While it’s no fun to admit this, let’s be honest: The NCAA men’s basketball tournament has been boringly predictable up to this point. Sure, it has featured a handful of down-to-the-wire games, yet the top three seeds are still alive in each region and the only team in the Sweet Sixteen seeded lower than No. 5 is Arizona – a household name that hardly has the same Cinderella appeal as Davidson or Valparaiso.
Speaking of which, last year’s tournament star, Stephen Curry of Davidson, will be on display tonight on ESPN in the NIT’s second round. He’s the most exciting player in the nation. Try to check him out, though I understand the game has been slated for the very un-primetime start of 9:30 p.m. MST. That means Curry won’t be scoring his 25th point until well past midnight on the East Coast.
Without Curry and without a true Cinderella (sorry Arizona), I have looked elsewhere to find a compelling underdog story for the 2009 college basketball postseason. And I found it on the other side of the state, in Billings, where Rocky Mountain College has clawed its way into the NAIA Men’s Basketball Championship semifinals. The Battlin’ Bears had never won a tournament game before this year. Now they’ve won three straight to qualify for the NAIA Final Four.
Rocky Mountain plays tonight at 5:50 p.m. against Robert Morris College for a chance to play for the national title. The other semifinal game is Missouri’s Columbia College against Nazarene of Kansas. <a href="http://www.billingsgazette.net/articles/2009/03/23/sports/local/18-rockys.txt" title="Here's a story from the Billings Gazette about the Bears’ march.”>Here’s a story from the Billings Gazette about the Bears’ march.
The Bears came into the tournament unseeded but with a solid 23-9 record. Despite the good regular season mark, history wasn’t on the Bears’ side and it appeared they were headed for another first-round exit when they fell behind by 17 points to Freed-Hardeman of Tennessee. But in the second half, the Bears went on a remarkable 19-1 run to pull ahead. Rocky Mountain won 78-77 in overtime.
After beating Central Methodist 71-62 in the second round, the Bears once again came back from a double-digit deficit against California’s Concordia to win 72-64. That win set up the semifinal matchup against Robert Morris.
To have never won a tournament game in the school’s history and now be playing for a chance to go to the national championship is a feat that speaks for itself. Congratulations to the Bears. It’s been an impressive run, no matter what happens in the semifinals.
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