I just finished looking at the brackets for the NCAA Division II men’s and women’s basketball tournaments — it’s the traditional last act of basketball for me during this week every year.
(I was on the way back from the South Atlantic Conference tournament in Hickory when the event was live online, so I missed the “selection show,” patterned after the one you’ll see next Sunday when the invitees to Division I’s “Big Dance” are unveiled.)
Anyway, the results were interesting. I look first at what is called the South Atlantic region, where the three conferences I follow — the SAC, Conference Carolinas and the Peach Belt — have been combined starting this year into a pretty formidable grouping. Conference Carolinas got only its tournament champions into the field of 64 — Barton for the men and Anderson for the women. Some conference tournament upsets took their toll on a team or two that might have had a chance to get in. Also interesting to see that the Peach Belt claimed the first four seeds in the men’s eight-team region.
I covered the men’s finals of the SAC, a pretty engaging game between No. 3-seed Tusculum and No. 4 Catawba that actually was able to draw distracted media types like me into watching it instead of following Duke-North Carolina online. Catawba won the tournament for the second straight year, regrouping after nearly blowing an eight-point lead late in the game for a 63-61 win.
This conference’s tournament nearly always holds a surprise, especially on the men’s side, and this year’s event was true to form as Catawba came from the middle of the pack to win again.
“It just takes us till the end of the year to come together,” said Antonio Houston, Catawba forward who was the tournament’s men’s MVP. “We can win games when it counts.”
Tusculum and No. 1-seed Lenoir-Rhyne, a loser to Catawba in the semifinals, also made the tournament field.
The women’s bracket went much more predictably, with No. 1-seed Lenoir-Rhyne defeating Tusculum in the final game. Tusculum and Carson-Newman also made the tournament field from the confererence.
A couple of random thoughts:
— The big crowd for the women’s final, boosted by the presence of the hometown L-R Bears, thinned out some for the men’s game. But overall, it wasn’t a bad day for folks wearing orange and supporting the Tusculum Pioneers — they lost both games, but their teams will still be playing next week. It marked the first time a conference school got both teams to championship day since Catawba swept the men’s and women’s titles in 2004. (I must also note that Lenoir-Rhyne, of course, also sent both its teams on to the NCAA tournament.)
— I noted before that it was odd to be in Hickory and not be covering Wingate in at least one game. I looked it up and the last time that the Bulldogs didn’t send either the men’s or women’s team to the semifinals was — never. The SAC started a post-season basketball tournament in 1991 after expanding from a football-only conference to an all-sports league and until this year, at least one of our hoops teams had made the conference Final Four. I hope to see our student-athletes back there next year.
So after three days of steady consumption of basketball games and hospitality room food — I’m not one to complain, it was all good — it’s back to school tomorrow. Soon Jayne will be home from her weekend trip and all will be right with the world.