Syracuse, Arizona State want to prove they belong in tournament


The Associated Press

DAYTON, Ohio — Bobby Hurley isn’t intimidated by the NCAA Tournament, of course, but the former Duke star usually doesn’t have to prove he belongs here.

Hurley, the explosive point guard who led the Blue Devils to back-to-back national championships in 1991-92, is the third-year coach of Arizona State, which plays Syracuse tonight in a First Four play-in game. Both teams got at-large bids, so naturally there are some fans grumbling about their tournament worthiness.

“It was a very emotional couple of days,” Hurley said Tuesday. “Just a roller coaster leading into Selection Sunday and just playing different scenarios out, the tension and the anxiety about wanting to be in this field and that we deserve to play.”

Hurley previously coached at Buffalo, where he led the Bulls to their first ever tournament game, which was a quick one-and-done at the hands of West Virginia. So he’s looking for his first tournament win as a coach.

The Sun Devils got a couple of signature wins — Nov. 24 over then No. 15 Xavier and Dec. 10 over then No. 2 Kansas. But they barely reached 20 wins, limped to an 8-10 record in the Pac-12 and lost in the first round of the conference tournament.

The Orange also have the challenge of proving they should be here. The Atlantic Coast Conference squad was teetering on the bubble but was rewarded with the at-large big thanks to its difficult non-conference schedule and some key wins away from home, including at Miami and Louisville.

“We understand this is just the beginning,” Syracuse guard Frank Howard said. “We don’t want to get too high on this. We want to still have perspective and still understand what we’re here for. So we’re all just focused.”

The winner of the No. 11 seed game will face No. 6 TCU in a Midwest regional on Friday in Omaha, Nebraska.

The first game tonight pits North Carolina Central, winners of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament, and Southwestern Athletic Conference Tournament champion Texas Southern, which comes in as the only First Four team with a losing record (15-19).

The winner gets West Regional No. 1 seed Xavier on Friday in Nashville.

— DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN: North Carolina Central returns to Dayton for the second consecutive year. Texas Southern was here in 2014.

The Eagles got to the First Four last season, their second ever tournament appearance, and fell to UC-Davis 67-63 in a game in which they shot poorly.

Texas Southern has been in the tournament four out of the last five years.

One of the historically black colleges will get their first tournament victory. At least one SWAC or MEAC team has been involved in the First Four since it started in 2011.

— TIGERS’ UPHILL CLIMB: Texas Southern didn’t get off to a good start. Playing a non-conference schedule that included Kansas, Syracuse, Oregon, Clemson, Baylor, TCU and Ohio State, the Tigers limped to an 0-13 start and didn’t win a game until Jan. 1. But they finished 12-6 in the conference, tied for second, and got hot at the right time in the tournament. They finished 15-19, the only with a losing record to make the tournament.

“Our schedule was designed for us to get to this point,” Texas Southern coach Mike Davis said. “People talk about us being 0-13. And there’s not one team that we played in non-conference that we were favored to win. I designed the schedule not for us to feel good but for us to get better.”

By Paul Wager

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