When the UNCG Spartans men’s basketball team won the SoCon tournament this week, earning its first spot in the NCAA Tournament since 2001, they finally flipped the script on the Triad college basketball narrative.
It’s true that Wake Forest is the team for the discerning Triad ACC basketball fan, but it’s equally true that the squad has been… disappointing… for years, especially when stacked against conference rivals Duke and UNC, and even, really, NC State, which benefits from a more local fan base than Wake, whose graduates tend to move back to New Jersey.
Also counting against the Deacons is the curse of high expectations. It feels like they should get into the NCAA tournament every year, and at least go a few rounds in.
The Deacons have made the NCAA Tournament eight times since 2001, the last time UNCG was accepted, never winning more than two games, once in 2004, and losing the first game three times. Whether it’s reasonable or not, we expect better.
The only way they will make it into the Final Four Tournament this year is if they win the ACC Tournament this weekend, which seems highly unlikely as they finished the regular season in 14th place, one spot away from dead last.
But even though UNCG has been not-so-quietly working on its basketball program for years, even after they won the SoCon divisional title last year and made it to the NIT, even though they beat NC State in Raleigh this past December, smart money did not put the Spartans as the only Triad basketball team to make it to the dance.
Even if they don’t win a single game, it’s an enormous victory for the program. And it’s possible they could even win a couple games, which would put them even with Wake’s longest tournament run this century.
This is the best Spartans team we have ever seen. And, for now, it’s the best team in the Triad.
Anything can happen in March.