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 and 1992, 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 tournament game, which was a quick one-and-done at the hands of West Virginia. So he's looking for his first tournament victory as a coach.
The Sun Devils got a couple of signature victory -- Nov. 24 over then No. 15 Xavier and Dec. 10 over then No. 2 Kansas. But they barely reached 20 victories, limped to an 8-10 record in the Pacific-12 Conference 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, Neb.
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). Texas Southern defeated the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff in the SWAC Championship Game on Saturday.
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 tournament appearance, and fell to California-Davis 67-63 in a game in which they shot poorly. Texas Southern has been in the tournament four out of the past five years.
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 nonconference 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 nonconference that we was favored to win. I designed the schedule not for us to feel good but for us to get better."
Sports on 03/14/2018
Print Headline: Devils, Orange believe they belong