Getting Acquainted With 8 Lesser-Known Schools

Mike McGinnis, Getty Images
Mike McGinnis, Getty Images

Every year, the NCAA men's basketball tournament field features a few teams that leave casual fans puzzled as they fill out their brackets. The question usually isn't how far one of these teams will advance, but rather, "Where the heck is that?" Just like last year's field, this year's is no exception. Here's a primer on eight of the lesser-known schools in the field.

1. Arkansas Pine-Bluff Golden Lions

Location: Pine Bluff, Ark.
How They Got Here: The Golden Lions defeated Texas Southern in the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament title game.
Tournament History: The team is making its first appearance in the NCAA tournament.
Notable: Arkansas Pine-Bluff's marching band, M4, the Marching Musical Machine of the Mid-South, performed in Barack Obama's inaugural parade. First Lady Michelle Obama will deliver the commencement address at the school on May 8.
Famous Alum: L.C. Greenwood, a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers' Steel Curtain defense of the '70s, graduated from Pine-Bluff when it was still known as Arkansas AM&N in 1969.
Reason to Cheer:

Should they win tonight's play-in game against Winthrop (more on the Eagles below), the Golden Lions would play No. 1 seed Duke. Arkansas Pine-Bluff is no stranger to tough competition. The team opened the season with 11 consecutive non-conference road games, including five against NCAA tournament teams, and lost every one. The Golden Lions finished the season 17-15.

2. Winthrop Eagles

Location: Rock Hill, S.C.
How They Got Here: Winthrop upset Coastal Carolina in the Big South Conference tournament championship.
Tournament History: The Eagles have been to the NCAA tournament nine out of the last 12 years and upset No. 6 seed Notre Dame in the first round of the 2007 tournament. Winthrop is making its second appearance in the play-in game; the Eagles lost to Northwestern State in 2001, the first year the tournament expanded to 65 teams.
Notable: Winthrop has hosted the U.S. Disc Golf championship each of the last 11 years.
Famous Alum: Cecily Truett Lancit, a producer of Reading Rainbow, graduated from Winthrop. LeVar Burton, in case you were wondering, attended the University of Southern California's School of Theatre.
Reason to Cheer: The Eagles have been waiting 8 years for another possible crack at Duke in the NCAA tournament. The Blue Devils demolished the 16th-seeded Eagles 84-37 in 2002.

3. Wofford Terriers

Location: Spartanburg, S.C.
How They Got Here: Wofford won the Southern Conference regular season and tournament titles.
Tournament History: The Terriers are making their first appearance in the NCAA tournament.
Notable: Wofford's170-acre campus is recognized as a national arboretum. In 2008, the arboretum was renamed in honor of Roger Milliken, a Yale graduate who serves as a Wofford trustee. Milliken's textile and chemical product company, Milliken and Co., is headquartered in Spartanburg and has been recognized for its eco-friendly practices.
Famous Alum: Former Securities and Exchange Commission commissioner Paul S. Atkins, a member of the congressional panel overseeing the U.S. bank bailout, graduated from Wofford before receiving his law degree at Vanderbilt.
Reason to Cheer: It's always fun to root for the little guys. Wofford has the second-smallest enrollment (1300) of any team in NCAA tournament history. Terriers forward Noah Dahlman told reporters that his Latin American history professor asked him why he didn't tell the television reporters that his team played "like Aztec, Mayan warriors" after its tournament-clinching win.

4. Murray State Racers

Location: Murray, Ky.
How They Got Here: After cruising through the Ohio Valley Conference regular season, the Racers defeated Morehead State in a rematch of last year's OVC tournament championship game to capture the league's automatic bid.
Tournament History: Murray State is making its 14th appearance in the NCAA tournament.
Notable: If the Racers wear the glass slipper as the Cinderella of this year's tournament, they should consider affixing it to the school's Shoe Tree, located in front of Pogue Library. According to tradition, if a couple gets married after meeting at Murray State, they nail their shoes to the tree, which has become a bizarre-looking lightning rod.
Famous Alum: Popeye Jones, who retired in 2005 after a 13-year NBA career, is the fourth all-time leading scorer in Murray State history.
Reason to Mourn and Cheer: Murray State guard Picasso Simmons' mother was killed in a car crash on Monday in Nashville. The reserve guard intends to honor his mother's memory by traveling with the team to Friday's first round game against Vanderbilt in San Jose.

