Getting Acquainted With 8 Lesser-Known Schools

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

winthropLocation: 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 10 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

woffordLocation: 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 (1,300) 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

Murray-StateLocation: 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

saint-marysLocation: 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 2,000.
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

sam-houstonLocation: 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

old-dominionLocation: 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

oaklandLocation: 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.




job secrets
10 Secrets of Hotel Room Service

Guests visiting New York City's Waldorf Astoria hotel in the 1930s enjoyed an amenity that was unheard of at the time: waiters delivering meals directly to their rooms. While the Astoria’s reputation for luxury has endured, room service is no longer exclusive to five-star stays. Roughly 22 percent of the country’s 54,000 hotels [PDF] are willing and able to bring breakfast, lunch, or dinner to people who prefer to eat while splayed out on a large and strange bed.

To get the scoop on what goes into getting food from the kitchen to your floor, Mental Floss spoke with Matt, a hospitality specialist who spent a total of 10 years working in and around room service for a major San Francisco hotel. Matt preferred not to use his last name; since his stories sometimes involved naked people, undercooked chicken, and Oprah, you can understand why. Below, check out a few things you should know before you dig into that tray.


When a room service delivery employee takes a tray from the kitchen to your room, it’s typically covered in a metal lid to retain heat and to prevent other guests from sneezing on it. The higher up you are, the longer it has to travel—and the more that lid traps steam, soaking your food in moisture. “Food sweats in there,” Matt says. “Instead of having crispy, toasted bread, you get wet toast. The longer it stays in there, the worse it gets.” If you want crunchy fries, you’d better be on the first couple of floors.


A seafood dinner is presented on a plate

That lid is a nuisance in other ways. Because it traps heat, it’s effectively cooking your food in the time it takes to get from the chef’s hands to yours. “If you order a steak medium, it will probably be medium well by the time it gets to you,” Matt says. While you can try to outsmart the lid by requesting meat be cooked a notch lower than your preference, it's not so easy to avoid overcooked fish—which will probably also stink up your room. Instead, stick with burgers, club sandwiches, or salads. According to Matt, it’s hard to mess any of them up.


Just because you see a menu in your room, it doesn’t mean the hotel has a kitchen or chef on-site. To cut costs, more hotels are opting to out-source their room service to local eateries. “It might be ‘presented’ by the hotel, but it’s from a restaurant down the street,” Matt says. Alternately, hotels might try to save money by eliminating an overnight chef and having food pre-prepped so a desk clerk or other employee can just heat it up. That’s more likely if sandwiches or salads are the only thing available after certain hours.


Two coffee cups sit on a hotel bed

No, not for the reason you’re thinking. Because so many hotel guests are business travelers who are away from home for weeks or months at a time, some of them get tired of eating alone. When that happens, they turn to the first—and maybe only—person who could offer company: the room service waiter. “People are usually traveling alone, so they’ll offer you food,” Matt explains. Sometimes the traveler is a familiar face: According to Matt, he once sat down to eat with Oprah Winfrey, who was eating by herself despite her suite being filled with her own employees. He also says he had a bite with John F. Kennedy Junior, who wanted to finish watching Fast Times at Ridgemont High before heading for his limo.


Busy hotel kitchens aren’t always paying attention to whether the chicken wings they buy in bulk are frozen raw, frozen cooked, or somewhere in between. “Ask for them extra crispy,” Matt says. That way, they’ll be cooked thoroughly regardless of their freezer status. “I recommend that to everyone.”


A hotel guest pours milk into a bowl of cereal

Breakfast is undoubtedly the busiest time for room service, and those little cards that allow you to check off your menu items the night before are a huge help. “It’s great for everybody involved,” Matt says. “The kitchen can pace themselves and you can get your food on time.”


Yes, guests answer the door barely clothed. No, this is not optimal. “We don’t want to see it,” Matt says. “It's something we dealt with numerous times.” While it's likely your waiter will use discretion, any combination of genitalia, drugs, or illicit activity is best kept out of their sight.


A hotel room service tray sits in a hallway

That move where you stick your soggy fries outside your door? It can lead to some awkward encounters. Matt says he’s seen other guests stop, examine trays, and then pick up discarded food from them. Other times, people leave unimaginably gross items on the trays. “I’ve found condoms on there. Divorce paperwork. All kinds of things.”


Weird people aside, “We don’t really want it out there,” Matt says. “It stinks.” Instead, dial 0 for the front desk and let them know you’re done eating. They’ll dispatch someone to come and get it.


