College basketball is in a crisis nowadays, reeling from an FBI investigation into corruption that has knocked Rick Pitino out of a job and is threatening to take down a number of other prominent coaches. But it's nice to be reminded of what can be good in the sport, especially when it involves one of Buffalo's own.
Penn won the Ivy League tournament on Sunday, earning its first automatic bid to the NCAAs since 2007, using a 24-0 run over the two halves to beat top seed Harvard. Afterwards, third-year head coach Steve Donahoe brought Canisius High graduate Matt MacDonald to the postgame interviews.
MacDonald had played two minutes with one assist in the Quakers' 68-65 victory. But an emotional Donahoe wanted people to know how vital MacDonald's leadership had been to the team. MacDonald, who played his first two seasons at Fairleigh Dickinson, was Donahue's first recruit when he took the Penn job.
He made MacDonald his captain on the spot. Donahue knew Matt's father – former Canisius College and current Daemen head man Mike MacDonald. He knew Matt had been captain at FDU and wanted him to lead his team, even while sitting out.
"You guys get a two-hour snapshot of what we're like in a game," Donahue said as MacDonald sat beside him in the interview room. "The other 365 days and 22 hours are his responsibility. I've never coached a leader like him, And that permeates throughout the whole team when a kid's willing to do what he did."
Penn is a 16 seed against Kansas in this group of death. KU, Duke and Michigan State have a combined 39 Final Four appearances.
Game to Watch
Charleston vs. Auburn. You can't beat it for celebrity fan value. Charles Barkley played on the only Auburn team that failed to win a game in the tourney. Comedian Bill Murray is co-owner of baseball's Class A Charleston RiverDogs and a huge fan of the local college team. He's also partial to Xavier, where his son, Luke, is an assistant. Charleston is fun to watch, too. They're third in the nation in turnovers and scored 83.4 points a game.
New Mexico State over Clemson. When in doubt, go against a 5 seed. They're 18-22 in the opener the last 10 years. Middle Tennessee pulled the upset last year – a year after shocking Michigan State as a 15. The WAC champs are 28-7 in Chris Jans' first season as coach. Leading scorer Zach Lofton is a well-traveled 25. After a year at junior college, he's been at Illinois State, Minnesota (where he was dismissed without ever playing a game), Texas Southern and now the Aggies. NM State has beaten Davidson and Miami (Fla.).
It's tough to pick a sleeper in this minefield of a region. I'll go with Rhode Island, which was ranked 15th in the country a month ago before slumping. Sometimes, a team slips up, then regains its mojo in the Big Dance. URI won a game as an 11 seed a year ago, then lost by three to an Oregon team that reached the Final Four. Coach Danny Hurley could meet brother Bobby in a Sweet 16 matchup, which as we know is a complete coincidence by the committee.
Syracuse freshman Howard Washington, a Buffalo native, went down for the season in late January with a right leg injury.
Michigan State, Rhode Island, Auburn, Kansas
Michigan State, Kansas