5. St. Mary's Gaels

Location: Moraga, Calif.
How They Got Here: One year after being snubbed from the NCAA tournament following a loss to Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference tournament championship game, the Gaels left no doubt with a convincing win over the Zags to clinch the WCC's automatic bid.
Tournament History: St. Mary's is making its sixth NCAA tournament appearance and third in the last six years.
Notable: During World War II, the St. Mary's campus was selected by the Navy Department as one of four locations for pre-flight training for cadets. Gerald Ford was stationed there as a naval instructor for a brief time, as the campus population soared from 300 to more than 2000.
Famous Alum: Bob LaDouceur, who coached the De La Salle High School football team to a record 151 consecutive wins from 1992 to 2003, earned a theology degree at St. Mary's.
Reason to Cheer: The Gaels' only win in the NCAA tournament came in 1959.

6. Sam Houston State Bearkats

Location: Huntsville, Texas
How They Got Here: Sam Houston State dominated Stephen F. Austin in the championship game of the Southland Conference tournament.
Tournament History: The Bearkats are making their second NCAA tournament appearance and first since 2003.
Notable: The school opened its doors in 1879 with the mission of training teachers to work in Texas' elementary and secondary schools. Contrary to an oft-repeated urban legend, the school was never known as the Sam Houston Institute of Teaching. (Consider the acronym.)
Famous Alum: Legendary news anchor Dan Rather received his B.A. in journalism from the school in 1953.
Reason to Cheer: What's not to like about a team that spells Bearkats with a "˜k'? The nickname dates to 1923, when the school was renamed from Sam Houston Normal Institute to Sam Houston State Teachers College. Until then, the school's athletic teams were known as the Normals. According to the school's media guide, the nickname was most likely based on a popular local saying, "Tough as a Bearkat." The simile referenced a mythical beast rather than an actual animal, which helps explain the mystifying spelling.

7. Old Dominion Monarchs

Location: Norfolk, Va.
How They Got Here: Old Dominion defeated William & Mary in the title game of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament.
Tournament History: The Monarchs are making their 10th appearance in the NCAA tournament. ODU's last win in the tournament came in 1995, when the No. 14 seed Monarchs shocked No. 3 seed Villanova in triple overtime.
Notable: Old Dominion boasts one of the greatest women's basketball programs in history. The Lady Monarchs won three NCAA titles from 1979 to 1985 and also became the first program to grant an athletic scholarship to a woman when they awarded one to basketball player Nancy Lieberman.
Famous Alum: Ben Bailey, the host of the television game show Cash Cab, is one of ODU's many famous alumni.
Reason to Cheer: Monarchs star forward Gerald Lee, who was recruited out of Finland and whose American father, Gerald Lee Sr., is the all-time leading scorer in Finnish pro basketball history, is one of the best players in the tournament most of the country has never heard of.

8. Oakland Golden Grizzlies

Location: Rochester Hills and Auburn Hills, Mich.
How They Got Here: Oakland defeated IUPUI in the championship game of the Summit League tournament.
Tournament History: Oakland is making its second NCAA tournament appearance. The Golden Grizzlies won the play-in game after qualifying for the tournament in 2005 with a 12-18 record. They lost to eventual national champion North Carolina in the first round.
Notable: Oakland's athletic teams were known as the Pioneers until they moved from Division II to Division I in 1997. The school solicited suggestions for a potential new nickname and a mascot advisory committee narrowed the possibilities, which also included keeping the nickname Pioneers, to Golden Grizzlies and Saber Cats.
Famous Alum: Neither of them graduated, but it's worth noting that Robert Englund, who played Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street and its sequels, and David Hasselhoff attended Oakland University.
Reason to Cheer: Did you not just read about the Hasselhoff connection? Oakland's first-round opponent is Pitt, whose student section is known as The Oakland Zoo, a reference to the neighborhood in which the school is located.

Learn something interesting about every team in the tournament, region by region: The South and The West. The Midwest and East regions are coming later this week.

