Forget the madness, March has turned out to be maddening for Larry Brown and Southern Methodist University. But at the University of Memphis, Josh Pastner, as expected, was preparing for his annual trip to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
Both Jewish coaches — Brown, 73, and Pastner, 36 — led their teams to 23-9 records this season and 12-6 in the inaugural season of the American Athletic Conference. Memphis, however, was joyful and SMU was disheartened when the invitations were handed out Sunday by the selection committee for the big dance’s 68-team field.
Pastner, the fifth-year coach at Memphis, has guided the Tigers to the tournament for the fourth consecutive season. His club was seeded eighth in the East bracket and will square off on Friday against ninth-seeded George Washington in Raleigh, North Carolina.
A strong backcourt led by Joe Jackson, the club’s leading scorer at 14.3 points per game, is hoping to power the Tennessee school to a victory over GW and a likely matchup in the second round against top-seeded Virginia, the Atlantic Coast Conference’s regular season and tournament champion.
Meanwhile, SMU’s failure to garner its first NCAA bid in 21 years surprised some college basketball observers. The Mustangs defeated four ranked teams, including conference foe Connecticut twice, but their strength of schedule was seen as low grade. They also dropped their last three games, including a first-round loss in the conference tournament to Houston — a defeat that left Brown, in his second season at the Texas school, to consider that his squad could be left without an NCAA invite.
“I looked at our schedule; we didn’t get blown out by anybody,” the veteran coach told the Dallas Morning News. “We almost beat Virginia, we had possession down one. But when we didn’t beat Houston, I kind of thought this could possibly happen.”
Apparently the first-year conference didn’t impress the committee: Louisville, which routed opponents on the way to the conference tournament crown, was seeded fourth despite being the NCAA Tournament’s defending champion. Memphis, UConn and the other conference school to make the NCAA’s, Cincinnati, also received lower seeds than expected.
The selection committee’s chairman, Ron Wellman, said his panel was “very impressed” by Brown’s club.
“But when you start comparing the team sheets of those teams they were fighting to get into the tournament with, we sided with the other teams and the strength of schedule was a very big factor,” Wellman told CBS.
SMU can take solace in being tapped a top seed in its first trip to the National Invitational Tournament since 2000. The Mustangs face off Wednesday at home against the University of California, Irvine.
At least one Jewish player will be taking the court for the NCAA Tournament: Ben Carter, a 6-8 sophomore forward from the University of Oregon. Carter, an Israel native, averages 2.7 points and 2.6 rebounds playing nearly 13 minutes a game for the Ducks (23-8).
Oregon, the seventh seed in the West region, will meet 10th-seeded Brigham Young on Thursday in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.