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

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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!

March 17, 2009 - 5:55am
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