10 Things You Might Not Know About the Invictus Games

Harry How, Getty Images for the Invictus Games Foundation
Harry How, Getty Images for the Invictus Games Foundation

Though the media tends to dwell on the private life of Prince Harry and his recent marriage to actor Meghan Markle, the Duke of Sussex has more on his mind than tabloids might suggest. Beginning October 20 in Sydney, Australia, and running through October 27, he'll be presenting the Invictus Games, a multi-sport competition he created in 2014 for wounded veterans. Athletes will participate in a variety of sports, including wheelchair basketball and sitting volleyball, in an attempt to earn medals and, in Harry's words, "demonstrate life beyond disability."

For more on the history (and future) of the Games, check out our round-up below.

1. IT WAS INSPIRED BY AN AMERICAN COMPETITION.

Prince Harry talks to a Warrior Games representative in the United States
Arthur Edwards-Pool, Getty Images

While on a promotional tour of the United States to raise awareness for his charities, Prince Harry was invited to appear in support of the British team in the Warrior Games, a competition for wounded service veterans that was held in Colorado in 2013. Impressed by the camaraderie and enthusiasm shown by participants, he took the concept and created the Invictus (Latin for "unvanquished" or "unconquered") Games. The inaugural event was held in London in September 2014. "It was such a good idea by the Americans that it had to be stolen," he joked.

2. IT'S FUNDED IN PART BY BANK FINES.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle stand on the sidelines
Chris Jackson, Getty Images

While the Invictus Games attract corporate sponsors—including Jaguar—to subsidize the operating costs of the event, funds for the 2014 installment also came from fines levied against British banks that were charged with manipulating currency exchange rates. Approximately £1 million (roughly $1,300,000) were made available from the fines, matching the £1 million Prince Harry donated via his Royal Foundation.

3. THE GAMES FEATURE INDOOR ROWING.

An athlete in the Invictus Games competes in indoor rowing
Steve Bardens, Getty Images for Invictus Games

Invictus invites athletes to compete across a range of adaptive sporting events—sports that have been modified to be all-inclusive for people with an array of physical challenges. In sitting volleyball, athletes have to keep one butt cheek touching the floor while touching the ball. In indoor rowing, athletes use a rowing machine to simulate outdoor rowing.

4. WHEELCHAIR RUGBY GETS INTENSE.

Invictus Games athletes participate in wheelchair rugby
Chris Jackson, Getty Images for the Invictus Games Foundation

If you have an impression that modified sports are somehow easier than their able-bodied counterparts, you're mistaken. In wheelchair rugby, athletes attempt to get a volleyball across a court and between two cones on the opposing team's side. They experience frequent collisions that appear to have more in common with demolition derbies than football, and participants are sometimes blindsided by the hits, which can bend wheels and axles.

5. IT'S NOT JUST FOR HUMANS.

A service dog shakes off water after a swim at the Invictus Games
Chris Jackson, Getty Images for Invictus

Because many disabled veterans rely on service dogs to assist in tasks of daily living, Games officials were more than willing to open their doors to the animals during the 2016 event in Orlando. At the last minute, organizers permitted the dogs to jump in the pool for an unofficial race. (Though it was held at Disney World, Pluto was not invited to participate in the doggy-paddle event.)

6. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN MADE AN APPEARANCE.

Bruce Springsteen shakes the hand of a war veteran at the Invictus Games
Chris Jackson, Getty Images for the Invictus Games Foundation

Prince Harry's involvement has contributed heavily to appearances by a number of well-known public figures at the Games. Former president Barack Obama and Joe Biden attended the 2017 competition; David Beckham was named the 2018 ambassador. In 2017, Bruce Springsteen closed out the event in Toronto with a solo set. He was later joined on stage by Bryan Adams.

7. THERE WAS A GAP YEAR.

Prince Harry talks to representatives at the Invictus Games
Gregory Shamus, Getty Images for the Invictus Games Foundation

After the 2014 Games in London, Orlando hosted the 2016 contest and Toronto held the 2017 installment. There was no 2015 edition—the Games used a gap year in order for Orlando to raise the funds to organize the event. The competition will also skip 2019, moving to the Hague in the Netherlands for the 2020 Games.

