Getting Acquainted With 8 Lesser-Known Schools
Every year, the NCAA men's basketball tournament field features a few teams that leave casual fans puzzled as they fill out their brackets. The question usually isn't how far one of these teams will advance, but rather, "Where the heck is that?" Just like last year's field, this year's is no exception. Here's a primer on eight of the lesser-known schools in the field.
1. Arkansas Pine-Bluff Golden Lions
Location: Pine Bluff, Ark.
How They Got Here: The Golden Lions defeated Texas Southern in the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament title game.
Tournament History: The team is making its first appearance in the NCAA tournament.
Notable: Arkansas Pine-Bluff's marching band, M4, the Marching Musical Machine of the Mid-South, performed in Barack Obama's inaugural parade. First Lady Michelle Obama will deliver the commencement address at the school on May 8.
Famous Alum: L.C. Greenwood, a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers' Steel Curtain defense of the '70s, graduated from Pine-Bluff when it was still known as Arkansas AM&N in 1969.
Reason to Cheer:
Should they win tonight's play-in game against Winthrop (more on the Eagles below), the Golden Lions would play No. 1 seed Duke. Arkansas Pine-Bluff is no stranger to tough competition. The team opened the season with 11 consecutive non-conference road games, including five against NCAA tournament teams, and lost every one. The Golden Lions finished the season 17-15.
2. Winthrop Eagles
Location: Rock Hill, S.C.
How They Got Here: Winthrop upset Coastal Carolina in the Big South Conference tournament championship.
Tournament History: The Eagles have been to the NCAA tournament nine out of the last 12 years and upset No. 6 seed Notre Dame in the first round of the 2007 tournament. Winthrop is making its second appearance in the play-in game; the Eagles lost to Northwestern State in 2001, the first year the tournament expanded to 65 teams.
Notable: Winthrop has hosted the U.S. Disc Golf championship each of the last 11 years.
Famous Alum: Cecily Truett Lancit, a producer of Reading Rainbow, graduated from Winthrop. LeVar Burton, in case you were wondering, attended the University of Southern California's School of Theatre.
Reason to Cheer: The Eagles have been waiting 8 years for another possible crack at Duke in the NCAA tournament. The Blue Devils demolished the 16th-seeded Eagles 84-37 in 2002.
3. Wofford Terriers
Location: Spartanburg, S.C.
How They Got Here: Wofford won the Southern Conference regular season and tournament titles.
Tournament History: The Terriers are making their first appearance in the NCAA tournament.
Notable: Wofford's170-acre campus is recognized as a national arboretum. In 2008, the arboretum was renamed in honor of Roger Milliken, a Yale graduate who serves as a Wofford trustee. Milliken's textile and chemical product company, Milliken and Co., is headquartered in Spartanburg and has been recognized for its eco-friendly practices.
Famous Alum: Former Securities and Exchange Commission commissioner Paul S. Atkins, a member of the congressional panel overseeing the U.S. bank bailout, graduated from Wofford before receiving his law degree at Vanderbilt.
Reason to Cheer: It's always fun to root for the little guys. Wofford has the second-smallest enrollment (1300) of any team in NCAA tournament history. Terriers forward Noah Dahlman told reporters that his Latin American history professor asked him why he didn't tell the television reporters that his team played "like Aztec, Mayan warriors" after its tournament-clinching win.
4. Murray State Racers
Location: Murray, Ky.
How They Got Here: After cruising through the Ohio Valley Conference regular season, the Racers defeated Morehead State in a rematch of last year's OVC tournament championship game to capture the league's automatic bid.
Tournament History: Murray State is making its 14th appearance in the NCAA tournament.
Notable: If the Racers wear the glass slipper as the Cinderella of this year's tournament, they should consider affixing it to the school's Shoe Tree, located in front of Pogue Library. According to tradition, if a couple gets married after meeting at Murray State, they nail their shoes to the tree, which has become a bizarre-looking lightning rod.
Famous Alum: Popeye Jones, who retired in 2005 after a 13-year NBA career, is the fourth all-time leading scorer in Murray State history.
