SCHMIDT: Underdogs are barking
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For once, the little guy kicked the oppressing big conference school right in the teeth.
Earlier this week, tiny Division II Indianapolis tripped up national giant Tennessee 79-64, the No. 20/23 team in the country. The sound of the titanic Vols crashing to the ground could be heard all the way in Houston, which is the site of this year’s Final Four, and ironically, a place that coach Bruce Pearl will most likely not be visiting in March.
Pearl, of course, is the former coach of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He’s a barrel-chested, curly-haired loudmouth who has been known to paint himself orange for school spirit and act in a generally obnoxious manner — like a symphony of vuvuzelas. The coach of Indianapolis, Stan Gouard, played under Pearl in 1995 and won a Division II national title with Southern Indiana. It appears that Gouard has officially snatched the pebble from his master’s hand.
But the real story here is the recent emergence of Team Joe Blow. Over the past few years, the nation’s big dogs are getting beat up by Chihuahuas.
One of the more famous instances is the 2007 cinderella story of Appalachian State, a Football Championship Subdivision team that shocked the Michigan Wolverines, the No. 5 team in the country at the time, 34-32. It was the first time an FCS team had ever defeated a ranked Football Bowl Subdivision team in college football history and is widely considered one of the biggest upsets ever. If you need a measuring stick to gauge just how colossal the Mountaineers’ coup was, try this on for size: Michigan was a 27-point favorite.
I bet Biff Tannen and Marty McFly made a fortune on that one.
Jumping back to basketball, there was another big-time shocker that shook the foundation of Big East juggernaut Syracuse just last season. Then the No. 25 team in the nation, the Orange got Cinderella-ed (yes, it’s now officially a verb) by the LeMoyne Dolphins. Luckily, it was only an exhibition game, and Syracuse rallied to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
But now the epidemic is spreading to the 2010-’11 basketball season. On top of the Tennessee debacle, another Big East team nearly bit the dust against Rhode Island on Monday. Pittsburgh, the No. 5 team in the country and early favorite to win the Big East, was trailing Rhode Island at the half and barely eeked out a 83-75 victory. What’s going on here?
Did Rudy Rudiger hold a secret pep talk for these teams? Did Patches O’Houlihan instill his famous “if you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball” logic on the nation’s collegiate underbelly of average joes?
Whatever is happening, let’s hope it doesn’t happen to the Golden Eagles. They play Prairie View A&M and Bucknell this weekend, two teams that could certainly Cinderella a young team trying to find its stride in the early goings of the year.
Sure, junior forward Jae Crowder and redshirt sophomore center Chris Otule looked dominant against the Saint John’s (Minn.) Johnnies (and the award for worst team nickname goes to…), but the fact remains we don’t know diddly about this inexperienced squad other than junior guard Darius Johnson-Odom and senior forward Jimmy Butler will probably score 75 percent of the points.
And that scares me. It’s possible Prairie View and Bucknell have a little fairy tale in them. If they do, it won’t be a happy ending for Marquette.
After all, it ain’t the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog. And these underdogs are barking up quite the storm.