Charlie O’Bannon expects NCAA Tournament chaos

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Having observed this most peculiar season, pocked with postponements and precautions, Charles O’Bannon predicts utter madness in March for the NCAA Tournament.

“If there’s any year for a mid-major squad to win the championship, I think it’ll be this one,” said O’Bannn, who currently is a volunteer assistant coach at Washington. “Those teams with three or four seniors, or predominantly upper classmen, they’re going to be more experienced than the one-and-dones.

“Look at Michigan State, Duke, North Carolina and Kentucky. The typical one-and-done schools haven’t fared very well, be it the lack of practices or experience … it’s turned out to be a different kind of season.”

Last week, for the first time since 1961, the Tar Heels, Blue Devils and Wildcats were not in the Associated Press poll. Ten teams were rated then. The poll expanded to 20 teams in 1968, 25 in ’89.

Against Kentucky alone, Notre Dame won for the first time in Lexington and Richmond defeated, also for the first time, an opponent ranked in the top 10.

O’Bannon, 45, didn’t name specific mid-major programs, but those that fit his criteria include Creighton, Drake, Boise State, Utah State, San Diego State, Loyola-Chicago and Southern Methodist.

Houston (American Athletic Conference) and Gonzaga (West Coast Conference) might fit those prerequisites but discounting either due to league affiliation would be a serious mistake.

“The smaller programs already have chips on their shoulders,” said O’Bannon. “Georgia Tech just beat Kentucky for the first time in twenty-one years. A lot of the smaller schools are getting their pay-back this season.”

Most games have no fans. They’re glorified pick-up runs in a vacuum, like the many in which O’Bannon partook in the antiquated men’s gym on UCLA’s campus. He helped the Bruins win a national championship in 1995 and has a namesake son playing at Texas Christian. He says TCU players undergo daily coronavirus testing, and he’s confident Junior’s welfare is a priority at the school.

“I just tell him to mask up,” said Senior, who cringes watching games with so few, if any, fans. “It’s deflating, because you get hyped and excited to perform in front of fans, especially your parents — but they can’t even see their kid play. Very disappointing.”

As an adult, Charles put a charge in crowds with his electric dunks. As a ball boy for older brother Ed’s junior-high games in Cerritos, Calif., he first dazzled audiences during timeouts and halftimes. He started as a freshman at Lakewood Artesia High when Ed was a senior.

“We would get so hyped because Ed was doing stuff that no other seniors were doing,” he said. “We got used to playing before huge crowds. Feeding off that was always a big part of my game.”

A longtime Las Vegas resident, O’Bannon watched his flourish in the state championship game his senior year at Bishop Gorman High.

“Packed,” said Senior. “Everybody was chanting. He scored 36 and just fed off the crowd. Reminded me of myself.”

Junior left USC after two seasons. The two O’Bannons took an official visit to TCU, in Fort Worth, the first weekend of 2020. They sat in Schollmaier Arena, about 1,000 shy of its 6,800 capacity, and watched the Horned Frogs beat Iowa State, 81-79, in overtime. Senior said it felt as if there were twice as many people in the barn.

“Just rockin’ and rollin’. That was the environment Chuck was excited to go to,” he said. “No fans, or a small percentage, is not what these kids signed up for.

“For those who need the extra motivation, it hinders them tremendously. It basically eliminates the home-court advantage. The balanced teams, the older teams, the more-experienced teams will be more successful going forward.”

Thursday

Belmont -7 at Austin Peay, Total 155: The 16-1 Bruins have quietly slipped into fifth gear, having covered six of their past seven, five of those sailing Over. They’ve averaged 97 in their previous three games, in which their 1.310 offensive-efficiency rating leads the country. BELMONT and OVER

Saturday

Morgan State at Coppin State, Total 154: These two played a pair two weeks ago at Morgan State, with 164 and 168 combined points tallied in the back-to-backers. Nine of Coppin’s past 11 have gone Over, as have seven of Morgan’s previous eight. OVER

Sunday

Illinois State at Drake -16: The Bulldogs own the fifth-best offensive efficiency (1.185) in the nation, which bumps to No. 2 (1.255) at home. DRAKE

Last week: 0-1

Season: 14-11

About the Author

Rob Miech

Veteran sportswriter Rob Miech covers soccer and does features for Gaming Today. He has written about college hoops for the Las Vegas Sun, CBS SportsLine and the Pasadena Star-News. He is the author of four books, including Sports Betting for Winners.

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