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Wofford is such a great basketball story that all we can do is ruin it

The Washington Post

The fear now with this clandestine colossus called Wofford is that everybody will keep trumpeting it as a hip NCAA tournament pick until it crumples from oversaturated hipness. This could derail a run as a sort of Loyola from 2018, only nun-less. It could rob the country of a great bale of enchantment that would come from having a Wofford at the Final Four.

Imagine, a Wofford in Minneapolis. Holy George Mason. So in the national interest, here's a scouting report, culled from watching the Terriers thrice in the Southern Conference tournament, Saturday through Monday, when they won the title, snared the automatic bracket bid, reached 29-4, and remained unbeaten against nine fellow members of a "midmajor" league with four teams that qualify as pure hell (including Wofford).

Please do sleep on Wofford. If you see Wofford in your bracket, feel free to take things two games at a time. Just overlook it. Little Wofford, founded in 1854 in Spartanburg, S.C., by Methodist minister Benjamin Wofford, cannot hurt you and your bigness. It has but 1,600 students. They aren't even allowed to skip class. They call roll! What warped basketball priorities.

Of course, there's Wofford's lofty NCAA NET ranking of No. 14, but you can chalk that up to either a mathematical formula or a lame attempt to make the rankings look more egalitarian.

Assume it's the latter.

The coach, Mike Young, is unseasoned, untested. There's no need to go burrowing around in a bunch of biographical hooey to find he's in his 17th Wofford season as head coach after 13 as a Wofford assistant. It's not like it's 31 seasons. He never says anything vivid or interesting other than all the time, as after that final against UNC-Greensboro (28-6), when Wofford extracted a 70-58 win from a 55-50 deficit, which Young described as "like watching a tractor pull; I watched some of those growing up in southwest Virginia." He has reached the NCAA tournament in five of the past 10 years, so he missed it five whole times. He has no impressive wins unless you want to dwell on winning at North Carolina (December 2017). Blah blah blah.

Note the player wearing No. 3. The only tape you need to watch on him is from Monday night, when Fletcher Magee went 4-for-13 from 3-point range. You can let him shoot. Make him beat you. Please.

Technically, he has made 502 career 3-point shots, No. 2 in NCAA history behind Travis Bader of Oakland (504), and technically, his percentage (.438) is the highest among the top 30, but you know what they say about statistics. Yes, he made some shots on Sunday that looked like REM dreams involving Steph Curry in the 81-72 semifinal passage through East Tennessee State (24-9). Yes, Steve Forbes, the fantastic East Tennessee coach, said, "Ten years ago, I coached the best 3-point shooter in the history of the SEC (Tennessee's) Chris Lofton." Yes, Forbes said, "I didn't really think I'd probably ever see a better shooter than that, but I have." And: "I don't think the nation quite understands what we understand in this league: how hard he is to guard."

Yes, East Tennessee State once closed to 59-55, and Magee made a 3 from an absurd yonder with a funky contortion, and Buccaneer Tray Boyd said, "I was very amazed." And: "When you see a guy turn around in the air and shoot, there's hands in his face, nothing else you can do besides hit him or something, and you can't do that." And yes, Magee said, "I mean, believe it or not, I actually practice, like, every shot I made today."

Further, his free-throw percentage is .918, which is not as good as .919 or other numbers. "It's like a crisis when he misses one," Young said, and Magee missed three (out of 12) on the weekend, so he's the one you want to foul late in the game.

Yes. Foul him.

Forget about the others, for they can't hurt you. OK, there's the 6-foot-8, 250-pound first-team all-conference player with the body of a bulwark and the feet of a "ballerina" (Young's word). He rescued his team in a spotty first half against UNC-Greensboro. He grabbed a late rebound against East Tennessee that looked like he'd have snared it had there been 200 players nearby. Young said of this Cameron Jackson, "That big rascal can play anywhere." Young said, "His leadership's as good as I've been a part of in 33 years of coaching." Jackson said, "It's taken me five years to get there, honestly."

You can handle that. Just double him and let him pass out to the arc.

Luckily, that's all. When Young refers to his 10-deep depth as teams "1A and 1B," he's just trying to reassure the 1B guys. There's no further inside presence unless you want to count Keve Aluma and Chevez Goodwin and Matt Pegram, and there's nobody to bail out the Terriers when things get thorny, unless you want to count that on Monday night, Nathan Hoover rained in 20 second-half points and got one gigantic steal on a UNC-Greensboro exterior pass.

"We love each other so much," Hoover said, but what is that your business?

The coach went on to say point guard Storm Murphy "looks like your paperboy" yet is "mean as a snake" and "never turns the ball over," and, "This is a really, really good basketball team. Don't give me the 'midmajor' and all that gar-bage."

Disregard these comments about Wofford as so much intra-league boosterism. VMI coach Dan Earl: "In case anybody wasn't sure, Wofford is a very, very good team." UNC-Greensboro coach Wes Miller: "Mike has an unbelievable basketball team."

Samford coach Scott Padgett, a basketball sage since his playing days at Kentucky in the late 1990s: "Well, here's what's crazy. I've played against them for seven years as an assistant and head coach. They haven't put a new play in since, since the first year. They run the same stuff, over and over and over. It's kind of like the 'Remember The Titans,' where he says, 'I've got six plays,' and you stick to 'em. It's like clockwork. Eventually, they'll work. That's how they are. They believe in their system. They stick to their system. They trust each other, and then on top of it, they've got really skilled, talented kids. ... They're tough. They're hard-nosed. And the reality is they're just like their coach. They're the Terriers. He's the pit bull."

"I can't wait," Young said of the NCAA tournament, so obviously they're overconfident. You've got them. It will be breezy. There's no need for you to take them seriously and risk depriving the country of the exhilarating beauty of watching them more and more and more.

First published by The Washington Post

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