Three weeks into the 2014 basketball postseason and SIAC West Division and tournament champion Tuskegee is the only black college team still standing.
As the eighth and final seed, the Golden Tigers (21-11) completed a dominating run through the NCAA Div. II South Region last Tuesday, destroying No. 3 seed Delta State 80-59 in the championship game to earn a spot in this week's Elite Eight in Evansville, Indiana.
It is the first trip ever for eight-year head coach Leon Douglas and the Golden Tigers to the Elite Eight, the national quarterfinals, where they join seven other regional champions.
Tuskegee will face the Metropolitan State Roadrunners (31-1) of Denver, Colorado, the No. 1 team in the nation and the repeat winner of the South Central Region, on Wednesday, March 26 at 2:30 p.m. CST (3:30 p.m. Eastern) at the Ford Center in Evansville. The game will be streamed live on ncaa.com.
If the Tigers are underdogs facing the nation's top team, 31-1 Metro State, they're certainly not playing like it.
They played with confidence and a swagger in the regional, upsetting top seed Florida Southern 98-95 on its home floor, beating fourth-seed North Alabama 93-87 before dispatching Delta State. They are just the second team along with Saint Joseph's in 2010 to win its region as an eight seed.
"It doesn't bother me," Douglas told the Montgomery Advertiser of the match-up with Metro State. "It doesn't bother me at all." "My guys have bought into everything we're doing," said Douglas, the former University of Alabama and NBA star. "We've done a great job to this point but the job is not complete." Metro State, champion of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, is in the Elite Eight for the third consecutive year and eighth time overall, the most quarterfinal appearances of any team in this year's field.
The Roadrunners were the top-ranked team in the pre-season and after suffering their only loss of the year on Nov. 30 at Western Washington to fall out of the top spot, moved back to No. 1 and stayed there for the final six weeks of the season.
Brandon Jefferson, Metro State's leading scorer with an average of 21.5 points per game, is the leading scorer during the NCAA Tournament among the teams still playing as he has averaged 27.3 points in the first three contests. The Roadrunners are also getting 16.1 points a game from Mitch McCarron and 15.9 from Nicholas Kay. Metro State won its last national title in Evansville the last time the tournament was held there in 2002.
Tuskegee has gotten major contributions from a host of players. Six-five senior Richard Dixon was the MVP of the SIAC Tournament. He and 6-2 senior guard Javier McKinney, the team's scoring leaders at 17.1 and 14.1 points per game, both play off the bench. Six-four senior swingman Graham Olatunji made the SIAC all-tournament team.
Six-five senior guard Elliot Dean scored 31 points in the win over Florida Southern. Dixon's 22 and McKinney's 14 led six players in double figures in the win over North Alabama. Five-seven point guard Kevin May tallied 24 points and was named MVP of the South Region.
The toughest game during their current six-game winning streak may have been the 88-80 overtime victory over Fort Valley State in the SIAC championshp game.
"I know we're going in as an underdog," Dixon said. "We still have a lot to prove to everybody. I don’t think anybody expected us to be in the Elite Eight. An HBCU school." "We never felt like we were the underdogs," Olatunji told the Advertiser. "If you've been watching all the other NCAA games, it's the year of the underdog. Taking down Goliath." Tuskegee is the first SIAC team to reach the Elite Eight since Alabama A&M made the last of three straight appearances in 1996. Tuskegee has made three other appearances in the NCAA II playoffs, in 1959, 1979, and 2010. The closest that the Golden Tigers have come is third in South Region play in 1979.
Four teams from last year's Elite Eight are back in it this season.
Defending national champion Drury returns from the Midwest Region. Metro State, who lost to Drury by one point in last year's championship game, is back from the South Central Region. West Liberty took the Atlantic Region title and returns to the Elite Eight for the fourth consecutive year and South Carolina Aiken is back from the Southeast Region.
The winner of the Tuskegee/Metro State game will play the winner of the game between Southern Connecticut State and Central Missouri on Thursday, March 27 at 6 p.m. Both semifinal games will be carried live on CBS Sports Network The national championship game is Saturday, March 29 at 2 p.m. and will be carried live on CBS.
ELITE EIGHT SCHEDULE
Wednesday, March 26
S. Conn.State (30-2) vs. C. Missouri (27-5), 12 noon
Tuskegee (21-11) vs. Metro State (31-1), 2:30 p.m.
Drury (28-3) vs. West Liberty (29-3), 6 p.m.
S. C. Aiken (32-3) vs. Chico State (25-7), 8:30 p.m.
(Quarterfinal games will be available on NCAA.com)
Thursday, March 27
SCSU/CMU vs. Tuskegee/MSU winners, 6 p.m.
Drury/W. Libery vs. SCAU/CSU, 8:30 p.m.
(Semifinal games will be available
on CBS Sports Network)
Saturday, March 29
Championship game, 2 p.m., ET
(National championship game, live on CBS)