8. IT'S GETTING MORE VETERANS INVOLVED IN SPORTS.

A group of athletes huddle during the Invictus Games
Harry How, Getty Images for the Invictus Games Foundation

Members of the armed services don't need to compete in the Games to feel their influence. Following the inaugural 2014 event, Help for Heroes, which assisted in recruiting British athletes for competition, reported that there was a 463 percent increase in veterans signing up for archery talent assessments and a 633 percent increase in powerlifting enrollees.

9. THE GAMES WILL BE STUDIED BY SCIENCE.

An Invictus Games athlete holds up a trophy
Paul Thomas, Getty Images for Jaguar Land Rover

Participation in Invictus appears to be a significant boost for the overall morale of contestants. And thanks to a grant from the Forces in Mind Trust, we'll eventually have some objective evidence of it. For the next four years, researchers will follow 300 athletes to assess their overall well-being compared to non-participants. Such evidence of the benefits of adaptive sport will likely contribute to a greater number of participants—and funding—in the future.

10. A COMMEMORATIVE COIN WAS ISSUED IN BRAILLE.

An Invictus Games commemorative coin features text in Braille
Royal Australian Mint

In honor of the Invictus Games' vision-impaired contestants, the Royal Australian Mint issued its first-ever coin with Braille text. Intended to commemorate and publicize the 2018 event in Sydney, the coin features a disabled competitor and "Sydney '18" in Braille. The $1 AUD coin sells for $15 AUD (about $11) and is limited to a run of 30,000. A gold-plated version is limited to 2018 copies and sells for $150 AUD ($108).

The Mongolian Princess Who Challenged Her Suitors to a Wrestling Match—and Always Won

iStock.com / SarahWouters1960
iStock.com / SarahWouters1960

In a lot of fairy tales, a disapproving father or a witch's curse stops the princess from finding Prince Charming. But things were a little different in 13th-century Mongolia. Any single lad, regardless of status or wealth, could marry the khan's daughter, Khutulun. There was just one caveat, which the princess herself decreed—you couldn't take her hand in marriage until you took her down in a wrestling match. If you lost, you had to give her a handful of prize horses.

Sounds easy, right? Nope. After all, this is the great-great-granddaughter of Genghis Khan we're talking about!

Born around 1260, Khutulun was an intimidating presence. According to The Travels of Marco Polo, the princess was "so well-made in all her limbs, and so tall and strongly built, that she might almost be taken for a giantess." She was also the picture of confidence. She had mastered archery and horsemanship in childhood and grew up to become a fearless warrior. Whenever her father, Kaidu—the leader of the Chagatai Khanate—went to battle, he usually turned to Khutulun (and not his 14 sons) for help.

Nothing scared her. Not only did Khutulun ride by her father's side into battle, she'd regularly charge headfirst into enemy lines to make "a dash at the host of the enemy, and seize some man thereout, as deftly as a hawk pounces on a bird, and carry him to her father," Marco Polo wrote. The 13th- and 14th-century historian Rashid al-Din was more direct, writing that she "often went on military campaigns, where she performed valiant deeds."

It's no surprise that Khutulun had suitors lining up and down the street asking for her hand in marriage. The princess, however, refused to marry any of them unless they managed to beat her in a wrestling match, stipulating that any loser would have to gift her anywhere between 10 to 100 horses.

Let's just put it this way: Khutulun came home with a lot of prize horses. (Some accounts say 10,000—enough to make even the emperor a little jealous.) As author Hannah Jewell writes in her book She Caused a Riot, "The Mongolian steppes were littered with the debris of shattered male egos."

On one occasion, a particularly confident suitor bet 1000 horses on a match. Khutulun's parents liked the fellow—they were itching to see their daughter get married—so they pulled the princess aside and asked her to throw the match. After carefully listening to her parents' advice, Khutulun entered the ring and, in Polo's words, "threw him right valiantly on the palace pavement." The 1000 horses became hers.

Khutulun would remain undefeated for life. According to legend, she eventually picked a husband on her own terms, settling for a man she never even wrestled. And centuries later, her story inspired François Pétis de La Croi to write the tale of Turandot, which eventually became a famed opera by the composer Giacomo Puccini. (Though the opera fudges the facts: The intrepid princess defeats her suitors with riddles, not powerslams.)

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