It's finally go-time for the NCAA as the brackets are being rolled out. Like every year, there will be a handful of teams from small schools that make a brief one-day appearance and retreat back to their small town celebrity. But, is that fair to them? Absolutely not. They worked their tails off to get here and it's only fair that you get to know them. So, here is the first in a serious of introductions to these tiny Davids. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
1. First time - For the Golden Lions, who rejoined the SWAC in 1998 after departing in 1970, they’ll go dancing for the first time. Though it probably won’t be like your first dance, where you stood in the corner and sipped grape soda and regretted wearing that three-piece suit, Golden Lions coach George Ivory knows that weird feeling in his stomach will last just as long. "This means a lot for our school and our fans," Ivory said after winning the SWAC. "We worked all year to get to the Big Dance and now we can always brag that at least for one year, we got to The Dance."
2. Happy New Year! -Arkansas - Pine Bluff would eventually power their way to a 14-4 record and a second-place finish in the SWAC, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing. The Golden Lions looked a little tarnished to start the year, jumping out of the gate with an 0-11 record. Pine Bluff opened the year with 10 of their first 11 games against BCS schools (five of them likely in the tournament) and didn’t capture that winning feeling until an overtime game at Mississippi Valley State on January 4th.
3. Surprise MVP - This is the time of year where Cinderella teams steal our hearts and Joe Nobody at a small school captures the hearts of the nation before retreating to Howie Schwab’s spankbank. However, there might not be a more surprising rise to stardom than Pine Bluff’s Allen Smith. The 5’10” senior entered the post-season as his team’s seventh leading scorer with 4.5 points per game and finished it as the MVP of the SWAC tournament after posting 16 against MVSU and 11 against Texas Southern in the title game.
4. Big names don’t scare them - Despite going winless against big name schools, the Golden Lions aren’t exactly afraid of all big names. In the SWAC title game, they faced a combined 5 NBA All-Star games on the Texas Southern bench. The Tigers boasted Vin Baker as a student assistant (a step up from the Milwaukee Bucks?) and Beisner childhood hero Nick Van Exel as an assistant. Those five NBA All-Star games are now watching the NCAA Tournament from their homes. Likely very sizable homes, but homes nonetheless.
5. Famous Alumni - For a small school (3,000 students), Pine Bluff does pretty well in the NFL department, sending L.C. Greenwood, Mark Bradley, Courtney Van Buren and both Dante and Greg Wesley to the pros. However, the big name alumni on their list is rapper Big Tuck, who apparently got his name from Gregg Doyel’s favorite Silence of the Lambs scene.
Up Next : Dayton, Ohio and the NCAA play-in game against Big South champion Winthrop on March 17