I know the bracket’s busted but…
Wichita State, Florida Gulf Coast and LaSalle have grabbed plenty of the headlines, as is usually the case through the first weekend when everyone loves party crashers (is it ok if I stay away from the whole tired Cinderella story thing? It makes me pull for the wicked step mom). But now we head to week two and we do it with plenty of big-time names. For all the tumult of last weekend, eleven of the sixteen remaining teams are four seeds or better—just like the committee drew it up. Arizona and Oregon , seeded sixth and, ridiculously, twelfth certainly don’t qualify as surprises, but the Shockers, Eagles and Explorers give the brackets just enough unpredictability moving forward.
Since they are called the Explorers, it’s generally assumed that LaSalle was named after French explorer Sieur de LaSalle, but, in fact, it’s St. Jean-Baptiste de La Salle that the university takes its name from. St. Jean was a priest and educational reformer in France in the late 18th century. He’s a saint in the Roman Catholic Church and is the patron saint of teachers. So where did the ‘Explorers’ nickname come in? Turns out a sportswriter, with a mistaken nod to Sieur, used the moniker during a report on an event in 1931. The nickname stuck, confusing generations to come.
Modern day Explorers---
LaSalle had a nice three game run last week winning games against Boise State, K-State and Mississippi by a combined 13 points. That run ended a two game skid to end the season when they were blown out at St. Louis and whipped in the A-10 tourney by Butler, both of which they’ve outlasted in the NCAA. In fact, LaSalle is the last A-10 team standing—surprising considering the prowess of the league during the regular season. The Explorers play with seven guys and run a four guard offense, which helps to explain how they’re one of the worst rebounding teams in the country. You can bet the Explorers will attack the basket against WSU much like Southern Illinois did with pretty decent results. The guy that’s getting all the national run is Ramon Galloway, a 6’2” scorer from Philly who’s had a great tournament so far. He’s about to meet Tekele Cotton and I know who I’m betting on.
Tubby Smith was fired today shortly after UCLA made official the release of Ben Howland. Smith won a national title at Kentucky after getting his coaching start at Tulsa. Howland went to three Final Fours but never escaped the shadow of John Wooden. Not that he and Wooden, while he was alive, didn’t have a good relationship, it’s just that the standard that the Wizard set is impossible for anyone to stand up to. I’ll be interested to see who UCLA lures as its next coach. Any candidate would have to be weary of going into a situation where the guy before him won a Pac-12 Championship only to get canned. As for Minnesota—I wonder just how good of job it is. The Gophers are said to have amongst the worst facilities in the Big 10. Clem Haskins took the program to two Elite Eights and a Final Four, but was forced to resign in the wake of one of the biggest academic fraud scandals in NCAA history. The job chewed up Dan Monson, who took Gonzaga to the Elite Eight and is now building at Long Beach State. Minneapolis is a great city, but that job has the look of a place where coaches go to end careers.
Can we get a memo out to the national folks? I just don’t want to hear the term ‘Wheat Shockers’ as it relates to Wichita State. I know it’s still the official nickname of WSU, but how far do you have to go back to when that name was widely used?
I feel ya, CAA---
George Mason, who Wichita State had such an interesting run with in ’06 and ’07 is bailing on the Colonial Athletic Association for the greener pastures of the Atlantic-10. The A-10 is looking to stabilize in the wake of departures from Xavier and Butler and the expected defections, next year, of Dayton and St. Louis. The Patriots are happily spending the million dollar exit fee to leave a league whose identity was largely forged by GMU’s 2006 run to the Final Four. Mason’s departure leaves…who, Northeastern as its preeminent basketball program?