Steve Alford was all smiles when he met with the media Tuesday, one day ahead of the coach’s Nevada team taking on Arizona State in the First Four.
“First, I just got to see Coach (Don) Donoher, and that was great,” Alford said before taking questions. “He was my assistant coach back on the Olympic team in 1984.”
Alford was a two-time All-American guard at Indiana for head coach Bobby Knight, but prior to that he was part of a gold medal-winning USA squad (also coached by Knight) that included Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing on the floor and Donoher, UD’s winningest head coach, on the bench.
“So it was great seeing him, and obviously he’s meant so much to this community and this university,” he said.
Alford’s only coaching memory of UD Arena is not so positive, though.
In 2018, he brought one of his last UCLA teams to the First Four and lost to St. Bonaventure, a 65-58 decision that still seemed to sting the 58-year-old.
“My experience was not good, and it was short, but my hometown is an hour from here, so I’ve been here several times,” he said. “Never played here in college and have only coached here once, but obviously with the relationship I’ve had over the years with Coach Donoher, this is an area I did get to some. And I followed Dayton basketball, probably more so when Coach Donoher was coaching than since then, but it’s always been a basketball area. And I feel like New Castle, Indiana, is a basketball area, so there’s some proximity stuff there that I’m familiar with.”
Alford will get a chance for redemption when his Wolf Pack square off against fellow No. 11 seed Arizona State at around 9:40 Wednesday night.
Prior to that, 16 seeds Texas Southern and Fairleigh Dickinson will tangle for the right to take on No. 1 seed Purdue in Columbus.
Here is what you need to know about the teams playing Wednesday in the second night of the 2023 First Four:
Texas Southern is in the First Four for the third straight year and fifth time overall. The Tigers beat Texas A&M-Corpus Christi last year and Mount St. Mary’s in 2021. They also beat North Carolina Central in 2018 and lost to Cal-Poly in 2014.
The Tigers went 14-20 but won their 11th Southwest Athletic Conference tournament title and third in a row by upsetting Grambling in the championship game Saturday.
6-9 seniors Karl Nicholas and John Walker III are both career 1,000-point scorers for veteran coach Johnny Jones’ team.
The Tigers are 285th in Pomeroy efficiency rankings, second-lowest in the field of 68. They are in the top 75 in pace of play but rank No. 330 in offense and No. 196 in defense.
TSU was the preseason SWAC favorite but endured an injury-plagued early season. They began the year 1-7 with losses including Texas Tech, Houston, Auburn and Kansas, but the Tigers topped Arizona State 67-66 in overtime.
Fairleigh Dickinson is also a multi-time returnee having lost in the First Four to Florida Gulf Coast in 2016 and beaten Prairie View A&M in 2019. The latter game is FDU’s lone NCAA Tournament win in six trips to the Big Dance.
The Knights (19-15) lost the Northeast Conference championship game to Merrimack but received the league’s automatic bid because Merrimack was not eligible per NCAA rules for teams transferring from Division II to Division I.
FDU has three players who earned some level of All-NEC postseason honor: first-teamer Demeter Roberts, second-teamer Grant Singleton and third-teamer Ansley Almonor.
FDU is 312th in Pomeroy rankings, lowest of any team to make this year’s tournament. The Knights are 155th in offense and 361st on ‘D’.
According to Pomeroy, FDU is the shortest team in the country with an average height of 6-1.
The 11th-seeded Sun Devils are 22-12 under coach Bobby Hurley. They finished tied for fifth in the Pac-12 but made the semifinals in the Pac-12 tournament.
ASU is coming to Dayton for the First Four for the third time. The Sun Devils lost to Syracuse in 2018 but topped St. John’s the following season. This is their 17th overall appearance in the Big Dance.
The Sun Devils are 68th in Pomeroy rankings, including the No. 28 defense. They are 133rd on offense.
ASU is 82nd in the nation in points allowed (66.9 per game), 15th in field goal percentage defense (39.8) and 19th in turnovers per game (10.2).
Two Sun Devils are transfers from Nevada — Warren Washington and Desmond Cambridge Jr. While Washington is known for his defense, Cambridge leads ASU in scoring at 13.7 points per game and made the All-Pac 12 second team.
Arizona State also has a pair of transfers from Ohio State. Senior forward Alonzo Gaffney and senior guard Luther Muhammad both played in all 34 games, primarily off the bench, and average 3.1 and 3.3 points per game, respectively.
The Wolf Pack are 22-10 and finished fourth in the Mountain West despite being picked ninth in preseason.
They earned an at-large bid to the tournament after losing in the first round of the Mountain West tourney and dropping their last two regular season games.
Oregon State transfer Jared Lucas, a 6-4 senior guard, leads Nevada in scoring at 17.3 points per game and was named the Mountain West Newcomer of the Year.
Kenan Blackshear, a 6-6 senior point guard, made the All-Mountain West second team and averages 14.4 points and 4.5 assists per game.
Nevada is 43rd in the national Pomeroy rankings with the No. 42 defense and 61st offense.
This year Alford became the fourth head coach to take five different schools to the NCAA Tournament, joining Tubby Smith, Rick Pitino and Lon Kruger. Alford previously coached Missouri State, Iowa, New Mexico and UCLA.
About the Author