When the Norfolk State Spartans upset Colonial preseason favorite Drexel 61-56 Friday, the immediate reaction was not "hey, check out Norfolk State." It was "hey, check out how bad the CAA is looking right now."
The latter sentiment wasn't wrong. (The CAA has looked bad.) But Norfolk State assistant coach Robert Jones wasn't totally thrilled with the angle. When the link to my reaction was posted on Twitter, he responded:
wow thanks for the locker room material..I love it! Geesh...we got a kid Kyle o'quinn that 7 NBA scouts have come to see and 3 players sitting out..we not that bad lol
Apparently, that motivation did the trick. On Sunday, Norfolk State handled TCU 66-53 and advanced to the championship game -- yes, the championship game -- of the 2011 Paradise Jam. Some form of commendation is in order. A blog post will have to suffice.
Granted, TCU basketball is not exactly a superpower. The Horned Frogs went 11-22 and finished No. 173 in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency rankings in 2011; little improvement is expected this season. But TCU did down Virginia, a common ACC sleeper pick, in the first round of the Paradise Jam, and Norfolk can only beat the teams it is tasked with playing. They've done that so far. O'Quinn, the player Jones said NBA scouts have come to see, is an impressive interior force averaging 11 points, 10 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game this season, while senior wing Chris McEachin has led the team in scoring with 16.8 points per game and efficient shooting from beyond the arc.
Norfolk State is in for a much tougher assignment Monday night, when they'll face Marquette in the Paradise Jam finale. These two teams have met already this season, actually, a 99-68 Marquette drubbing at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee. It seems unlikely that Norfolk State will be able to contain Buzz Williams's team in the rematch, but hey: No one expected Norfolk State to get this far, either.
The Spartans may not be this year's en vogue mid-major just yet -- they have a long way to go before they prove they're significantly better than last year's plus-300 Pomeroy finish -- but you can't help but be happy for the scrappy MEAC underdogs.
And, hey, if rooting for an underdog isn't your thing (if you're a Marquette fan and/or kind of a jerk), this Irish descendent suggests rooting for the Spartans for their stars' strong surnames. O'Quinn? McEachin? May the wind always be at your back, lads.