It’s been a while since Delaware has been in the NCAA tournament, and longer yet since Massachusetts, Nebraska, Coastal Carolina and Mercer made it.
Welcome back, and to the 21st century for that matter, all you teams that haven’t performed on college basketball’s grandest stage since the 1990s or, in Mercer’s case, the `80s.
With all due credit to first-timers Cal Poly and North Carolina Central, this is about those programs that once knew NCAA nirvana but haven’t experienced it for a decade or two or three.
Consider Mercer. The last time the Bears (26-8) played in the tournament, in 1985, current coach Bob Hoffman was two years away from coaching a small-college women’s team in Oklahoma, athletic director Jim Cole was 13 years old and Rollie Massimino was leading Villanova to one of the surprise national championships in tournament history.
The 14th-seeded Bears’ game against Duke on Friday in Raleigh, N.C., has been three years in the making. They’ve won 77 games in that time, were the 2012 CollegeInsider.com tournament champions and came up just short in the Atlantic Sun tournament against a Florida Gulf Coast team that went to the Sweet 16. Mercer got payback against that ”Dunk City” bunch in this year’ conference title game.
Big South champion Coastal Carolina (21-12) is back for the first time since 1993. The 16th-seeded Chanticleers, who play Virginia in Raleigh on Friday, are led by a man who knows how to get to the NCAAs. Cliff Ellis, 68, previously coached tournament teams at Auburn, Clemson and South Alabama.
Nebraska (19-11) last appeared in 1998 under Danny Nee. That was three coaches ago. The Cornhuskers and second-year coach Tim Miles never expected to be in this position after being picked last in the Big Ten – they finished fourth – and starting conference play with four losses.
No one in Lincoln was complaining about the Huskers’ No. 11 seed. They open Friday against Baylor in San Antonio.
”When they called our name,” guard Terran Petteway said, ”I didn’t care who we were playing against. I was just happy to be in the tournament.”
Massachusetts (24-8) became a national power in the 1990s with John Calipari as coach and Marcus Camby as the headliner. The Minutemen played in the tournament seven consecutive years from 1992-98 and didn’t return until now. They earned a No. 6 seed and a date Friday in Raleigh with the winner of the Iowa-Tennessee play-in game.
Delaware (25-9) is back for the first time since 1999, when Mike Brey was in charge. The No. 13-seeded Blue Hens won the Colonial Athletic Association tournament and will play Michigan State on Thursday in Spokane, Wash.
There also are some familiar faces in new places.
Steve Alford, who starred on Indiana’s 1987 championship team, has coached South Region No. 4 seed UCLA to the tournament in his first season in Westwood. He previously went to the tournament with New Mexico, Iowa and Missouri State.
Alford will square off Friday in San Diego against one of his contemporaries, Danny Manning. The leader of Kansas’ 1988 championship team and a longtime assistant with the Jayhawks, Manning is the second-year coach of a No. 13 Tulsa team that’s in the tournament for the first time since 2003.
Mike Davis, who succeeded Bob Knight at Indiana in 2000 and coached the Hoosiers to the 2002 championship game against Maryland, is the second-year coach for Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament champion Texas Southern (19-14). Davis’ team plays Cal Poly on Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio, in a meeting of Midwest co-No. 16 seeds.