Reason to Mourn and Cheer: Murray State guard Picasso Simmons' mother was killed in a car crash on Monday in Nashville. The reserve guard intends to honor his mother's memory by traveling with the team to Friday's first round game against Vanderbilt in San Jose.
5. St. Mary's Gaels
Location: Moraga, Calif.
How They Got Here: One year after being snubbed from the NCAA tournament following a loss to Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference tournament championship game, the Gaels left no doubt with a convincing win over the Zags to clinch the WCC's automatic bid.
Tournament History: St. Mary's is making its sixth NCAA tournament appearance and third in the last six years.
Notable: During World War II, the St. Mary's campus was selected by the Navy Department as one of four locations for pre-flight training for cadets. Gerald Ford was stationed there as a naval instructor for a brief time, as the campus population soared from 300 to more than 2000.
Famous Alum: Bob LaDouceur, who coached the De La Salle High School football team to a record 151 consecutive wins from 1992 to 2003, earned a theology degree at St. Mary's.
Reason to Cheer: The Gaels' only win in the NCAA tournament came in 1959.
6. Sam Houston State Bearkats
Location: Huntsville, Texas
How They Got Here: Sam Houston State dominated Stephen F. Austin in the championship game of the Southland Conference tournament.
Tournament History: The Bearkats are making their second NCAA tournament appearance and first since 2003.
Notable: The school opened its doors in 1879 with the mission of training teachers to work in Texas' elementary and secondary schools. Contrary to an oft-repeated urban legend, the school was never known as the Sam Houston Institute of Teaching. (Consider the acronym.)
Famous Alum: Legendary news anchor Dan Rather received his B.A. in journalism from the school in 1953.
Reason to Cheer: What's not to like about a team that spells Bearkats with a "˜k'? The nickname dates to 1923, when the school was renamed from Sam Houston Normal Institute to Sam Houston State Teachers College. Until then, the school's athletic teams were known as the Normals. According to the school's media guide, the nickname was most likely based on a popular local saying, "Tough as a Bearkat." The simile referenced a mythical beast rather than an actual animal, which helps explain the mystifying spelling.
7. Old Dominion Monarchs
Location: Norfolk, Va.
How They Got Here: Old Dominion defeated William & Mary in the title game of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament.
Tournament History: The Monarchs are making their 10th appearance in the NCAA tournament. ODU's last win in the tournament came in 1995, when the No. 14 seed Monarchs shocked No. 3 seed Villanova in triple overtime.
Notable: Old Dominion boasts one of the greatest women's basketball programs in history. The Lady Monarchs won three NCAA titles from 1979 to 1985 and also became the first program to grant an athletic scholarship to a woman when they awarded one to basketball player Nancy Lieberman.
Famous Alum: Ben Bailey, the host of the television game show Cash Cab, is one of ODU's many famous alumni.
Reason to Cheer: Monarchs star forward Gerald Lee, who was recruited out of Finland and whose American father, Gerald Lee Sr., is the all-time leading scorer in Finnish pro basketball history, is one of the best players in the tournament most of the country has never heard of.
8. Oakland Golden Grizzlies
Location: Rochester Hills and Auburn Hills, Mich.
How They Got Here: Oakland defeated IUPUI in the championship game of the Summit League tournament.
Tournament History: Oakland is making its second NCAA tournament appearance. The Golden Grizzlies won the play-in game after qualifying for the tournament in 2005 with a 12-18 record. They lost to eventual national champion North Carolina in the first round.
Notable: Oakland's athletic teams were known as the Pioneers until they moved from Division II to Division I in 1997. The school solicited suggestions for a potential new nickname and a mascot advisory committee narrowed the possibilities, which also included keeping the nickname Pioneers, to Golden Grizzlies and Saber Cats.
Famous Alum: Neither of them graduated, but it's worth noting that Robert Englund, who played Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street and its sequels, and David Hasselhoff attended Oakland University.
Reason to Cheer: Did you not just read about the Hasselhoff connection? Oakland's first-round opponent is Pitt, whose student section is known as The Oakland Zoo, a reference to the neighborhood in which the school is located.