[The following is the first of, hopefully, many posts here at 8p9s by Jonathan Auping. Please welcome Jonathan aboard by reading his piece on Pacers' connections to the NCAA and leaving a comment below. - Ed.]
This season, there are only a few things on TV that can keep a Pacer fan from watching their favorite squad play. On the other hand, there are about five hundred things that can keep a basketball fan from watching a Wizard’s game. That being said, one of those things might be the NCAA tournament’s Sweet Sixteen.
So since many of you may very well be switching back and forth from the Pacers/Wizards game and March Madness tomorrow we would be remiss if we didn’t touch on the current Pacers whose alma maters are still in the Big Dance as well as a few prospective Pacers to look out for in the big games. There are only three players on the Pacers’ roster whose former schools are still ballin’ in the Sweet Sixteen: David West of Xavier, Lance Stephenson of Cincinnati and Tyler Hansbrough of North Carolina.
It’s been a minute since David West was at Xavier, but he wasn’t just your run-of-the-mill college player. West helped launch the school into college basketball relevancy and made it improper to refer to the school as a “mid-major.” Over his four-year college career, he averaged 17 points and 10 rebounds while shooting 53%. Numbers like those are almost unheard of in a four-year span from a college career these days. The guy was so good that, four years after he graduated, Sports Illustrated named him to its NCAA All-Decade Team.
The Musketeers made the NCAA Tourney in three of West’s four years. He was able to lead the team to a first-round win in his junior and senior year. In both years, however, the team got bumped off in the second round. In his final collegiate game, West put up a valiant effort with 22 points and 9 rebounds as Xavier lost to Maryland. This year, Xavier has done what the school was never able to do with D-West as they will face Baylor in the Sweet Sixteen.
Coming from Xavier’s cross-town rival — and occasional street fight opponent — is Lance Stephenson’s Cincinnati Bearcats. Unlike West, Lance only played one year of college ball before going pro, and he was unable to take the Bearcats to the NCAA Tournament in that time.
But to be fair he did do this:
This year, Cincinnati will be taking on the power house of Ohio State after upsetting Florida State last weekend.
If you followed college basketball from 2006-09 then you probably watched a little bit of Tyler Hansbrough at the University of North Carolina. You might remember him for his four All-Conference team selections, for his 2008 National Player of the Year award, for his bloody face against Duke, or for his tough, fearless play — something he still brings to the table for the Pacers. And yeah, he knows a little something about the Sweet Sixteen; Tyler helped take the Tar Heels to four NCAA Tournaments and led them to a national championship his senior year. This year, Psycho T’s alma mater is one of the favorites to win the national championship, despite injuries, and are facing the Ohio Bobcats in the Sweet Sixteen.
Much more importantly than who wins and who loses, let’s not forget that the next great Indiana Pacer is somewhere out there right now and it’s never too early to start scouting for him. The Pacers will have to use their first-round pick on someone next year and here are three players that will be playing in the Sweet Sixteen to look our for.
They might just be great fits for the future of the team.
Dion Waiters, Syracuse
The 6’4 guard is a lock-down defender with a strong frame and patience at the offensive end. He isn’t going to be an elite scorer, but he can knock down open shots. With smaller guards like Darren Collison, presumably George Hill (he will be a restricted free agent this summer), and perhaps even Leandro Barbosa (also free agent) seeming to be part of the future in Indiana, Waiters could come in and provide defense and toughness.
Draymond Green, Michigan State
The senior forward would be a perfect fit on the Pacers. He just would. Part of me wants to personally witness Larry Bird watch footage of Green play and see his reaction. The guy committed himself to Tom Izzo for four years and kept improving. He does everything well: plays defense, scores in the paint, hits long-range shots and gobbles up rebounds. He also raises his play in big moments. On a personal note, I saw him rip up my Saint Louis University Billikens in person last weekend in the round of 32. It is hard to determine what position he would play (he’s a 6’6 power forward in college), but he is the kind of hard worker that makes that sort of thing seem irrelevant.
Marquis Teague, Kentucky
The Hoosiers will be taking on the favorites for the National Championship when they play Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen. The Wildcats are filled with star power, but the most overlooked player is Teague. The freshman point guard may be a little raw in terms of his skill set, but he can handle the ball and is extremely explosive and athletic. There will be three Wildcats drafted before him in next year’s draft, but Teague should be able to make a name for himself in the NBA. His game has a lot of similarities to a player like Will Bynum.