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The Casual Fan's Guide to 7 Tournament-Bound Schools

Every year, the NCAA men's basketball tournament field features at least a handful of teams that leaves casual fans puzzled as they start to fill out their brackets. The question usually isn't how far one of these teams will advance, but rather, "Where the heck is that?" This year is no exception. Here's a primer "“ only part of which is basketball-related "“ on seven of the lesser-known schools in the field.

1. Morehead State

Location: Morehead, Kentucky

How They Got Here: Freshman Steve Peterson made a baseline jumper in the second overtime of the Ohio Valley Conference tournament championship "“ his first points of the game "“ to lift the Eagles to a win over Austin Peay. Morehead State plays Alabama State in today's Opening Round game; the winner moves on to play top-seeded Louisville.

Tournament History: Morehead State is making its sixth appearance in the NCAA tournament and its first since 1984. Coincidentally, the Eagles defeated North Carolina A&T in a preliminary round game that year before losing to Louisville, 72-59.

Notable: Morehead State's players and coaches were recognized by both houses of the Kentucky General Assembly last week. Seven MSU alumni serve in the Kentucky House, including Rep. Rocky Adkins, the majority floor leader. Adkins was the starting point guard on the 1982-83 Eagles squad that won the OVC championship.

Famous Alum: Former New York Giants quarterback and current broadcaster Phil Simms, legendary game show host Chuck Woolery, and country singer Billy Ray Cyrus all attended Morehead State, as did one of the most recognizable voices on the radio today. Steve Inskeep, host of NPR's Morning Edition, worked as a radio sportscaster while attending MSU. He graduated in 1990.

Reason to Cheer: You'll be in good company. The Eagles' coed cheerleading team has won 19 national titles, including eight in a row.

2. Binghamton

Location: Binghamton, New York

binghamtom.jpgHow They Got Here: The top-seeded Bearcats won 11 straight games to end the season, defeating defending champion UMBC to win the America East Conference tournament.

Tournament History: Binghamton, which joined the Division I ranks eight years ago, is making its first appearance in the NCAA tournament. The No. 15 seed Bearcats play No. 2 seed Duke on Thursday.

Notable: In a recent New York Times article, Pete Thamel wonders whether Binghamton's first trip to the NCAA tournament has come at a cost. Thamel calls head coach Kevin Broadus' recruiting of certain players into question and cites a litany of arrests and suspensions that have plagued the coach's tenure. On a lighter note, Binghamton boasts a 182-acre on-campus Nature Preserve, which includes 20 acres of wetlands.

Famous Alum: Former Washington Post columnist and current PTI co-host Tony Kornheiser graduated from what was then called Harpur College in 1970. Kornheiser, who also provides color-commentary for Monday Night Football, sported a Bearcats jersey during an episode of PTI last week.

Reason to Cheer: Everyone loves a Cinderella story and D.J. Rivera could wear the glass slipper well. Rivera led the America East in scoring but didn't receive a single vote for Player of the Year because the conference's coaches dislike Broadus. He'll have to play the game of his life if the Bearcats have any chance of getting past Duke.

3. Siena

Location: Loudonville, New York

siena.jpgHow They Got Here: Siena won 26 games and the automatic bid from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, defeating Niagara in the championship game of the MAAC tournament. The No. 9 seed Saints play No. 8 seed Ohio State on Thursday.

Tournament History: If Siena sounds familiar, it's because the Saints pulled off one of the bigger upsets in last year's first round when they downed No. 4 seed Vanderbilt. Siena is making its fifth NCAA tournament appearance.

Notable: Siena, which is located two miles north of Albany, was founded by seven Franciscan friars in 1937.

Famous Alum: Ron Vawter, a founding member of the theater ensemble The Wooster Group. Vawter, who appeared in Silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia, died of a heart attack in 1994.

Reason to Cheer: Traditionally, the Siena men's basketball program has produced legitimate student-athletes. Eighty-six percent of Siena men's basketball players who entered the school between 1998 and 2001 earned their degrees in six years or less, according to the NCAA's latest Graduation Success Rate report. The national average is 62 percent.

4. Robert Morris

Location: Moon Township, Pennsylvania

robert-morris.jpgHow They Got Here: Robert Morris defeated Mount St. Mary's to win the automatic bid from the Northeast Conference. The No. 15 seed Colonials play No. 2 seed Michigan State in a first round game on Friday.

Tournament History: Robert Morris is making its sixth NCAA tournament appearance and its first since 1992.

Notable: Named after the self-made millionaire and signer of the Declaration of Independence who helped finance the American side during the Revolutionary War, RMU was originally founded in 1921 as the Pittsburgh School of Accountancy. The school became Robert Morris College in 1969 and Robert Morris University in 2002.

Famous Alum: It's been a pretty good year for Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert. One month after watching the football team he helped build win its second Super Bowl in the last four years, Colbert gets to watch his alma mater in the NCAA tournament.

Reason to Cheer: Robert Morris head coach Mike Rice. If his comments on the school's Web site after the brackets were unveiled are any indication, Rice could deliver a pregame speech for the ages Friday. "We'll try to focus the lads and put bravery in their hearts and purpose in their minds and go," he said.

