TUCSON, Ariz. — At the podium were the Utah State Aggies, but it could have been Wofford, Belmont or Morehead State, for all most Americans — and much of the media — could tell.
The great appeal of March Madness is the mystery of undiscovered treasures, i.e. the Little Teams that Could.
Not that Kansas State's players disrespected USU. They said all the right things about Thursday's NCAA Tournament game.
"You know, they're a good team," KSU's Curtis Kelly said. "Personally, me, I respect them. Any team that walks away with 30 wins and dominated the conference the way they did has to be a great team, so I respect them."
In reality, they probably just Googled the Aggies this week. It's not like anyone in Manhattan, Kan., was keeping track. That's life in Midmajorville, USA. It doesn't matter how many times you show up for the NCAA Tournament, people still want to check your I.D.
The Aggies addressed the media Wednesday as a primer for tonight's game. They came off nicely as always. You couldn't ask for a better showing. At the same time, they had to be tired of the routine. Star player Tai Wesley has been to the tourney three times, and each year it's the same. They're the underdogs, the underrepresented and the under-reported.
So every year, unless they fail to make the cut, they have to reintroduce themselves.
"Absolutely," said Welsey. "People don't know much about Utah State. You know, that's OK. We know who we are, we know what we do, we know what we've done, and we're here to win."
It's true the Aggies have been to the tournament eight times in the last 12 years, but without winning, people lose track. It's like a conversation with someone who can never remember your name. He keeps calling you, "Guy" and "Tiger" and "Big Fella."
USU's one-and-done tradition hasn't helped, but the Aggies probably deserve better. They're 30-3. They won their conference by five games, going 15-1. Conversely, instate rival BYU (30-4) never has to introduce itself. USU has been to the NCAA Tournament 20 times, BYU 26, including this year. And while the Aggies have won just one tournament game since 1970 (2001), BYU has won a game just twice in the last 20 years.
So here the Aggies sit: Another year, another name tag that says "HELLO, MY NAME IS ________."
"I don't worry about that too much," coach Stew Morrill said.
That's probably a good thing. During podium introductions, he was mistakenly referred to as Stew Mo-RILL by the moderator.
"Morrill. The moral of the story," Morrill corrected.
That's not to say there aren't good reasons for USU's lack of postseason success. Morrill notes that those reasons include names Texas A&M, Marquette, Washington (with Brandon Roy), Arizona, Kansas, UCLA and Connecticut. Some years it was close, like 2009 when the Aggies lost by one to Marquette, and 2003 when they lost by three to Kansas. Other seasons, like last year's 16-point loss to Texas A&M, it was a mismatch.
Hence, the Aggies continue to live in Midmajorville while the world passes.
"You are either a good team or you're not," KSU coach Frank Martin graciously noted. "You either got a winning culture or you don't. I used to be at a mid-major (Northeastern), and we beat them because of the belief in our kids, and the belief our kids had that they can go out and beat big-name schools. There's no such thing in my opinion (as a mid-major). You are either a good team or you're not. You either got a championship culture or you don't. If you do, and you got grown men like Utah State does, you got a chance to win against whoever you play.13 comments on this story
"That," he concluded, "is a great thing about college basketball. You see it happen every day."
If if only the Aggies could get the word out.