CBKB: WSU's Low says it's 'cool' to be No. 4 seed
By Todd Milles
By Todd Milles
The Washington State Cougars were not surprised when they received an at-large berth in the 2008 NCAA men's basketball championships Sunday.
There wasn't much suspense on the nationally televised "Selection Sunday" show about who they would be playing either.
Merely seconds after the East Regional bracket was revealed, the Cougars came up as the No. 4 seed. Then the pairing was flashed on the screen: They will play 13th-seeded Winthrop at 4:20 p.m. on Thursday in a first-round matchup at the Pepsi Center in Denver, marking WSU's first back-to-back appearance in the tournament.
As mid-majors go, Winthrop's reputation carries more zing than most. The Eagles (22-11) have won four consecutive Big South Conference championships. Just the fact the Rock Hill, S.C., school has played in more NCAA tournaments (eight) than WSU (seven) should be enough to get the Cougars' attention.
If it doesn't, consider Winthrop posted one of the bracket-busting upsets of last year's NCAA tournament by beating Notre Dame in the opening round. They've appeared in the tournament eight of the past 10 seasons.
"I know they have a lot of NCAA tournament experience," WSU coach Tony Bennett said. "They're an excellent program that has established themselves down South as one of the high-level teams."
Known, yes, but not exactly familiar.
Sure, Bennett knew who the Eagles' leading scorer was (guard Michael Jenkins), and the starting point guard (Chris Gaynor), and the fact they have four seniors who play significant minutes.
But even with his ties around the country, Bennett has no history with first-year Winthrop coach Randy Peele, who has sat on a a college bench since the early 1980s. And he couldn't identify any of their bread-and-butter schemes on offense or defense.
But, as Bennett added, "I'd be shocked if we don't have a few game tapes in our office" as of Sunday afternoon.
Jenkins is certainly a name to get familiar with. He scored a tournament-record 33 points in the Big South title game, hitting six 3-pointers. The 6-foot-3 guard makes Winthrop go.
"I'm sure I will (be familiar with him) real soon," said WSU's Kyle Weaver, who likely will draw the defensive assignment of stopping Jenkins.
If anything was stunning about the developments Sunday, it was the Cougars' high seed. Some NCAA bracket experts had WSU as low as a seventh seed, but apparently the Cougars' strong nonconference schedule — they had wins over NCAA-bound Boise State, Mississippi Valley State, Baylor, Gonzaga and Portland State — went further with the selection committee than many thought.
"We were expecting it to be in the No. 6-8 range," WSU guard Derrick Low, a former Iolani School star, said. "To see our names pop up No. 4, it was real cool."