5. Radford

Location: Radford, Virginia

radford.jpgHow They Got Here: Radford outlasted VMI, 108-94, in the Big South Conference tournament championship to win the league's automatic bid. The No. 16 seed Highlanders play No. 1 seed UNC on Thursday.

Tournament History: Radford is making its second NCAA tournament appearance. As a No. 16 seed in 1998, the Highlanders lost to Duke, 99-63, in the first round.

Notable: Radford was founded in 1910 as the State Normal and Industrial School for Women. Men were first admitted to the school in 1972. Penelope Kyle, who was named the school's first female president in 2005, launched the "7-17 Strategic Plan" in 2007. The plan outlines the school's 10-year effort to make Radford one of the top 50 master's universities in the U.S.

Famous Alum: Actress Jayma Mays, who starred alongside Kevin James in Paul Blart: Mall Cop.

Reason to Cheer: The Highlanders' center, 6-foot-11, 260-pound Artsiom Parakhouski (art-SEE-um pair-uh-COW-ski), is almost as fun to watch as his name is to say. The Belarusian, who was the Big South Conference Player of the Year, averages a double-double.

6. Morgan State

Location: Baltimore, Maryland

morgan-st.jpgHow They Got Here: Morgan State routed Norfolk State, 83-69, in the championship game of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament to capture the league's automatic bid. The No. 15 seed Bears play No. 2 seed Oklahoma on Thursday.

Tournament History: Morgan State is making its first NCAA tournament appearance.

Notable: The Morgan State University choir, which was led by renowned teacher Dr. Nathan Carter for 34 years until his death in 2004, is one of the most prestigious collegiate choral ensembles in the nation. The choir performed at the White House, at an outdoor Mass celebrated by Pope John Paul II, and took a trip Russia during Carter's tenure at MSU. Last year, the group performed twice at Carnegie Hall.

Famous Alum: William C. Rhoden, who worked as an associate editor at Ebony after graduating from Morgan State, has provided sports commentary as a columnist for The New York Times since 1983.

Reason to Cheer: Jermaine "Itchy" Bolden, the Bears' 5-foot-9 senior point guard, who earned the nickname from his mother because he was fidgety as a baby.

7. Stephen F. Austin

Location: Nacogdoches, Texas

sfa.jpgHow They Got Here: Stephen F. Austin defeated UT-San Antonio in the Southland Conference tournament championship to win the league's automatic bid. The No. 14 seed Lumberjacks will play No. 3 seed Syracuse on Friday.

Tournament History: Stephen F. Austin is making its first NCAA tournament appearance.

Notable: Stephen F. Austin was founded in 1923 as a teacher's college and is named after Stephen Fuller Austin, one of Texas' founding fathers.

Famous Alum: Though he didn't graduate, singer/songwriter Don Henley studied English and philosophy as a student at SFA.

Reason to Cheer: Stephen F. Austin has a cool nickname and an even cooler rally cry: Axe 'em Jacks!

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Yes, You Can Put Your Christmas Decorations Up Now—and Should, According to Psychologists
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We all know at least one of those people who's already placing an angel on top of his or her Christmas tree while everyone else on the block still has paper ghosts stuck to their windows and a rotting pumpkin on the stoop. Maybe it’s your neighbor; maybe it’s you. Jolliness aside, these early decorators tend to get a bad rap. For some people, the holidays provide more stress than splendor, so the sight of that first plastic reindeer on a neighbor's roof isn't exactly a welcome one.

But according to two psychoanalysts, these eager decorators aren’t eccentric—they’re simply happier. Psychoanalyst Steve McKeown told UNILAD:

“Although there could be a number of symptomatic reasons why someone would want to obsessively put up decorations early, most commonly for nostalgic reasons either to relive the magic or to compensate for past neglect.

In a world full of stress and anxiety people like to associate to things that make them happy and Christmas decorations evoke those strong feelings of the childhood.

Decorations are simply an anchor or pathway to those old childhood magical emotions of excitement. So putting up those Christmas decorations early extend the excitement!”

Amy Morin, another psychoanalyst, linked Christmas decorations with the pleasures of childhood, telling the site: “The holiday season stirs up a sense of nostalgia. Nostalgia helps link people to their personal past and it helps people understand their identity. For many, putting up Christmas decorations early is a way for them to reconnect with their childhoods.”

She also explained that these nostalgic memories can help remind people of spending the holidays with loved ones who have since passed away. As Morin remarked, “Decorating early may help them feel more connected with that individual.”

And that neighbor of yours who has already been decorated since Halloween? Well, according to a study in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, homes that have been warmly decorated for the holidays make the residents appear more “friendly and cohesive” compared to non-decorated homes when observed by strangers. Basically, a little wreath can go a long way.

So if you want to hang those stockings before you’ve digested your Thanksgiving dinner, go ahead. You might just find yourself happier for it.

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11 Black Friday Purchases That Aren't Always The Best Deal
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Black Friday can bring out some of the best deals of the year (along with the worst in-store behavior), but that doesn't mean every advertised price is worth splurging on. While many shoppers are eager to save a few dollars and kickstart the holiday shopping season, some purchases are better left waiting for at least a few weeks (or longer).

