Unless you’re a Wichita State fan, it’s hard not to root for Cal Poly today to make history by becoming the first No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Much of the appeal of March Madness, after all, is the possibility of the underdog winning, and the Mustangs represent about the ultimate version of that.
With the exception of what amount to play-in games, no team with a losing record has won an NCAA tourney game since Bradley in 1955. That year, the Braves received a berth with a 7-19 record to fill out the bracket. The rule that enabled that oddity was changed the next year.
In more recent history, since the tournament field increased to 64 in 1985 No. 16 seeds are 0-116.
Cal Poly (14-19) earned its way here by winning the Big West tournament and beating Texas Southern in the play-in on Tuesday in Dayton by shooting 57 percent from the field amid a season in which it was 313th in the nation with a 41-percent average.
As for the chances Cal Poly will advance by undefeated Wichita State to take on (John) Calipari and Kentucky or Kansas State on Sunday, though, even coach Joe Callero says the case for his team doesn’t appear good.
“Well, it probably shouldn’t (win). Why would you look at the numbers and say that Cal Poly has a chance?” he said.
Just the same, his team played a rugged non-conference schedule with this end in mind and suffered a number of injuries along the way before taking shape in the last week.
And every game is its own entity, after all.
“Whatever you have done in the past is behind you,” he said. “I mean, Wichita State is 34-0, but they don’t get to carry those games on to the court. They don’t get spotted an extra 34 points for winning 34 games, and we are not penalized for having a (bad) record.
“It’s ‘you play the game 40 minutes on Friday,’ OK? So our focus is on the 40 minutes. We want to focus on the 40 minutes, the 40 minutes that we have this one opportunity to play this one game to the best of our abilities.”
Part of that means being braced to beat Wichita State at its own game, emotionally if nothing else.
“They play angry; for us to have a chance, we have to be furious,” he said, later adding, “You know, we have to love the blood. Our thing, we get hit in the mouth, you have to love the blood, because we have to compete at the highest level we ever dreamed of to shock the world.”
Every year, I honestly believe that somehow this time I’ll crack the code on the bracket. Heck, I even dare to dream of perfection. And every year,the hopes are crushed
I missed three of the four play-in games but told myself that didn’t really count. But then down went Ohio State in the first result of the day.
Part of my problem is balancing what you want to see happen with what you believe will.
For instance, I’m sure I picked Iowa to win in Dayton AND to beat UMass simply because I knew and liked coach Fran McCaffrey in college andbecause of his son’s illness.
So what if the Hawkeyes had lost six of their last seven?
Meanwhile, I can hardly think of a coach more enjoyable and interesting than Kansas’ Bill Self, but my spider-sense is telling me the Jayhawks just aren’t right without Joel Embiid and could get knocked out Sunday.
But who knows? At least I’m sure I’ll get it right next year.
Speaking of coaches and the media, the other local ambassadors in St. Louis, K-State’s Bruce Weber and Wichita State’s Marshall, also are just terrific to deal with: candid, funny, smart and accessible.
Marshall on the Shockers’ apparent rough draw in the tournament:
“Are you wanting me to say that it’s unfair?” he said to laughter and later adding, “That’s not the way you do it. You don’t look that far in advance. You just take care of the business in front of you. Eat an elephant one bite at a time.”
Point well-taken: Late Thursday, 13th-seeded Manhattan into the final moments threatened No. 4 seed Louisville, the defending national champion and one of the presumptive roadblocks for the Shockers later in the tournament. The Cardinals hung on 71-64.
After his news conference, Weber spoke to the odd dynamics of having all three Division I Kansas schools here, including the prospect of the Shockers and his Wildcats meeting on Sunday.
“Our governor’s happy; he can come here and see all three schools,” he said. “I’m hoping the Wichita fans and the Kansas fans will cheer for us. It’s probably hard for both of them to do that.
“But if you’re Wichita, would you rather play K-State which they keep talking about, or play Kentucky, you know? I told a couple Wichita fans, ‘Put your purple shirt under your yellow one, and as soon as the game’s over flip it over.’ “