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2002 Tournament Teams Update

January 8, 2003 Columns No Comments


The Year After

by Adam Shandler


It’s so hard to keep up a legacy; to keep going back to the NCAA Tournament year after year. Especially if you’re a team that no one knows anything about until they frantically fill out their office pool bracket the Wednesday night before tipoff.

Last year, the mid-majors and double-digit seeds really came into their own with nine games that ended in upsets or really close finishes.

But this is a whole new year, and the basketball community is always prone to amnesia. Unless your team is on ESPN consistently or in one of the Top 25 polls, chances are, hoops fans nationwide have forgotten about you.

Here, we catch up with some of last year’s tournament surprises to see if they’re putting the pieces together for another postseason run. Will they continue to be Cinderellas or turn into Anna Nicole Smiths?

Siena

2002 Tournament: MAAC Champion; 16th seed in East bracket, defeated Alcorn State 81-77 in opening round, lost to (1) Maryland 85-70 in First Round.

While Siena didn’t blow us away in the tourney, they did get in — and they did win a tournament game — an awesome feat when you consider they were 18-19 and winners of the high-traffic Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament. At the end of conference play, Manhattan, Rider and Marist were the teams to beat, but the Saints and Dwayne Archbold pulled off the unthinkable for a trip to the dance.

This season, the Saints are more bullseye than arrow, as they’ve composed an 8-4 overall record, 2-1 in the MAAC. Key wins came against Providence and Fordham and conference rivals St. Peter’s and Canisius. The Saints are number 1 in their conference in offensive scoring and lead all conference rebounding categories.

Assessment: Manhattan continues to be the class of what seems to be a one-bid conference again this year. The Jaspers are just steamrolling over opponents and appear to be the team to beat. Siena, in fact, already lost to the Jaspers once this season. But after what Saints coach Rob Lanier did with team last year, what do I know?

Wyoming

2002 Tournament: Mountain West Champion; 11th seed in West region, defeated (6) Gonzaga, 73-66 in first round, lost to (3) Arizona, 68-60, in second round.

Thank goodness coach Steve McClain stuck around and didn’t jettison like the myriad of other coaches who trap NCAA lightning in a bottle. His leadership has led the Cowboys to an 11-2 record, including a big W over now-ranked Texas Tech, and has guided his team to an 8-game win streak. Guard Donta Richardson is averaging just under 30 a game and Nigerian bigman Uche Nsonwu-Amadi, last year’s WAC leader in rebounds and field-goal percentage, is breaking into mid-season form.

Assessment: Wyoming is sitting pretty atop the snow-capped peak of the Mountain West, but the Cowboys haven’t started conference play yet. Utah, as always, will be the biggest threat to their tourney run, with UNLV, BYU and Colorado State not far behind. But if the ‘Boys win the WAC, they deserve higher than an 11th seed come March.

Kent State

2002 Tournament: MAC Champion; 10th seed in the South Region, Defeated (7) Oklahoma State in first round, 69-61, defeated (2) Alabama in the second round, 71-58, defeated (3) Pittsburgh in the regional semifinals, 78-73, lost to (5) Indiana 81-69 in regional finals.

New coach, same result. The Golden Flashes, an Elite 8 participant in last year’s tourney, just keep winning, winning, winning. Without old coach Stan Heath and leading playmaker Trevor Huffman, Kent has put together an 8-1 record with their most notable win coming against Boston College in overtime. The Flashes opened up MAC play with a victory over Eastern Michigan and face Miami of Ohio, Bowling Green and Buffalo all in the same week.

Assessment: Kent State so far has the best overall record of the MAC teams, but not necessarily the best wins. Western Michigan, Toledo, and Ball State are facing teams with higher RPIs and, in some cases, winning. (Toledo’s victory over Michigan State, for example.) Conventional wisdom would say that Coach Christian’s team needs to win the MAC outright, but over the past few years, this conference has payed its dues, so KSU might benefit from the committee’s multi-bid mercy.

UNC-Wilmington

2002 Tournament: Colonial Champion; 13th seed in South Region, defeated (4) Southern California, 93-89, in first round, lost to (5) Indiana 76-67 in second round.

With a first year coach at the helm and the core nucleus of this team back for another season, the Seahawks seemed poised for another CAA run. Currently, they have a 7-3 record, with a win over the College of Charleston, are on a five game win streak, and are off to a good start in conference play: a 71-41 smacking of undermanned Hofstra. UNCW leads the CAA in 5 statistical categories thus far, and its fearsome threesome of guard Brett Blizzard (2nd in the CAA in scoring, 1st in steals), Craig Callahan (8th in the CAA in both scoring and rebounding) and Anthony Terrell continues to produce. Newcomer John Goldsberry has also been weapon.

Assessment: At this early juncture, Virginia Commonwealth poses the toughest threat to the Seahawks’ flight back to the tourney. The 7-3 Rams, led by former Duke standout Jeff Capel have righted their stinking ship and have already gotten two CAA wins on the year. Otherwise, UNC-Wilmington, with its depth, experience and firepower, seem like the hands-down candidate to represent the CAA come March.

Creighton

2002 Tournament: Missouri Valley Conference co-champion; 12th seed in Midwest Region, defeated (5) Florida, 83-82, in first round, lost to (4) Illinois, 72-60, in second round.

With their Hoopville Top 25 ranking, it almost seems funny to call Creighton a surprise team. But a year ago, they were, and shocked most basketball pundits with their edging of Florida. This year, the Jays are a formidable force in both the NCAA landscape and the MVC. Kyle Korver is doing a number on teams with his 15.5 ppg average and general leadership abilities. But he’s not the only Jay that’s poppin’. DeAnthony Bowen is a theft expert at 3.5 spg and Larry House is not only scoring, but doing all the intangibles. CU is 11-1, their only loss came at the hands of then-19th ranked Xavier.

Assessment: If they don’t blow it, Creighton returns to the dance. Even if they don’t win the Missouri Valley, their strength of schedule, a consistent presence in the Top 25 and a solid win-loss record should be enough for a bid.

Southern Illinois

2002 Tournament: Missouri Valley co-champion; 11th seed in East Region, defeated (6) Texas Tech in first round, 76-68, defeated (3) Georgia, 77-75 in second round, lost to (2) Connecticut in regional semifinals, 71-59.

The Salukis were one of those darling teams we all rooted for in last year’s tourney. A Sweet 16 squad, they had the whole basketball world asking “Who are these guys?” and “What the heck is a Saluki?” At 7-3, the “Egyptian hunting dogs” are in second place in the MVC and with conference play just begun, they could be the team that gives Creighton its next loss. Kent Williams is the Bizarro Kyle Korver, putting up 15.8 ppg and Jermaine Dearman, an offense-defense catalyst in last year’s postseason, is all over the stat leaders page.

Assessment: A shared MVC championship with Creighton may not happen this year. They’ll need to keep winning –and beat the Jays at least once — to get out of their shadow. Circle Saturdays January 18th and March 1st (games against Creighton) on your calendars. That’s when we’ll see if a Saluki is truly a hunting dog.

     

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