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Wednesday’s First Four Games Are Unusually Interesting

These games have great story lines. Go Hurley!

Arizona State v Buffalo
 TULSA, OKLAHOMA - MARCH 22: Head coach Bobby Hurley of the Arizona State Sun Devils yells to his team during the first half of the first round game of the 2019 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament against the Buffalo Bulls at BOK Center on March 22, 2019 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Wednesday’s First Four matchup between Arizona State and Nevada is intriguing in several ways.

First it’s a matchup between two legendary point guards who led their teams to NCAA championships. Steve Alford played for Bob Knight at Indiana before rage and bitterness destroyed Knight’s brilliant career and Bobby Hurley, of course, helped Duke to back-to-back titles in 1991-92.

The coaches are connected indirectly since Hurley’s coach, Mike Krzyzewski, was a point guard for Knight at Army and was also on his staff in the early ‘70s.

The most intriguing connection though is this: two former Nevada stars transferred to Arizona State: Warren Washington, a 7-0 big man, and Desmond Cambridge, who you may remember hit a stunning buzzer beater to upset Arizona at the McKale Center recently, both left Nevada for Arizona State, which means that first, they’ll see their good friends and former teammates Wednesday night, and second, that they’ll run into their old coach Alford.

Alford has been a bit of a mystery as a coach. He had a great start at Southwest Missouri State before moving to Iowa, where controversy ensued when Pierre Pierce was accused of rape. Alford allowed him to stay active and proclaimed his innocence, which went south when Pierce pleaded guilty to a lesser charge. He later spent nearly a year in jail over a separate case of sexual assault.

Alford eventually decamped to New Mexico where he did fairly well, finishing with a .749 winning percentage before taking the UCLA job days after signing a 10-year extension with the Lobos.

If he thought Iowa was rough, UCLA was brutal. He was an unpopular choice and immediately faced questions about how he handled the Pierce situation back at Iowa.

He also took a lot of heat for supposedly favoring his son, Bryce, over more talented players.

In 2015-16, someone hired a plane to fly over campus with a banner demanding he be fired and in 2017-18, another banner was flown demanding the same thing and in 2018-19, UCLA fired Alford on New Year’s Eve.

It’s fair to say he’s been a bit disappointing.

Hurley started at Buffalo, where he was terrific before leaving after a contract dispute and leaving the job for his assistant Nate Oats, who rose to national prominence at Alabama.

Hurley had a tough time post-Covid, with two losing seasons before bouncing back this year. Arizona State is historically a tough job. It’s had spurts of success but was never really sustained. It’s a program that demands but rarely gets sustained success. There was a lot of excitement when they hired Herb Sendek away from NC State and he had middling success, but only made the NCAA Tournament twice in nine years. His boring style and his habit of soft schedules can’t have helped.

Nevada finished the season poorly so we’d tend to favor Arizona State here but it could be tight.

By the way, on ASU’s roster: Hurley’s son Bobby. We can’t tell for sure, but he appears to be a walk-on.

In the other First Four game, who the hell knows? Fairleigh Dickinson is 19-15 but hardly powerful and Texas Southern comes in at 14-20 after winning the SWAC championship.

Before that weekend, they were 11-20.

Fairly Ridiculous is a really small team but since they are in, we’d normally pick them because of their recruiting base and because we assume they have a larger recruiting budget than Texas Southern.

However, Texas has become a really deep state for talent and the Tigers have found players in Dallas and Houston, which have been very productive in recent years.

But we’re going with the little guys. Why?

Because of this guy. Tobin Anderson just seems really driven and he’s pulled off a miracle of sorts in his first season.

A win for the Knights would be hugely impressive, but the booby prize would be playing Purdue with 7-4 Zach Edey, who stands nearly a foot taller than the biggest regular for Fairleigh Dickinson.

Whatever happens, keep an eye on Anderson. He looks like a guy who is ready to move up (again).