As expected, Western New York got two men's teams in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1970. St. Bonaventure got an at-large bid, as one of the last four in. So the anxiety of Bona fans was somewhat warranted. UB earned the automatic bid by winning the MAC tourney title on Saturday night.
Enjoy it while you can. The rich are getting richer in college hoops. Five top leagues (ACC, SEC, Big 12, Big East and Big Ten) combined for 34 bids, exactly half the field. It's harder than ever for the non-power leagues to get at-large bids. Bona would have been the only Atlantic 10 at-large if Davidson hadn't upset URI in the conference championship game Sunday afternoon.
The challenge is for one of our men's teams to win a game in the tourney proper for the first time since Bob Lanier hurt his knee in Bona's regional final win in 1970. I don't count play-in games (Niagara beat a fellow 16 seed in 2007). So Bona winning an 11-11 "First Four" matchup on Tuesday in Dayton shouldn't qualify, either.
The selection committee didn't do UB any favors, giving them a 13 seed and a first-round game against Arizona in Boise on Thursday. The 15th-ranked Wildcats have the best player in the country, 7-1 freshman center Deandre Ayton, a Bahamas native who is projected to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft.
Arizona, which is coached by Sean Miller, has another NBA prospect in 6-5 junior guard Allonzo Trier, who is seen a high second-round pick. Rawle Atkins, the other 6-5 guard and third-leading scorer, is also an NBA prospect.
Miller was been named in an ESPN report that said he was wiretapped by the FBI discussing a $100,000 payment for Ayton's services. He has denied the accusation, which is part of a larger FBI probe into bribery and corruption in college basketball.
Ayton was surely a recruiting prize. He has been called the best college big man since Shaquille O'Neal. He averaged 24.7 points, 12.7 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in Arizona's three-game run to the Pac-12 tourney title. Ayton had 32 points and 18 rebounds in the final against USC.
UB will have its hands full in Boise. They're a guard-oriented team and struggle at times against big front lines. Nick Perkins, their best big man, is 6-8 and an average post defender. Arizona struggled defensively for much of the season, so the Bulls will need to score in transition and be hot from the perimeter.
The Bonnies got a tough ride from the committee, as well. They need to beat another traditional Pac-12 power, UCLA, to get into the main 64-team field. They put themselves in an ignominious First Four game by losing to Davidson in the A-10 semifinals. No small stumble goes unpunished when you're a non-major team.
Bona has a better chance than UB to pull the upset, assuming they win Tuesday. They'll play six seed Florida if they beat UCLA. The 6-11 matchups have been generally close in recent years, and the winner of Bona-UCLA will be a chic pick to pull an upset over the Gators.