A tip is placed near a hotel check

People pay out the nose for room service, with hotels adding surcharges for “service” and “in-room” dining that can turn a $5 club sandwich into a $15 expense. That’s not great news for guests, but it does mean you don’t need to feel bad about not offering a cash tip. Those service fees usually go straight to the employees who got your food to your room. “I never tip,” Matt says. “Most of the time, the service and delivery charges are given to the waiter or split between the people who answered the phone and pick up the tray. It’s better to leave it all on paper to make sure it gets divided up.”

Big Questions
What is Mercury in Retrograde, and Why Do We Blame Things On It?

Crashed computers, missed flights, tensions in your workplace—a person who subscribes to astrology would tell you to expect all this chaos and more when Mercury starts retrograding for the first time this year on Friday, March 23. But according to an astronomer, this common celestial phenomenon is no reason to stay cooped up at home for weeks at a time.

"We don't know of any physical mechanism that would cause things like power outages or personality changes in people," Dr. Mark Hammergren, an astronomer at Chicago's Adler Planetarium, tells Mental Floss. So if Mercury doesn’t throw business dealings and relationships out of whack when it appears to change direction in the sky, why are so many people convinced that it does?


Mercury retrograde—as it's technically called—was being written about in astrology circles as far back as the mid-18th century. The event was noted in British agricultural almanacs of the time, which farmers would read to sync their planting schedules to the patterns of the stars. During the spiritualism craze of the Victorian era, interest in astrology boomed, with many believing that the stars affected the Earth in a variety of (often inconvenient) ways. Late 19th-century publications like The Astrologer’s Magazine and The Science of the Stars connected Mercury retrograde with heavy rainfall. Characterizations of the happening as an "ill omen" also appeared in a handful of articles during that period, but its association with outright disaster wasn’t as prevalent then as it is today.

While other spiritualist hobbies like séances and crystal gazing gradually faded, astrology grew even more popular. By the 1970s, horoscopes were a newspaper mainstay and Mercury retrograde was a recurring player. Because the Roman god Mercury was said to govern travel, commerce, financial wealth, and communication, in astrological circles, Mercury the planet became linked to those matters as well.

"Don’t start anything when Mercury is retrograde," an April 1979 issue of The Baltimore Sun instructed its readers. "A large communications organization notes that magnetic storms, disrupting messages, are prolonged when Mercury appears to be going backwards. Mercury, of course, is the planet associated with communication." The power attributed to the event has become so overblown that today it's blamed for everything from digestive problems to broken washing machines.


Though hysteria around Mercury retrograde is stronger than ever, there's still zero evidence that it's something we should worry about. Even the flimsiest explanations, like the idea that the gravitational pull from Mercury influences the water in our bodies in the same way that the moon controls the tides, are easily deflated by science. "A car 20 feet away from you will exert a stronger pull of gravity than the planet Mercury does," Dr. Hammergren says.

To understand how little Mercury retrograde impacts life on Earth, it helps to learn the physical process behind the phenomenon. When the planet nearest to the Sun is retrograde, it appears to move "backwards" (east to west rather than west to east) across the sky. This apparent reversal in Mercury's orbit is actually just an illusion to the people viewing it from Earth. Picture Mercury and Earth circling the Sun like cars on a racetrack. A year on Mercury is shorter than a year on Earth (88 Earth days compared to 365), which means Mercury experiences four years in the time it takes us to finish one solar loop.

When the planets are next to one another on the same side of the Sun, Mercury looks like it's moving east to those of us on Earth. But when Mercury overtakes Earth and continues its orbit, its straight trajectory seems to change course. According to Dr. Hammergren, it's just a trick of perspective. "Same thing if you were passing a car on a highway, maybe going a little bit faster than they are," he says. "They're not really going backwards, they just appear to be going backwards relative to your motion."

Embedded from GIFY

Earth's orbit isn't identical to that of any other planet in the solar system, which means that all the planets appear to move backwards at varying points in time. Planets farther from the Sun than Earth have even more noticeable retrograde patterns because they're visible at night. But thanks to astrology, it's Mercury's retrograde motion that incites dread every few months.

Dr. Hammergren blames the superstition attached to Mercury, and astrology as a whole, on confirmation bias: "[Believers] will say, 'Aha! See, there's a shake-up in my workplace because Mercury's retrograde.'" He urges people to review the past year and see if the periods of their lives when Mercury was retrograde were especially catastrophic. They'll likely find that misinterpreted messages and technical problems are fairly common throughout the year. But as Dr. Hammergren says, when things go wrong and Mercury isn't retrograde, "we don't get that hashtag. It's called Monday."

This story originally ran in 2017.


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