams in the field are part of the small club of schools to pull off 15-over-2 upsets. Florida Gulf Coast and Hampton are back.

ONE IS THE LONELIEST NUMBER

It’s hard to win one NCAA tournament game. A total of 88 teams have been to the Dance and failed to win. (Northwestern hasn’t even been in an NCAA tournament game.)

Dozens of other schools have won once, but only once. They want to repeat the feat and find a treat this March. The six schools: Arkansas-Little Rock, Green Bay, Iona, Southern, Stephen F. Austin, and UNC-Wilmington.

OREGON’S ASPIRATION

The Oregon Ducks won the first NCAA tournament in 1939, and have not returned to the Final Four since then. Only two other pre-1950 national champions share that distinction: Holy Cross and Wyoming.

AUSTIN’S POWERS, PART II

Stephen F. Austin was the only team to go undefeated in every conference game this season.

The Lumberjacks are 59-1 in their conference (including tournament games) over the past three seasons.

Coach Brad Underwood will get a look at a much bigger job if he wants one.

FRESNO’S BLAST FROM THE PAST

Here’s the man who coached Fresno State in 2001, the last time the Bulldogs made the NCAA tournament:

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X MARKS THE UNCOMFORTABLE SPOT

BYU and Missouri are not in this year’s tournament, but they lead the pack in terms of most NCAA tournament bids without a Final Four — 29 for BYU, 26 for Missouri.

Among teams in the field, Xavier is the leader with 26. This might be the Musketeers’ best chance to make the Final Four in program history. Coach Chris Mack encounters one of the biggest moments of his career on the bench.

THE PANTHERS HAVE SCALPS

Northern Iowa lost a bunch of games to teams outside the RPI Top 100, but the Panthers beat North Carolina and Iowa State. They beat Wichita State twice. They can hang with the big boys.

HIGHER STANDARDS

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Image courtesy 247 Sports

Tony Bennett has elevated Virginia to the point that the Cavaliers expect to succeed. This is the third straight season in which Virginia is a top-2 seed in the tournament, the second in three years that the Hoos are a 1 seed.

THE STREAK

Gonzaga is making its 18th straight NCAA tournament appearance, one of five active streaks of at least 18 seasons. The other four schools with active streaks of 18 or more tournaments: Wisconsin, Michigan State, Duke, and Kansas. The Jayhawks lead the pack with 27 straight appearances.

THE LAST TIME…  

The last time the four No. 1 seeds were a No. 1 seed:

* Kansas lost in the Sweet 16 in 2013 to Michigan.

* Virginia lost in the Sweet 16 to Michigan State in 2014.

* North Carolina lost in the Elite Eight to Kansas in 2012.

* Oregon has NEVER before been a 1 seed.

DOUBLE CHAMPIONS

Schools and coaches get judged based on how they do the next few weeks, but it’s important to recognize what they’ve done the past three months.

Here are the nine teams which won outright regular season conference titles and then doubled their fun by winning their conference tournaments:

Stony Brook.

North Carolina.

Kansas.

Weber State.

Hampton.

Oregon.

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Dana Altman has been nothing short of spectacular in his work with Oregon — throughout his tenure in Eugene, but especially this season.

Chattanooga.

Stephen F. Austin.

Arkansas-Little Rock.

STAYING POWER

Of the top eight seeds in last year’s NCAA tournament (all the 1 and 2 seeds), only three returned to one of the top two seed lines this year: Virginia, Villanova and Kansas.

LON IS NO LONGER ALONE

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Get off my lawn? No — Tubby Smith of Texas Tech has joined Oklahoma’s Lon Kruger in NCAA tournament history. With Texas Tech’s inclusion in the field, Smith becomes the second coach to lead five schools to the NCAAs: Tech, Kentucky, Tulsa, Georgia, and Minnesota. Kruger did so at Oklahoma, UNLV, Illinois, Florida, and Kansas State.

Matt Zemek

About Matt Zemek

Matt Zemek is the managing editor of The Student Section, covering college football and basketball with associate editors Terry Johnson and Bart Doan. Mr. Zemek is the editor of Crossover Chronicles, covering the NBA. He is also Bloguin's lead tennis writer, covering the major tournaments. He contributes to other Bloguin sites, such as The AP Party.

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