Perhaps because of their woeful history—in the seven seasons before this one, the Panthers won a total of 30 games—or because they don't rebound well and usually can't shoot a lick from the line or the arc, the Panthers have a knack for lulling opponents into complacency. They came back from a 41-21 deficit against top-seeded Texas Southern in the final of the SWAC tournament and won the game. How do they do it? They've got a nothing-to-lose attitude, and they press well. The 17.6 turnovers a game they caused were third in the league.
After they're blown out by Kansas, the Panthers can at least contemplate this: Six years ago they were 0-28.
8 Rhode Island
Coach Jim Harrick
Team scoring 77.1 (FG%: 44.6) (3-pointers: 230-612, 37.6%)
Opponents' scoring 712 (FG%: 411)
Team FT% 71.3
Whom not to foul Cuttino Mobley (86%), Joshua King (75%)
Whom to foul Luther Clay (60%), Tyson Wheeler (65%)
Quality wins UNLV 91-73, at Temple 74-64, at UMass 87-85
Player to Watch
Harrick had to sit down in the preseason with Wheeler, his 5'10" blur of a point guard, and have a heart-to-heart about his shot selection: Harrick wanted him to put more emphasis on passing and less on shooting. Since then, the diminutive NBA prospect has been less of a free-Wheeler, and his scoring average has gone down from 16.4 a year ago to 14.6. However, the improved scoring of backcourtmate Mobley (17.1 versus 12.2 a year ago) has more than compensated.
After developing 13 NBA players while at UCLA, Harrick has one of the nation's best backcourts in Wheeler and Mobley, both seniors. Rhode Island, though, is hardly Ram-tough inside. At 6'9" Clay is a bit short for a center, and he lost 14 pounds in midseason because of tonsillitis. As a result, Rhode Island's rebound deficit was the second worst in the Atlantic 10.
With one great exception, Harrick hasn't been much of a tournament coach, and Murray State will be the beneficiary.
9 Murray State
Coach Mark Gottfried
Team scoring 87.1 (FG%: 50.5) (3-pointers: 201-500, 40.2%)
Opponents' scoring 69.9 (FG%: 41.0)
Rebound margin +6.0
Team FT% 67.6
Whom not to foul De'Teri Mayes (78%), Chad Townsend (76%)
Whom to foul Duane Virgil (55%), Isaac Spencer (64%)
Quality wins Arkansas 94-83, at Dayton 76-69