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Ben Smith

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Associated Press
St. Bonaventure fans celebrate during their team’s Atlantic 10 title game victory.

Small schools give dance charm

– Here is everything I knew about Iona College before it got Selected on Selection Sunday, to the shock and dismay of America’s many doctors of bracketology:

1. Some guy named Jeff Ruland played there.

2. Another guy named Jim Valvano coached there.

3. It’s located in New Rochelle, N.Y.

That’s it. That is the sum total of my accumulated knowledge, Iona College division. And I only knew point No. 3 because I cheated and looked it up.

This is the best thing about Selection Sunday, aside from throwing a curveball or two at the bracketheads’, um, heads: You find out that Iona College isn’t just something some snotty rich guy likes to say.

(“Me?” said Thurston Howell III. “I own a college”).

All the backstories that come with an Iona, or a Long Island University-Brooklyn, or a Norfolk State, that’s what make Sunday worth it. It’s looking up and seeing St. Bonaventure in the Dance again, and remembering the days of Bob Lanier. It’s deciding you’re going to root for Vermont because it has the coolest nickname ever (Catamounts). It’s noticing that Nashville, Tenn., got not one but two schools into the tournament – Vanderbilt and Belmont – and that the last time Harvard made the show, they were still using peach baskets.

(OK, so not really. But it was 1946. Bob Knight was 6 years old. Mike Krzyzewski was minus 1).

Selection Sunday is all about such glorious minutiae, all about the Ionas and Vermonts and Davidsons. It’s a time for, say, a UNC-Asheville to leap from its collective chair screaming and punching the sky because it’s earned the right to get crushed by Syracuse. It’s a time for the little guys who give this tournament its texture and flavor to savor their pinnacle moment, before going off to near-certain doom.

And the big guys?

Well, it’s not like they don’t help make Selection Sunday an educational experience, too.

Here, for instance, are a few questions you might want to ask today:

1. Why do they play conference tournaments?

Beats me. Of the four No. 1 seeds (Kentucky, Syracuse, North Carolina and Michigan State), all but Michigan State lost in their conference tournaments.

2. How much does the tournament committee love Duke?

Oodles and oodles. Example: The Blue Devils, a No. 2 seed, play their first two games in Greensboro, N.C.

Duke 1, Travel Budget 0.

3. Why does the committee hate Purdue so much?

Beats me, again. The Boilermakers, 21-12 and winners of six of their last nine – including a 75-61 win at conference tri-champ Michigan – ended up with a 10 seed. They get St. Mary’s, conquerors of Gonzaga, in the first round, with Kansas likely looming in the second.

Why, yes, sir. I will have another.

4. What’s the weakest regional?

The South. Duke’s the weakest of the No. 2s and there’s a lot of Lehigh and South Dakota State in there.

5. What’s the strongest?

The East. Syracuse, Ohio State and Florida State are the top three seeds, and Wisconsin and SEC champ Vanderbilt are 4 and 5.

And last but not least:

6. Who’s going to ruin your bracket this year?

My money’s on Memphis.

Or, you know, Iona.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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