I don’t have any ties to Morehead State, the relatively small Kentucky college whose men’s basketball team upset heavily favored Louisville on Thursday and who are playing their third round game against Richmond as I speak. Morehead State is public, Ithaca College is private. Morehead State is located in Kentucky and belongs to the Ohio Valley Conference, a Division I sports league with only one team in the NCAA men’s tournament. Ithaca College is in New York State and is part of the Empire 8, a Division III conference with two teams in the NCAA Division III men’s tournament.
As far as I know, none of my friends or relatives have ever attended Morehead State. I have never even been to Kentucky, let alone lived there. The closest I’ve come to having a favorite alumnus from Morehead State is in knowing that Phil Simms, who led one of my favorite teams, the New York Giants to their first Super Bowl title, went to the college. And even Simms retired about five years before I was able to watch a football game and understand most of what was going on.
I didn’t follow Morehead State during the 2010-2011 regular season, though I did notice when they beat Tennessee Tech in the OVC tournament championship game to clinch an NCAA berth and I had heard that one of their players, forward/center Kenneth Faried, has been drawing attention from NBA scouts for months. Furthermore, I actually do have two very small connections to Louisville since one of my friends from high school is a student there and my roommate is a diehard fan of Cardinals men’s basketball who gets as excited and vocal during their games as I do during Buffalo Sabres games.
And yet, when I turned on the TV Thursday afternoon, saw that Morehead State was hanging in against Louisville in one of the opening NCAA Tournament games and saw that they might actually have a chance to win, I didn’t root for Louisville, I rooted for Morehead State. I was happy when Louisville kept turning the ball over.
I was happy when Morehead State kept shooting (and making) three-point shots that looked ridiculous but were actually usually very well set up and perfectly timed. I was happy when Demonte Harper hit the game winning three-pointer for Morehead State and when Faried preserved the win with a crucial last-second block.
The only moment in the game where I wasn’t rooting for Morehead State and against Louisville was when one of Louisville’s best players, Preston Knowles, hurt his left ankle well into the second half. Injuries are never really cool, no matter who they happen to.
So does my rooting for Morehead State make me that most dreaded of all sports fan insults, the loathsome “bandwagoner”? To an extent, yes. I don’t plan on continuing to root for Morehead State next season and I won’t be heartbroken whenever they get eliminated from the tournament, whIether that happens tonight or whether the Eagles go as far in the tournament as Butler did last year. While I did enjoy seeing Morehead State win on Thursday, there’s no way I could have enjoyed it as much as any of their approximately 9,000 students or their professors, alumni, employees and the relatives of those various groups.
I just rooted for Morehead State because even though Division I college basketball is fairer on the whole than Division I-A/FBS college football, there are still far too many good teams in big time college hoops for all of them to receive their fair share of acclaim for most of the season. At least during its first few rounds, March Madness is one of those rare times where underappreciated teams can claim their moments in the spotlight by beating the giants of the sport. And while I don’t always like most sports bandwagoners, if rooting for those teams to have their moments makes me a bandwagoner, I can deal with that.
Besides, it’s not like I filled out a bracket and had Morehead State ruin it.