Wisconsin not treating experienced Coastal Carolina as typical 16 seed
OMAHA, Neb. — History suggests Coastal Carolina’s basketball team is in for an abundance of disappointment Friday night. Maybe the Chanticleers play top-seeded Wisconsin close for a half, perhaps even hover within single digits late into the second stanza. Ultimately, however, the past indicates Cinderella’s glass slipper will shatter into a thousand pieces before the clock even strikes midnight.
The cold, hard reality is this: Entering this year’s NCAA tournament, No. 16 seeds were a combined 0-120 in opening-round NCAA tournament games against No. 1 seeds since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985. Villanova subsequently made mincemeat of Lafayette and Kentucky destroyed Hampton on Thursday to run the streak to 122 consecutive losses.
But if some previous results are any indication, NCAA tournament history can also be rewritten. And one day, it probably will.
"A 16 against a 1, it’s going to happen sometime," Badgers guard Josh Gasser said.
Will that day be Friday? That’s a trivia question to which Wisconsin players hope they’ll never be the answer.
"It’s not a thought at all in my mind," Badgers center Frank Kaminsky said. "Once you think it, it enters your mind and then it makes it real and it makes it a possibility. So I’m not even going to think about it."
Wisconsin (31-3) plays Coastal Carolina (24-9) at 8:20 p.m. CT in CenturyLink Center, and the Badgers are listed as 20-point favorites. This is a Coastal Carolina team, after all, that finished third in the Big South Conference and lost its last regular-season game to eighth-place Presbyterian before winning the league tournament title.
"Being a 16 seed, nobody really gives you a chance to beat a 1 seed, but we’re very confident in our team," Coastal Carolina guard Josh Cameron said. "We feel like we definitely can win this game."
If the Chanticleers need any reminder of that possibility, all they must do is look back one year, when they nearly pulled off one of the most stunning upsets in NCAA tournament history. A year ago, Coastal Carolina earned a No. 16 seed and led top-seeded Virginia 35-30 at halftime. The teams were tied with 8 1/2 minutes remaining, when Virginia pulled ahead and escaped with a 70-59 victory.
That result — and the experience gained from those 40 minutes — has stuck with Coastal Carolina players ever since.
"Last year’s game against Virginia was a game that we came in with confidence, just like this year," Chanticleers guard Warren Gillis said. "It sort of disappointed us the way we didn’t finish the game. But we know that this year we can compete with those teams, and if we do the things we need to, we’ll be fine throughout the game."
Badgers coach Bo Ryan insisted Coastal Carolina is not like a quintessential 16 seed that will simply be content with being in the tournament field. And the Chanticleers, led by head coach Cliff Ellis, certainly do not play like one, he said.
"That’s a heck of a 16 seed," Ryan said. "I can remember seeing a lot of 16 seeds over the years. What they did last year to prove how capable they are and then to come back this year and for them to be in that spot, I think there’s a lot of people surprised. I have not seen one show, have not had the television on, haven’t listened to the radio. . . .
"I don’t know if anybody else has said anything, but after watching those games, if I’m Cliff Ellis, I’m like, I’m pretty confident with the squad that he has. They’re pretty good. And they’re in the NCAA tournament. So they are good."
Ellis said he was disappointed his team received a 16 seed and cited the lack of respect given to the Big Sky Conference. He noted Gardner-Webb, a middle-of-the-pack league team, took down Clemson and Purdue on the road this season. He cited High Point winning the Rainbow Classic in November. And he praised his team for winning at Auburn in December and leading Ole Miss by 17 points on the road two weeks later before losing by three. Coastal Carolina also trailed UCLA by only four points in November at halftime and lost by 13.
Still, Ellis is as old school as Ryan and, to use a Ryan cliche, is more inclined to discuss Johnny Appleseed than an NCAA tournament seed.
"I haven’t talked about it with our team," Ellis said. "We don’t even go there with regards to it. I’m sure they’re aware of it. But we don’t ever talk about it. I think last year’s experience was a great experience for our guys. We didn’t talk about it last year because to us that’s not even the point. You’ve got to go play the game. We just try to avoid distractions of any type. We just want to go play our game. That’s all we want to do. See what happens."
Last year’s Coastal Carolina team, of course, was not the first near miss that nearly blew the roof off any preconceived ceilings about what is possible for a No. 16 seed.
Here are only a few samplings of past results:
— In 1989, Princeton almost shocked the college basketball world with its blend of backdoor cuts and shot clock stalling against Georgetown. But Hoyas freshman Alonzo Mourning blocked Kit Mueller’s last-second shot to preserve a 50-49 victory. That same year, No. 1 seed Oklahoma battled back from 17 points down to edge East Tennessee State, 72-71.
— In 1990, Murray State guard Greg Coble buried a 3-pointer as time expired in regulation to tie Michigan State at 65 and send the game to overtime. The score was tied with less than a minute remaining in the extra session until Kirk Manns’ off-balance scoop shot inside helped the Spartans prevail, 75-71.
— In 1996, Purdue escaped Western Carolina, 73-71, when Joel Flemming’s potential game-winning 3-point shot hit the back rim and bounced long. A 15-foot runner that would have forced overtime also fell short for the Catamounts as time expired.
In total, a 16 seed has lost to a 1 seed by single digits on 15 occasions — or 12.2 percent of the time. And Wisconsin certainly would like to avoid sweating out a close game Friday — or worse.
"I’ve heard that before, a 16 has never beaten a 1," Badgers forward Nigel Hayes said. "But all I can say is that we don’t want to be the first one to let that happen to us."
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