College basketball creates opportunities for smaller schools to make big upsets with fair tournament style

Joe Davis

Looking back at what are considered the greatest moments in college athletics, you might find none of them belong to Sacramento State.

From Christian Laettner hitting an improbable last-second shot against University of Kentucky to win the NCAA Tournament for Duke University to University of California Berkeley’s spectacular kickoff return for a touchdown while running over the Stanford band to win the game in 1982, these moments are forever etched in the minds of fans everywhere.

The memory of great victories in the NCAA gives schools legendary statuses and sports fans and media types worship the elite.

Sac State does not command national media attention. Many students did not grow up watching Sac State sports on TV as outlets like ESPN counted down the greatest championship moments of all time. Even without all the historical prestige of Cal, Stanford, Duke or North Carolina, Sac State should be viewed as equal.

It used to be mid-major universities like Sac State were looked upon as sort of a little brother when it came to athletics. Larger collegiate programs would, and still do, schedule these mid-majors in the early portion of the season. The games were considered tune-ups before the “real” competition.

The days of looking up to big brother have met their demise. The formerly less important teams have come to stake their claim in the history books of major collegiate athletics.

“People ask me all the time what my favorite college team is,” men’s basketball head coach Brian Katz said. “I tell them it is Sac State, then they ask what my real favorite college team is, as if Sac State does not have any legitimate teams.”

Sac State football has proven for two consecutive seasons the small guy can pack a hell of a punch. It has upset the supposed better, stronger, faster team from the alleged more dominant conference twice now.

Sac State basketball has an even better opportunity to shine on the big stage.

Sac State men’s basketball is a Division I team. It is considered to be on the same competitive level as the NCAA’s most storied basketball programs.

With all things being equal, Sac State is still viewed as an underdog.

“We just have not won enough,” Katz said. “We need to win more for the school to be to be noticed.”

Winning is the key to everything. If the Hornets win the Big Sky Conference they will secure a spot in the NCAA tournament. Of course, since Sac State plays in a small conference it will be seeded extremely low. The lower the seeding, the tougher the opponent is supposed to be, but it has not mattered as of much late.

In recent seasons, mid-major schools similar to Sac State have knocked off highly rated programs during March Madness. Last season 15-seed Lehigh dropped 2-seed, and perennial powerhouse, Duke in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

“All those seeds and rankings do not matter at the end of the day,” Katz said. “It is still basketball with a hoop and a ball.”

Nowadays with sports becoming more and more accessible, as well as profitable, talent is spread out more in college basketball.

At the Kentuckys of the world, freshmen are shuffled in, stay for a season and are shuffled out to the NBA. However, Sac State has the ability to bring in players and coach them up to four or five years.

What a small university sports team lacks in raw talent and natural physical ability, it makes up for in developed skills and experience.

In the end all roads meet at the same place. The NCAA tournament is the great equalizer. If and when the Hornets make it to the greatest tournament in sports they will have no need to show fear.

The big time and big money does not always win big games. Sac State and schools like it can rely on the unshakable confidence that comes with veteran experience. It can also keep in mind the game is the same no matter whom the team is playing.

Put the ball in the hole.

Joe Davis can be reached at [email protected]