By J.C. Carnahan
Local basketball fans got an early jump on March Madness this week when Dwight Howard made his grand return to town as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.
The reunion at the Amway Center made for the kind of atmosphere that would make most college basketball venues blush. There were the boo-birds, crafty homemade signs, and enough energy to help set the stage for what’s to come later this month.
Selection Sunday is on tap this weekend, along with whatever your beverage of choice might be for St. Patty’s Day. And even if your favorite college basketball team is not taking part in the dance this time around, there’s still reason to celebrate.
No other postseason in sports is as exciting as the NCAA Tournament. But I’d like to make things a little more interesting anyway.
Let’s imagine what the tournament might look like if we added a team featuring the eight players on this year’s Orlando Magic roster who have less than two years of pro experience.
My starting five would be look like this: Nik Vucevic at center; Andrew Nicholson and Tobias Harris at forward; E’Twaun Moore and Doron Lamb at guard. First off the bench might be Maurice Harkless, followed by Kyle O’Quinn and DeQuan Jones.
But could they win it all? I’m not so sure in this crazy hoops season of upsets.
UCF Women Knock Out No. 1 SMU
Speaking of upsets, it seems every other year the UCF women’s basketball team is causing commotion in the Conference USA Championship.
On Thursday the No. 8 Knights (15-17) battled back to knock No. 1 SMU out of the tournament during a 70-66 quarterfinal win. UCF will play No. 5 UTEP (22-9) in the semifinals Friday at 11 a.m. The winner moves on to face either No. 4 East Carolina or No. 6 Tulsa for an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament.
The following is a quick UCF women’s hoops history lesson:
Since the program joined C-USA at the start of the 2005-06 season, the Knights took their lumps over the first three years in the league. UCF then went on to win the conference title as a fifth-seed over No. 3 Southern Miss in 2009, after defeating top-ranked SMU in the semifinals.
The very next season No. 8 UCF lost by one point to No. 1 Tulane in the quarterfinals. The Knights followed that up with their best C-USA regular season and another conference title in 2011, this time as the No. 2 seed.
Rollins College Dancing In Division II
In case you missed it, the Sunshine State Conference held its men’s and women’s postseason tournaments at the Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee last weekend.
Rollins College was the only school to have both its programs in contention for a conference title on the event’s final day.
Perhaps the most surprising finalist was the Rollins College men’s squad, which finished its regular season by losing seven of its last 10 games after being ranked as high as No. 17 in the nation.
The Tars (19-10) lost 72-66 to Florida Southern in the championship game, in what may still be considered quite the accomplishment. They’ll meet up with conference foe Saint Leo (21-7) on Saturday to open Division II South Region play. Rollins knocked Saint Leo from the SSC semifinals 62-53.
The Rollins College women’s team claimed back-to-back conference titles by way of a tournament MVP performance from Edgewater High School product Tera McDaniel.
The championship this time around came after an up-and-down season that saw the team go from the No. 4-ranked team in the nation to falling out of the Top 25 altogether.
The Lady Tars (21-8) will open the South Region tourney against SSC opponent Lynn (18-9) on Friday night.
Automatic NCAA Bids Handed Out
A few local high school basketball products helped lead their respective college basketball teams to conference titles this past week. In doing so, they’ve extended their seasons for a chance at a national title.
Just one year after celebrating a state high school championship, Baylor freshman guard Alexis Prince (Edgewater) was one of five players named to the Big 12 All-Freshman Team. On Monday the No. 1 Bears won 75-47 over Iowa State in the Big 12 Championship.
Sophomore guard Brett Comer (Winter Park) and senior guard Sherwood Brown (Olympia) helped Florida Gulf Coast University earn its first NCAA Tournament bid with an 88-75 win over top-seeded Mercer in the Atlantic Sun title game.
Comer was named tournament MVP after scoring 21 points and adding five assists and three steals in the win. Brown, the A-Sun Player of the Year, finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds.
For more on local sports, follow J.C. Carnahan on Twitter @JCCarnz