Weber State's 1999 NCAA Tournament upset over North Carolina, one of the biggest shockers in the event's history, has always been a boon for Wildcats coach Joe Cravens. It was great for name recognition. It generated fans for the program. It helped in recruiting.
But this week, Weber's greatest victory ever isn't helping.
|Weber State coach Joe Cravens knows all opponents will be ready to play his team. (AP)|
Only about 100 times. Then Badgers coach Bo Ryan will talk about Weber's 1995 upset of Michigan State. Then he'll point to the Wildcats' 25-5 overall record, 16-0 in Big Sky play and their 17-game winning streak. Then he'll hope and pray his team takes these guys seriously.
If they don't, Weber is undoubtedly good enough to advance. To help matters is that Weber, the No. 12 seed in the Midwest, has the geographic advantage of the first round. The NCAA pod system has the game set for Thursday in Spokane, Wash.
That is about a 10-hour drive for Wildcats fans, and while Spokane (elevation 1,900 feet) isn't Ogden, Utah (4,300 feet), the air is a bit thinner than Madison, Wis. (863 feet). It might not be a coincidence the victory over North Carolina also took place in the State of Washington, that time in Seattle.
Cravens, who was an assistant on that 1999 team, is now in his fourth season as head coach. He has assembled a powerful team at the Ogden school.
"There are a lot of similarities between that team and this team," he said.
The most obvious is the experience factor. The '99 club had six seniors who played key roles. So does this club, not to mention five juniors.
"That team had terrific role players and this team has terrific role players," Cravens said. "We have great experience and chemistry. We have really high character kids. They really enjoy each other."
What is especially important is the role players not only know they are, but what they are. The other players are more than willing to do their job first.
"I think there is certain level of experience both teams had and that is very important going into any tournament," Cravens said. "The experience we have gives us not just great role identification but great role acceptance. These guys they do the things they are supposed to do. That makes us a great basketball team."
A couple of those roles are pretty easy to figure out. In Jermaine Boyette and Slobodan Ocokolijic, he has a couple of big-time scorers.
Which reminds of the '99 club that boasted game-breakers Harold "The Show" Arceneaux (who had 36 on the Heels) and Eddie Gill.
Boyette, the Big Sky player of the year (20.1 points a game), hung 37 on Brigham Young during a Wildcats victory in January. The 6-foot-3 guard out of Hammond, Ind., can play with anyone.
"He's a very strong kid," said Cravens, an Indiana native. "He has a knack for getting to the basket. He is very good in the open court and very good finishing around the basket. A lot of players can get to the basket but not finish. He has a knack for making the ball go into the basket."
Can he and Ocokolijic (15.4 ppg) play the modern version of Arceneaux and Gill?
Cravens fully believes he has an excellent team. This club is not going to be intimidated, it is not going to be scared and it is not going to lack confidence.
"Whether we can pull off an upset the magnitude of that remains to be seen," he said.