DAYTON, Ohio (AP) - Cal Poly isn’t shooting too high in its first trip to the NCAA tournament.
“If we win the national championship, we’ll have a winning record,” coach Joe Callero said.
Such are the goals when you are just the 20th team with a losing record to make it to the big tournament.
Callero, also making his debut in the Division I version of the tournament, smiled at the thought of going 20-19.
“We have to win seven straight,” he said.
Less than a week ago, Cal Poly was 10-19, seeded seventh in the nine-team Big West Conference tournament and seemingly headed for an early bus ride home.
Somehow, someway, the Mustangs (13-19) won three games to take the championship and booked passage to the First Four for a game against Texas Southern (19-14) on Wednesday night.
Here are five points to consider when the Mustangs and Tigers meet.
FORGET THE RECORDS: It’s not as if Texas Southern was making NCAA plans, either. Just 5-9 when 2014 began, they won their last nine games to earn a spot in this unlikeliest of matchups.
Coach Mike Davis - yep, the same one who led Indiana to the national title game in 2002 and who also took UAB to the tournament - is guiding the Tigers.
“I don’t look at that record, to be honest with you,” he said, referring to both his team and Cal Poly. “I just look at the way (teams) are playing right now.”
AMAZING TURNAROUND: Cal Poly was 4-9 in November and December and had won just three of its last 13 games heading into the 39-year-old conference tournament. Yet they became the lowest seed to ever win it.
Now the Mustangs are a confident bunch.
“We knew our season didn’t really turn out the way we wanted it to, but we made sure nobody was full of lament about our record because we were going to the tournament,” said leading scorer Chris Eversley, who averages 13.6 points. “We understand we’re the underdog. We’ve been the underdog since we entered the conference tournament. Nobody expected us to be here.”
TRAVELING MAN: The best player for either team is 6-foot-10 Aaric Murray, who began his college career as a potential one-then-done recruit at La Salle, got in trouble and transferred to West Virginia, sat out a year, then was dismissed from school.
“I started making bad decisions,” Murray said of his problems at the time.
He ended up at Texas Southern, where he had to play under stiff rules laid down by Davis.
“I was going to treat him like my son,” Davis said. “I don’t think he’s ever been treated that way.”
Murray is going through the program set up by former college and NBA star John Lucas, who helps athletes and others with substance-abuse problems. Murray is drug-tested weekly and goes to counseling almost every day.
Now averaging 21 points and eight rebounds, it appears Murray’s life is back on track.
MUSTANGS REINED IN: For Texas Southern to pull off the win, it’ll have to win a lot of loose balls and succeed at the less glamorous aspects.
“Pressure and defending and rebounding is what got us here,” Eversley said. “And that’s what’s going to keep us here.”
TOP SEED NEXT UP: The winner draws a second-round matchup with top-seeded and undefeated Wichita State on Friday at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis.
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