You don’t have to follow college basketball to appreciate the remarkable feat accomplished by the Cal Poly Mustangs, who turned a lousy regular season — 10-19 — into a spectacular, shout-it-from-the rooftops postseason victory that has put San Luis Obispo on the nation’s basketball map.
The Mustangs earned a berth in the NCAA tournament, so if you’re anywhere near a television set (or laptop, tablet or smartphone) at 3:40 this afternoon, tune in because this is a Big Deal. It’s the first time a Cal Poly men’s team has made it to the much-heralded March Madness, an accomplishment that’s one of the most impressive in the history of Cal Poly athletics. (We should point out here that the Mustang women’s basketball team made its debut in the NCAA tournament last year, and would have returned this year if not for a tough loss to Cal State Northridge.)
True, the Cal Poly men’s team has its work cut out on the national stage. A Sacramento Bee writer described the Mustangs as the biggest of the “overwhelming underdogs.”
“The Mustangs were on no one’s national radar,” wrote The Bee’s Joe Davidson. “They sat at 10-19 after closing the Big West Conference regular season with a lethargic 71-55 home loss to UC Santa Barbara, the team’s third consecutive loss and 10th in its final 13 games.”
But then came a string of stunning victories in the Big West Conference Tournament: a 69-38 win over No. 2 seed UCSB in the quarterfinals; a 61-58 victory over top-seeded UC Irvine; and finally, a 61-59 win over Cal State Northridge on Saturday.
Today, the Mustangs face their first test in the NCAA tournament against Texas Southern (19-14) in Dayton, Ohio. The winner will advance to play No. 1 seed Wichita State (34-0) in St. Louis on Friday.
As we said, Cal Poly has some work to do, but no one is counting the Mustangs out at this stage, and one prognosticator — ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi — expects the Cinderella team from SLO to beat Texas Southern today.
“Even though most think Cal Poly is the worst team in the field, they’re really not,” Lunardi said. “Cal Poly is better tested, played in a better league and should advance to face Wichita State.”
Whatever happens today, the Cal Poly Mustangs accomplished something sweet and memorable. The Tribune congratulates all the players; head coach Joe Callero and other staff members; and the families and supporters of a team of believers who never stopped trying.