Friday, March 4, 2011
Counting it down: Title field cut to 270
By Pat Forde
There are a ton of national championship elimination games to come Friday night, but the Big Dance Deathwatch afternoon action has been so interesting -- five games decided by a total of 24 points -- that it deserves its own entry.
Start with this general theme: Sic transit gloria.
That’s Latin for, “All glory is fleeting.” It applies Friday to a trio of coaches and programs that were bounced out of March far short of what they’ve experienced recently.
Last year, Ben Jacobson’s Northern Iowa team won 30 games and took down overall No. 1 seed Kansas on its way to a Cinderella Sweet 16.
Three years ago, Davidson coach Bob McKillop had his Wildcats one shot away from making the Final Four.
Four years ago, Chris Lowery took Southern Illinois to the Sweet 16 in a 29-win season.
Friday, they were all sent home in agonizing fashion.
Lowery’s 18-loss Salukis actually overachieved against No. 1 Missouri Valley Conference seed Missouri State -- for 37 ½ minutes. Then they spit the bit in rather horrific fashion and lost 60-57.
SIU coughed up a nine-point lead in that time, outscored 11-0 to the final horn. Their final five possessions featured two missed front-end free throws, two turnovers and a missed jump shot. That allowed Missouri State to win 58-56 on a Kyle Weems jumper with a second left.
And that sent SIU into the offseason with its third straight non-winning season. Fans who once were overjoyed that Lowery turned down looks at big-time jobs like Michigan now want the seventh-year coach fired.
Nobody is calling for McKillop’s well-coiffed head at Davidson. But it’s been a similarly humbling run for the Wildcats in the post-Stephen Curry Era.
Davidson has pushed its streak of consecutive winning seasons to 10, but barely. And the past two seasons have ended with losses in the Wildcats’ first SoCon tourney games. In this one, against 6-23 UNC Greensboro, Davidson made less than 20 percent of its shots until a desperate flurry in the final minutes.
But Davidson’s ghastly 71-64 loss is UNCG’s great triumph. A team that lost its first 15 games has somehow avoided being added to the 2011 extinction list for another day.
Northern Iowa at least lost to a peer in Creighton -- a team of nearly identical standing in the Missouri Valley this season. But that culminated a painful late-season slide for the Panthers, who lost seven of their last eight games. Ali Farokhmanesh is not walking through that door, UNI.
Neither is Rod Barnes, and apparently that’s a good thing at Georgia State. The school fired Barnes on Sunday and replaced him for the Colonial Athletic Association tournament with assistant Paul Graham. The Panthers (12-18) promptly halted a four-game losing streak by beating UNC-Wilmington 58-52.
Even what seemed to be the surest elimination of the day didn’t happen easily. Towson, a smooth 0-18 in the CAA, was in the game for the full 40 against Drexel (21-9) before losing 75-69. Then again, that was the one team in the league Towson apparently matched up with, losing its three meetings with the Dragons by a combined 15 points.
So we chopped deadwood from 275 to 270 the dramatic way Friday afternoon. The list of the dearly departed will grow longer -- and the survivors list will grow shorter -- Friday night.