After four and a half months of basketball, five local colleges are still on the court.
Mercer’s mens team knocked off Rockdale graduate Bernard Thompson and defending league champion Florida Gulf Coast in the Atlantic Sun championship game to reach the NCAAs for the first time since 1985 and just the third time ever.
Mercer, which enters the tournament 26-8 and boasting the 23rd-best scoring offense in the country (averaging 79.3 points), are the No. 14 seed in the Midwest and will play No. 3 seed and four-time national champion Duke in a second-round game in Raleigh, North Carolina Friday. The Blue Devils (26-8), the Atlantic Coast Conference runner-up, are right behind Mercer in offense, averaging 79.1 points.
The Macon school’s last NCAA appearance came on March 15, 1985 when the 15th-seeded Bears lost to No. 2 seed Georgia Tech 65-58 at the old Omni Coliseum in Atlanta.
The last time the teams met was in December, 1997 when Duke rolled to a 126-64 victory in Durham.
This weekend also signals the beginning of the Division I women’s tournament, which includes Georgia and Georgia Tech.
Georgia (20-11), which was eliminated in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament, will be playing in its 19th consecutive national tournament Sunday. The Bulldogs, who are led by Shacobia Barbee (averaging a team-high 12.3 points and 7.9 rebounds), received a No. 8 seed in the Lincoln region and will play ninth-seeded St. Josephs from the Atlantic 10 Sunday at 5:30 p.m.
Georgia Tech looks to have a much tougher test in the opening round. The Yellow Jackets, who were also knocked out in the quarterfinal round of the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament (82-52 to Duke), will be the No. 10 seed in the Louisville region and play in Baton Rouge, Louisiana against host and seventh-seeded LSU Sunday at 12:30 p.m.
Tech (20-11) missed the tournament a year ago, but its most-recent appearance resulted in a Sweet 16 berth in 2012, led by current junior Sydney Wallace’s excellent three-game run as a freshman. Two local mens teams just missed out on the NCAA Tournament, but open play in the National Invitation Tournament earlier this week.
After being the class of the Sun Belt Conference, losing just once in 18 games to claim the regular season title, the Georgia State mens team suffered a heartbreaking defeat to Louisiana-Lafayette in Sunday’s league title game.
It cost the Panthers (25-8), who had their eight-game winning streak snapped in the league final, a trip to the NCAAs, which would’ve been the Atlanta school’s first since 2001. Instead, Georgia State was relegated to the NIT where the Panthers played at Clemson in a late Tuesday game.
Georgia’s mens team was eliminated by Kentucky in the semifinals of the SEC Tournament and that relegated the Bulldogs to the NIT. Georgia (19-13), which finished in a tie with the Wildcats for second during the regular season, will host Vermont in the opening round tonight at 9 p.m.
“I’m proud of this team,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said after the Kentucky loss. “I think at the end of the day, teams get better during the year and our team today is a heck of a lot better than it was in November.”