1. FURNITURE

Display of outdoor furniture.
Photo by Isaac Benhesed on Unsplash

Black Friday is often the best time to scope out deals on large purchases—except for furniture. That's because newer furniture models and styles often appear in showrooms in February. According to Kurt Knutsson, a consumer technology expert, the best furniture deals can be found in January, and later on in July and August. If you're aiming for outdoor patio sets, expect to find knockout prices when outdoor furniture is discounted and put on clearance closer to Labor Day.

2. TOOLS

A display of tools.
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Unless you're shopping for a specific tool as a Christmas gift, it's often better to wait until warmer weather rolls around to catch great deals. While some big-name brands offer Black Friday discounts, the best tool deals roll around in late spring and early summer, just in time for Memorial Day and Father's Day.

3. BEDDING AND LINENS

A stack of bed linens.
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Sheet and bedding sets are often used as doorbuster items for Black Friday sales, but that doesn't mean you should splurge now. Instead, wait for annual linen sales—called white sales—to pop up after New Year's. Back in January of 1878, department store operator John Wanamaker held the first white sale as a way to push bedding inventory out of his stores. Since then, retailers have offered these top-of-the-year sales and January remains the best time to buy sheets, comforters, and other cozy bed linens.

4. HOLIDAY DÉCOR

Rows of holiday gnomes.
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If you are planning to snag a new Christmas tree, lights, or other festive décor, it's likely worth making due with what you have and snapping up new items after December 25. After the holidays, retailers are looking to quickly move out holiday items to make way for spring inventory, so ornaments, trees, yard inflatables, and other items often drastically drop in price, offering better deals than before the holidays. If you truly can't wait, the better option is shopping as close to Christmas as possible, when stores try to reduce their Christmas stock before resorting to clearance prices.

5. TOYS

Child choosing a toy car.
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Unless you're shopping for a very specific gift that's likely to sell out before the holidays, Black Friday toy deals often aren't the best time to fill your cart at toy stores. Stores often begin dropping toy prices two weeks before Christmas, meaning there's nothing wrong with saving all your shopping (and gift wrapping) until the last minute.

6. ENGAGEMENT RINGS AND JEWELRY

Rows of rings.
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Holiday jewelry commercials can be pretty persuasive when it comes to giving diamonds and gold as gifts. But, savvy shoppers can often get the best deals on baubles come spring and summer—prices tend to be at their highest between Christmas and Valentine's Day thanks to engagements and holiday gift-giving. But come March, prices begin to drop through the end of summer as jewelers see fewer purchases, making it worth passing up Black Friday deals.

7. PLANE TICKETS AND TRAVEL PACKAGES

Searching for flights online.
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While it's worth looking at plane ticket deals on Black Friday, it's not always the best idea to whip out your credit card. Despite some sales, the best time to purchase a flight is still between three weeks and three and a half months out. Some hotel sites will offer big deals after Thanksgiving and on Cyber Monday, but it doesn't mean you should spring for next year's vacation just yet. The best travel and accommodation deals often pop up in January and February when travel numbers are down.

8. FOOD AND SNACK BASKETS

Gift basket against a blue background.
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Fancy fruit, meat and cheese, and snack baskets are easy gifts for friends and family (or yourself, let's be honest), but they shouldn't be snagged on Black Friday. And because baskets are jam-packed full of perishables, you likely won't want to buy them a month away from the big day anyway. But traditionally, you'll spend less cheddar if you wait to make those purchases in December.

9. WINTER CLOTHING

Rack of women's winter clothing.
Photo by Hannah Morgan on Unsplash.

Buying clothing out of season is usually a big money saver, and winter clothes are no exception. Although some brands push big discounts online and in-store, the best savings on coats, gloves, and other winter accessories can still be found right before Black Friday—pre-Thanksgiving apparel markdowns can hit nearly 30 percent off—and after the holidays.

10. SMARTPHONES

Group of hands holding smartphones.
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While blowout tech sales are often reserved for Cyber Monday, retailers will try to pull you in-store with big electronics discounts on Black Friday. But, not all of them are really the best deals. The price for new iPhones, for example, may not budge much (if at all) the day after Thanksgiving. If you're in the market for a new phone, the best option might be waiting at least a few more weeks as prices on older models drop. Or, you can wait for bundle deals that crop up during December, where you pay standard retail price but receive free accessories or gift cards along with your new phone.

11. KITCHEN GADGETS

Row of hanging kitchen knives and utensils.
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Black Friday is a great shopping day for cooking enthusiasts—at least for those who are picky about their kitchen appliances. Name-brand tools and appliances often see good sales, since stores drop prices upwards of 40 to 50 percent to move through more inventory. But that doesn't mean all slow cookers, coffee makers, and utensil prices are the best deals. Many stores advertise no-name kitchen items that are often cheaply made and cheaply priced. Purchasing these lower-grade items can be a waste of money, even on Black Friday, since chances are you may be stuck looking for a replacement next year. And while shoppers love to find deals, the whole point of America's unofficial shopping holiday is to save money on products you truly want (and love).

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