There is something about being the underdog that many Americans love. Perhaps it’s the fact that our country was founded as an underdog against the former British Empire, or maybe it has something to do with the narrative that no matter ones’ upbringing or obstacles, that proverbial “Promised Land” is within all of our grasps if we dared to work hard enough.
On Friday, we attended the First Round of the East Region of the NCAA Tournament at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and was impressed with the scrappy, undersized squad from Stephen F. Austin with its swarming defense, clutch shooting and go-to-guy who bared a striking resemblance to Washington Nationals superstar Bryce Harper.
As a matter of fact, I was so enthused by the exploits of Thomas Walkup as he torched and tossed the heavily favored No. 5 West Virginia Mountaineers, that I couldn’t help but wonder how far this team could go if it had a better seed.
Walkup caught so much wreck to the point that Mountaineers starting guards were looking dazed and confused as he dropped 33 points, grabbed nine rebounds, dished out four assists and collected four steals on their collective heads. It seemed like they came out of nowhere but the truth of the matter is coach Brad Underwood has made a habit out of defeating 5-seeds. His Lumberjacks defeated the No. 5 seed VCU squad before falling to No.4 seed UCLA in the NCAA tournament back in 2014.
Last year the Lumberjacks put up a valiant effort against the No. 5 seed Utah Utes before falling 57-50. That was due in large part to senior forward Jacob Parker shooting them completely out of the game while going 3-14 from the field, including 0-8 from behind the arc. It’s a miracle the score was even that close.
So why wasn't the national media more excited about these Southland Conference bullies before the Big Dance began?
Perhaps it’s for the very same reason that a school like Monmouth University can beat UCLA, USC, Notre Dame and Georgetown and be left out of the NCAA Tournament, or the same reason that a school from the power conferences can have a .600 record against in conference peers and still make it to the Big Dance. The NCAA Selection Committee has yet to come up with a significant algorithm to compensate for these Free Radicals of College Basketball.
They were beaten pretty badly by some big conference foes during the regular season, but I guess reeling off 20 wins in a row means nothing these days, huh?
On Sunday, the Lumberjacks returned to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn to play No. 6 seed Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish were expected to pound them inside with their talented big man Zach Auguste and run them off the floor thanks to their mercurial point guard Demetrius Jackson.
Though their scoring attack was much more balanced than it had been from the game before, the Lumberjacks had them on the ropes before succumbing to a last second, miraculous tip-in by Rex Pflueger, who averages 2.5 points per game. Amazing when considering SFA only fielded one player over 6-foot-8, and he's a freshman who gets no burn!
The men in purple were stunned to tears in the disappointing manner in which their trip to the Sweet 16 was unceremoniously cancelled. On the brighter side, Thomas Walkup will undoubtedly get some NBA looks because of his performance this post season and even though coach Brad Underwood is on his way to Oklahoma State, the Lumberjacks will now be recognized as a team to be reckoned with.
The Selection Committee needs to give teams like Stephen F. Austin, and all other overachieving teams from smaller conferences, some long overdue respect when the tournament rolls around next year.
Stop with the unfair low seeds. They've earned better.