Southern nearly gave Norfolk State the HBCU one-up Thursday afternoon.
Just one season removed from the Spartans’ magical March win as a 15-seed over the second-seeded Missouri Tigers, the tradition-laden Jaguars nearly became the first 16-seed in history to knock off a No. 1 seed. In a college basketball season where the gap between the top and bottom seeds was projected to be lower than ever, Southern took Gonzaga—the weakest of the 1-seeds—down to the wire in the West region opener.
After trailing by just three points heading into the half, the Bulldogs eventually secured the 64-58 win behind the play of guard Kevin Pangos (16 points, five assists) down the stretch.
The Zags showed some heart to hold on for the win, holding true to the “Survive and Advance” theme perpetuated by ESPN’s latest 30 for 30 documentary, but this could be considered a significant performance for 16-seeds, historically black colleges in particular. The average margin of victory in said matchups is more than 25 points, and yet Southern held the score close for 40 minutes—forcing the AP’s top-ranked team to reach for every last bit of its talent and will to pull it out.
The NCAA tournament is one of the few major sporting events that offer the opportunity to shed light on the athletic programs (and educational opportunities) at HBCUs. The effects that strong tournament performances can have for schools such as Southern— studies have shown application rates increase dramatically following tourney wins—could be felt not only on the court, but in the classroom. For this reason, among many others, it was great to see the Jags stick around.
Gonzaga was the better team Thursday (though there’s plenty of adjustments Mark Few will need to make before facing Wichita State), but Southern, as an institution, probably walked away with more.
Wide Open West
The sentiment that the West region was ripe for the taking did not change Thursday. If anything, it was reinforced.
Besides Gonzaga’s dud performance in its opener, both Arizona and Wichita State—the Nos. 6 and 9 seeds, respectively—were extremely impressive in their Round of 64 wins. Arizona took down mid-major upset favorite Belmont, while the Shockers of the Missouri Valley Conference proved that trusting Jamie Dixon’s Pittsburgh Panthers against a mid-major is suddenly dangerous in March.
And we haven’t even seen Ohio State, Kansas State or Wisconsin yet.
If that’s the team Gonzaga is bringing to the table, this region could be trouble for chalk lovers.