Today we welcome guest blogger Mark D. Motz, a life-long parishioner at Guardian Angels Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. In college basketball he roots—in order—for Xavier University, his alma mater, Ohio State, Indiana, Jesuit schools, Catholic schools in general, and anybody playing Duke, Kentucky, or Michigan.
Invariably a priest lurked around the perimeter of the gym during the mixers of my high school days, flashlight at the ready, poised to shine the beam on any couple not leaving enough room for the Holy Spirit.
An apt analogy for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament? Maybe it’s a stretch because in March, Catholic universities like to dance. And unlike their high school counterparts, they don’t shy away from the spotlight.
Nine Catholic schools sent teams into the 2013 version of the madness, posting a collective record of 11-9.
Two teams survived to reach the Sweet 16, including third-seeded Marquette in the East Region (the only region to proceed according to seed). The Warri… err… Golden Eagles beat Miami March 28 before losing to Syracuse in the Elite Eight.
In a normal year LaSalle would have been the darling of the tourney, reaching the Sweet 16 with three wins as a 13 seed. Unfortunately for the Explorers, Florida Gulf Coast stole a lot of their thunder by becoming the first-ever 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16. The Eagles did so at the expense of Georgetown, possibly the karmic other shoe dropping on the Jesuits 20 years after 15th-seeded Santa Clara knocked off number-two Arizona.
LaSalle fell to another Cinderella story, ninth-seeded Wichita State. The Shockers became the lowest-ever seed to reach the Final Four, breaking a record previously held by another Philadelphia Catholic school, Villanova, who won the a national championship in 1986 as an eight seed.
Even in defeat, Catholic schools garnered plenty of attention. Top-seeded Gonzaga became the first number one bounced out, falling to the aforementioned Shockers. Creighton had one of the feel-good stories of the tourney with player-of-the-year candidate Doug McDermott playing for head coach and father Greg McDermott before losing to Duke.
That the start of tournament coincided with the official announcement of a realigned basketball-only Big East Conference only heightened the attention on Catholic hoops.
Catholic basketball has a long history of success. One need only look at original Big East members Georgetown (5), Providence (2), St. John’s (2) and Seton Hall (1) to find a combined 10 Final Four appearances and a national championship. More recent Catholic members who will be part of the newly configured league – Villanova (3), Marquette (3) and DePaul (2) – add eight more Final Fours and two more national titles.
Xavier and Creighton (along with public school outlier Butler) will join the so-called Catholic Seven for the 2013-14 season; St. Louis University and University of Dayton could join by 2014-15.
I’m hopeful the new league and stiff competition will help lift the Musketeers out of the ranks of teams with the most NCAA tournament appearances without reaching the Final Four. (XU is currently third on that list behind BYU and Missouri with 23 appearances.) I’m also hopeful the increased national exposure and television money will help strengthen the enrollment and endowments for each of these schools doing the Lord’s work.