Saturday, March 22, 2008

Talkin' Toppers

Well, if you've read this blog for a while (or just seen my bio on The Star's home page) you know I'm a proud Western Kentucky grad ... prouder today than on most days.

It's interesting for me because I covered Western head coach Darrin Horn and assistant Cypheus Bunton as players at Western ... and it's precisely because of them that I think WKU could move deeper into the tournament.

Horn and Bunton are young, but they've been there. They played on Western teams that advance to the 1993 NCAA Sweet 16 and won in the first round in 1995 before putting a scare into Kansas.

In 1993, Western opened the tournament by eliminating Memphis and Penny Hardaway in Orlando. It was Hardaway's final college game.

The next victim was No. 2 seed Seton Hall, coached by P.J. Carlisemo. The Pirates had Danny Hurley (Bobby's brother), Terry Dehere and 7-foot-2 Luther Wright.

Those wins got Western to Charlotte, where the Tops took Florida State into overtime. That FSU team had future NBA players Charlie Ward, Bob Sura and Sam Cassell.

Western caught a tough break when point guard Mark Bell fouled out on a charge in overtime, giving way to freshman Michael Fraliex. Still, Bunton had a 3-point try to tie, and it bounced twice on the rim before falling off.

FSU won, 81-78.

In 1995, Fraliex hit a shot to force overtime against Michigan in Dayton. Western controlled the overtime and ended the college careers of the final two Fab Fivers ... Jimmy King and Ray Jackson.

Heavily favored Kansas won in the second round, 75-70.

I tell you all of this to make the point that Horn and Bunton have been there, and Western has been there. That and the fact that UConn lost in the first round makes Western more likely to get to the Sweet 16.

Just my humble opinion, and a disclaimer: The Star and I are not responsible for money wagered and lost.

Oh, and in the interest of full disclosure, I was at the helm of the sports section Friday night. Western got the big play on the front page, but will anyone argue that the Tops' upset of Drake was the biggest and most dramatic game of the day?

It led ESPN SportsCenter's NCAA coverage for a reason, and it just so happened that the game fell on my watch.

It was nice, though. It also took me back to memories from my time covering my alma mater as the sports editor of the Bowling Green Daily News.

And while I'm at it, a special shout out to two former assistant coaches from those 90s Western teams. Marquette head coach Tom Crean and Kent State's Jimmy Christian got there teams into the tournament this year, and Crean's Warriors advanced.

Happy tournament watching, and happy Easter.

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