The NCAA Tournament is set to deliver four more bids tonight as Conference Championship week #2 tips off, but for the five schools with hands already stamped, the waiting game is now the formidable foe. Let's take a quick look into the waiting room, where knees and champagne are iced, and dated periodicals and Kiss FM will have to suffice until Sunday.
Cornell (Ivy League)
Mascot: Big Red
Projected seed: 10-12
The Big XII will send 7 or 8 teams to the big dance this season and could potentially have two #1 seeds, and still, only one team managed to scare the Kansas Jayhawks on their home floor all season...yep, Cornell. Boasting an ever-so-rare senior laden starting lineup, Cornell ran roughshod through the Ivy League and secured their second straight spot in the NCAA Tourney. This time, however, the Big Red should receive a much more favorable draw with the potential to make a run to the Sweet 16 behind a lethally accurate 3-point barrage and what else, but a gritty, intelligent approach to the game. The Washington Post's Sultan of Sentiment, John Feinstein, profiled the team in February and discovered that the entire team lives together in an off-campus house. Which, of course got me thinking...what happens when 14 teammates, picked to live in the same house, stop being polite, and start being real?
Mark Coury, forward: Umm, who ate my last string cheese?
Geoff Reeves, guard: Dude, don't you even look at me. You know I'm lactose intolerant.
Coury: Yes, I know all about your gastrointestinal deficiencies as a result of enzymatic short-comings, but I need some answers. And I need cheese!
Jeff Foote, Center: What are you crying about now, Mark? Another B in organic chem?
Reeves: Someone ate his cheese.
Coury: Fine, I'm calling a house meeting. Game room, 10 minutes.
Coury: (in confessional booth) It wasn't so much about the actual cheese as it was respect. Look, I can always go get more cheese at the grocery store but they don't sell loaves of respect. They also don't sell ginger ale, which really perturbs me.
Winthrop (Big South)
Projected seed: 15
To most low-majors, simply earning a trip to the big show is enough to hang the proverbial hat, but for Winthrop, it's a habit. The Big South Tournament champs for the 9th time in 11 seasons are playing their best ball of the season at precisely the right time and will look to put a their patented scare into their first round opponent. In 2006, a 15-seeded Winthrop came up just two points shy of knocking off 2-seed Tennessee, and in 2007 as an 11-seed, stunned 6-seeded Notre Dame in what proved to be an upset on paper only. This year's Eagles don't appear quite as dangerous as in brackets of the past, but an unusually vulnerable slate of potential two seeds better take this tournament-tested bunch seriously.
East Tennessee State (Atlantic Sun)
Projected seed: 16
The Bucs enter the dance for the second consecutive season winners of their last six, and appear bound for bloodshed as an ornamental 16-seed. The Atlantic Sun was fairly mediocre this season even by low-major standards and their signature win against the Arkansas B-team merits only a golf clap, but back-to-back league crowns in an impressive feat nontheless, eh Ken?
Hey folks, Kenny Chesney here, pop-country chart topper, beach bum, and proud ETSU alum. I'm in the middle of recording my next album right now, Puka Shells n' Cheese, but you can bet I'll be in attendance to watch my Bucs in the big dance. I'll be sittin' courtside in my old rickety rockin' chair with a big ol' jug of sweet tea. I remember watching this team win the conference last year and thinkin, man, that's something that just don't happen twice, but lo and behold, here we are again, and I can proudly say I never wanted nothing more...well, other than Jimmy Buffet's career, of course.
Murray State (Ohio Valley)
Projected seed: 12-13
The Racers dominated the OVC this season and notched their NCAA leading 30th win dispatching defending champ Morehead State in the finals. Murray might be the most balanced team in the entire tourney, with all five starters averaging 10ppg. Second in the nation in FG%, third in scoring margin and fifth in steals, Murray has the ability on both sides of the ball to make a run at the Sweet 16.
Northern Iowa (Missouri Valley)
Projected seed: 8-10
Trust me, nobody wants to meet UNI in the first round because the Panthers will certainly make you earn it. Second nationally in scoring defense at 55ppg, UNI dominated a stacked MVC tourney by allowing just 132 total points in three games. Aside from conquering MVC foes, UNI throttled Big Conference bottom-feeders Boston College and Iowa this season, which doesn't say much, but they'll likely draw one of the numerous mediocre teams from the power leagues in the first round and notch at least one win in the dance. Who knows, their savage approach to defense could certainly propel them even further and into immortality like two-time NFL MVP, one-time Cedar Falls bag boy, and UNI alum Kurt Warner.
Now that, is immortality.