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Notes on Gonzaga, Nitroball and Cisar

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Before you trash those busted brackets, let's take one last look at the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

With all the upsets and calamity that ensued over the past month as Louisville stormed to the championship, very few things were considered "givens.''

One of those was the almost-universal condemnation of Gonzaga as the surprise No. 1 seed in the West Region, especially after the Bulldogs lost to Wichita State in the round of 32 (aka the second round to most fans).

The Zags were the first No. 1 seed to fall, but were quickly followed by Kansas and Indiana in the Sweet 16. Louisville was the only No. 1 to reach the Final Four, and the lone team to bring sanity to a group in Atlanta that included two No. 4 seeds and a No. 9.

So was Gonzaga really that much of a bust? Remember, Wichita State ultimately made believers out of a lot of people, storming past No. 2 seed Ohio State in the regional final to get to the Final Four and, once there, narrowly losing to Louisville 72-68.

Or were the Bulldogs unworthy of a top seed since, as their detractors claimed, they played in a weak league - the mid-major West Coast Conference? Well, the pickings there might not seem as easy when you look at what other WCC teams did in the postseason.

  • St. Mary's won a "play-in'' game against Middle Tennessee State in the NCAA First Four to earn the No. 11 seed, then just missed against No. 6 Memphis, losing 54-52 when a buzzer-beating 3-pointer didn't fall.
  • BYU won three games in the NIT, making it all the way to Madison Square Garden for the semifinals, losing a close game to eventual champion Baylor 76-70. Baylor crushed Iowa by 20 points for the title two nights later.
  • Santa Clara, another WCC member, played in the lower-tier College Basketball Invitational, winning five games and beating George Mason in the finals of the 16-team event.
  • So maybe those WCC teams Gonzaga beat up on all season weren't pushovers after all.

    But the thing everyone overlooks when throwing the Zags under the bus - what about all those No. 2 seeds, teams that many felt should have been rated No. 1 instead of Gonzaga? None of them made the Final Four, either.

    Georgetown, in fact, didn't even win a game, losing to Cinderella Florida Gulf Coast in the round of 64. Miami lost in the Sweet 16, and Ohio State and Duke fell in the Elite Eight.

    If you discount Louisville's imperviousness to March Madness, the other No. 1 seeds and all the No. 2s went a modest 13-7 in the tournament. If you include the No. 3 seeds, it's a pedestrian 21-11. Not exactly domination by the best programs in the country.

    So piling on the Zags seems a bit much. Let's just chalk it up to increasing parity in Division I. The Zags may not be poster children for underachieving, but at least they had a lot of company in their misery.

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  • Things might look a bit bleak right now for Nitro coach Steve Pritchard, but don't discount his team's chances by the time the postseason rolls around.

    The Wildcats (6-4) lost freshman catcher Matt Jewell for a minimum of 4 to 6 weeks with a broken hand Wednesday night, and he could miss the rest of the season. That not only juggles a couple positions in the field, but also likely takes one of the team's two best pitchers - Ryan McDonough - somewhat out of the rotation, since McDonough may now have to work behind the plate almost every day.

    Another obstacle is timely hitting. The Wildcats were 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position and were caught looking on third strikes six times in Wednesday's 5-1 loss to No. 1 Hurricane. They've now managed just six runs in their four losses. They also won another game 1-0.

    But just when you think Nitro's successful run is coming to a close, you realize that Pritchard has overcome these kinds of things before.

    Nitro was clobbered by neighboring rival St. Albans 11-1 in a five-inning mercy-rule game last April, but by the time their best-of-three sectional rolled around three weeks later the Wildcats won in two games 6-1, 6-2 and again played in the state tournament at Appalachian Power Park.

    "We hope so,'' Pritchard said Wednesday about getting his house in order. "You never know. I will say this about our kids - this is the hardest they've played all season. They just don't play very smart, and my job is to get us playing smart by the end of the season.''

    Nitro has advanced to the state tournament the last six years, playing in the Class AAA finals four times and winning twice.

    "We're still in the process of finding a lineup,'' Pritchard said, "finding the best nine who play together. The more games you get in, the more you hope you'll find it. We don't have it, but we haven't gotten a chance to play every day - day in and day out - and that takes care of a lot of things.

    "But you've got to give the kids credit. When we play at 7 o'clock, they're here at 4 to lift weights for 45 minutes, then hit for two hours, stretch and throw and play. And do it every day. It's not a lack of effort or want-to. For that to happen - and I think it will happen - you have to try your best every day, and just hope it jells.''

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  • I was glad to get a chance to see Dave Cisar in action again last weekend during a three-team baseball series in Sissonville. Even after all these years, the veteran Magnolia coach hasn't lost a step or a scowl since I first ran across him in the late 1970s.

    He's now up to 803 career baseball wins with the Blue Eagles, which, combined with the 158 games he won in 24 seasons as football coach, leaves him just 39 shy of 1,000 victories for his coaching career.

    Can you imagine how many games Cisar would have won if the SSAC didn't institute scheduling limits (some will say, mainly because of Cisar)? In his heyday at the New Martinsville school, Cisar would hold virtually no practices. His team would play doubleheaders every day.

    Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or rickryan@wvgazette.com.

     


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