Dave Cokin, veteran Vegas handicapper, analyst and radio personality, suggested on a local show that it was crazy to see major schools playing teams like Stony Brook and Sacred Heart to pad their schedules. Perhaps.
And, then maybe not.
Look at it from the little guy’s perspective. NCAA men’s basketball counts more than 200 schools in Division I and thus eligible to make the 65-team Dance (including the play-in game). I like seeing the Davids stick it to Goliath every once in a while.
A game etched forever in my mind came some 30 years ago when Chaminade, an NAIA school, hosted a tournament in Hawaii and defeated No. 1 ranked Virginia and Ralph Sampson. The result sent shockwaves in the world of the mighty, never dreaming a team from a different universe would topple the NCAA’s best.
From then on, I took a different view of cupcakes. Gonzaga was a snack on the tables of Washington and Washington State before becoming the main course. George Mason last year won the nation’s imagination with its incredible run in the NCAA tournament.
Last week Sacred Heart not only covered in a 103-81 loss to North Carolina, but had the Tar Heels on the ropes much of the game until a late burst in the second half.
Stony Brook, once a mere SUNY school (State University of New York), is now playing a very competitive schedule in Division I that features games Nov. 30 with Villanova and Dec. 5 against rival Hofstra.
Sacred Heart is aptly nicknamed the Pioneers, for they are in unchartered basketball territory. The Seawolves are 2-2 after an 87-76 loss to Navy. The Middies are 3-1 and a team to definitely scan under the radar.
Bottom line: The little guy is good for college basketball, which sets a schedule nearly triple that of football (basically 36 games to 12) and has twice as many schools eligible for the national title. Plus, small schools are great underdog plays. Stay tuned.
Now for this week’s best winning opportunities.
Brown at Northwestern: Brown beat Providence, which could cost the PC coach his job. They play a slowdown style much like Northwestern, the Princeton of the Big 10. If there is a posted total, go there. UNDER.
Tennessee State at Kansas:This one is dedicated to Cokin, who we like very much as an analyst. KANSAS
Princeton at Manhattan: The Tigers haven’t been the Ivy power since Pete Carill retired, but still give teams fits with the give and go. Manhattan beat Hofstra, one of the better teams you’ve never heard much about. MANHATTAN.
Samford at Arizona: Be careful with this one. This is not Stanford, it’s Samford of Alabama. Arizona knows this very well. ARIZONA.
Marist vs Minnesota: This matchup is part of the Old Spice Classic in Orlando. Marist could give the Gophers fits here, especially with the game away from Minneapolis. MARIST.
Hofstra at Hawaii: The Bows are not in Maui, but in the frozen tundra of Anchorage for the Great Alaska Shootout. Something is out of whack here. HOFSTRA.
Miami of Ohio at Illinois: The Illini again look like they have plenty of fight this season, especially at home. ILLINOIS.
Western Kentucky at Florida: The Las Vegas Invitational at the Orleans Arena. The Gators have been blowing everyone away in the early going. No answer to Noah & Company, on their way to a repeat national title. Check it out. FLORIDA.
Illinois State at St. John’s: The Red Storm bounced back nicely from the Maryland debacle to play Texas to a one-point loss. ISU is not in that class. ST. JOHNS
George Mason at Creighton: Two of NCAA’s overachievers clash in Omaha. This should be a beauty. G. MASON.
Syracuse vs Canisius (in Buffalo): Boeheim’s bunch won’t venture much out of New York State early on. Schools like Niagara, St. Bonaventure and Canisius really get up for the Orange. CANISIUS.
Kansas at Florida: ESPN2 will be showing this marquee matchup from the Orleans. We’ll see what the usually potent Jayhawks have. Right now, we’re not betting against Donovan’s boys. FLORIDA.