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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Playing Cinderella

    Cleveland State players cheer on their teammates during the No. 13-seed Vikings 84-69 upset win over No. 4-seed Wake Forest in AmericanAirlines Arena on Friday night. CSU has only been to the NCAA Tournament one other time, 1986, when the Vikings went to the Sweet 16.
    Cleveland State players cheer on their teammates during the No. 13-seed Vikings’ 84-69 upset win over No. 4-seed Wake Forest in AmericanAirlines Arena on Friday night. CSU has only been to the NCAA Tournament one other time, 1986, when the Vikings went to the Sweet 16.

    No. 12 Arizona vs. No. 13 Cleveland State

    MIAMI – Cinderella is staying near South Beach this weekend, but it’s not clear if she will wear a forest green or cardinal red dress to her Sweet 16.

    The No. 12-seed Arizona men’s basketball team (20-13) will face No. 13 Cleveland State (26-10) on Sunday at 11:40 a.m. MST in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in AmericanAirlines Arena. One of the two teams is just 40 minutes away from a Sweet 16 berth.

    Even with its historic past of 25 consecutive appearances in the Big Dance, much of America counted Arizona out before Selection Sunday. But more were unaware that Cleveland State even existed.

    Then on Friday night, the Wildcats upset No. 5 Utah and the Vikings upset No. 4 Wake Forest, setting up the first-ever matchup between Arizona and CSU.

    They are the lowest-seeded teams to make it into the second round of the tournament besides Western Kentucky and Wisconsin, which are both 12 seeds.

    For Cleveland State, the magic started when the team went to Spain in mid-August.

    “”One night we had a meeting, it had to be about 12 o’clock at night and the stars were out in a beautiful setting and all the music playing,”” said Cleveland State head coach Gary Waters. “”Everyone was excited out there and we talked about goals we wanted to set for ourselves, and each day we took a step toward that.””

    CSU’s first major step came in mid-December, when it upset then-No. 11 Syracuse in the Carrier Dome with a 60-foot buzzer-beater from guard Cedric Jackson to win 72-69.

    “”I was just fortunate enough to hit a half-court shot,”” Jackson said Saturday. “”But (it) just opened a lot of people’s eyes to let them know that we’re a tough team and we’re a good team, too, and we’re here to play.””

    Arizona had goals, too, but its potential fairy tale run started more unconventionally, back when Lute Olson retired and Russ Pennell took over as the interim head coach. For a program that was almost expected to be one of the nation’s final 64 teams contending for a deep Tournament run – at least in Tucson – it almost didn’t happen.

    “”There were a lot of doubters (against) our team just because people didn’t think we won enough games on the road or whatever,”” said UA forward Jordan Hill, eluding to the Wildcats’ 2-9 away record. “”Cleveland State – Wake Forest took them lightly; just thought they were gonna come in there and bully them. And Cleveland State proved them wrong. They were aggressive in the first half and everyone went, ‘Wow.'””

    To secure an automatic NCAA Tournament bid, the Vikings beat Butler in the Horizon League Championship – despite losing to the Bulldogs twice during the regular season.

    As if this fairy tale needed any more magical dust -ÿif not complete irony – sprinkled over AmericanAirlines Arena, the game between CSU and the UA will be played right after ASU and Syracuse go head to head.

    Old rivals (Arizona and ASU) and new rivals (CSU and ‘Cuse) all together under one roof.

    But once the ball is tipped off, the Wildcats and Vikings will only have each other to worry about.

    “”It’s a game between two good basketball teams that have earned their way here,”” Pennell said. “”Cleveland State, when you beat Butler … you’re respected in the basketball world, there’s no question about that. When you beat Syracuse in the Carrier Dome, you’re a good basketball team. When you beat Wake Forest in the NCAA Tournament – you don’t have a fluke three times.””

    Added Hill: “”We can’t take Cleveland State lightly, man. … We’re not dealing with a horrible team. We’re dealing with a good team and we’ve got to be prepared for them.””

    Each team has a some history on its side, but one side is going to have to give. On paper, the Vikings are the underdogs.

    The last time Arizona made it past the second round of the NCAA Tournament -ÿthe 2004-05 season – the Wildcats went to the Elite Eight. It was the 13th time in history they made it past the second round.

    The last -ÿand only – time CSU went to the NCAA Tournament, 1986, it went to the Sweet 16 when it beat Indiana and St. Joseph’s before losing to Navy.

    “”Coming from a mid-level Division I program, we know that we’re going to be the underdogs and we understand that and we can accept that,”” said CSU guard Norris Cole. “”But at the same time we’re going to come in, we’re going to be confident, we’re going to believe in our system, and we’re going to come in to play.

    “”We know we’re going to be underdogs probably in every game from here on out,”” Cole added. “”And taking it one game at a time, we know against Arizona we’re underdogs, so we’re going to accept that and move on. We don’t look at us playing against high major, we just look at it as us basketball players against Arizona basketball players.””

    As the final horn sounds at the end of the game Sunday, the NCAA Tournament will have established its feel-good story of the season up to that point. It will have established its Cinderella candidate heading into the Sweet 16.

    “”In many cases this tournament don’t belong to you,”” Waters said. “”You’ve got to break in the door and let people know who you are. And you’ve got to do it by going out there and performing well on a big stage.””

    By the numbers

  • Arizona is 6-1 all-time against teams from the Horizon League
  • Arizona is 12-3 in 15 NCAA second-round games
  • Cedric Jackson leads the Horizon League with 107 steals
  • The Vikings have won 13 of their last 15 games
  • Both Arizona and CSU scored 84 points on Friday
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