A 'dog's day?

The Baltimore Sun

As underdogs, the No. 16 seeds in the NCAA tournament really do have all the appeal of puppies: cute, endearing and, well, harmless.

In the 23 years since the tournament expanded to 64 teams (and now 65), not one of the 92 No. 16-seed Davids has successfully sucker punched a No. 1-seed Goliath.

So Mount St. Mary's 69-60 triumph over Coppin State in the play-in game Tuesday -- as exhilarating as it might have been for the Mountaineers and their fans -- could be considered a somewhat hollow victory since the payoff is the distinction of playing the overall No. 1 seed, North Carolina, in the first round tomorrow.

The Mount was listed as a 25-point underdog yesterday, which was to be expected considering the historical point differentials between No. 1 and No. 16 seeds. Last year, the average point difference in those four games was 31; in 2006 and 2005, the average was 15 1/2 ; and in 2004, it was 25.

In other words, a meatball's chance in a Las Vegas buffet.

However, here's the good news: A No. 16 seed is due, mathematically speaking. Better mathematical minds than mine figure that an underdog in the mid-20-point range should win once in 40 to 50 tries. Hey, we're already up to 92.

So taking encouragement from that plus some inspiration from the examples of No. 16 seeds who came tantalizing close, Mount St. Mary's (and Portland State, Texas-Arlington and Mississippi Valley State) can all dream.

Here are some No. 16 seeds that almost made history:

Fairleigh Dickinson, 1985: In the first year of the expanded tournament, the underdog Knights had a 10-point lead in the second half against Michigan, fell behind by 12 and then battled within two before losing, 59-55.

Princeton, 1989: Pete Carril's Tigers hooked up with John Thompson's Georgetown Hoyas. Princeton was reportedly a 23-point underdog but had the Hoyas fighting for their lives. Georgetown escaped, 50-49, when the Hoyas' Alonzo Mourning blocked two shots at the end.

East Tennessee State, 1989: In the same tournament during which Princeton nearly upset Georgetown, East Tennessee State frightened Oklahoma before losing, 72-71. East Tennessee might have pulled off the upset had it scored more than three points in the game's final five minutes.

Murray State, 1990: The Racers went to overtime with Michigan State before losing, 75-71. A Murray State three-pointer at the end of regulation sent the game into overtime.

Western Carolina, 1996: The Catamounts missed two jumpers on the last possession and lost to Purdue, 73-71.

Albany, 2006: The final score -- Connecticut 72, Albany 59 -- doesn't tell the story. The Great Danes led 50-38 with 11 1/2 minutes left in the game. UConn, a 21 1/2 -point favorite, snapped out of its offensive lethargy and went on a 17-2 run during the next six minutes to take the lead.

bill.ordine@baltsun.com

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