Saturday, 9 a.m. - Two other teams are "competing" in New Orleans for ODU.
By Brendan O'Hallarn
With the ODU-Notre Dame game incredibly tight in the final minutes, I looked to the end line at our cheer and dance teams. It took a second to figure out what they were doing. Without the aid of the Buckwheat Boyz soundtrack, our cheer team and band were doing "Ice Cream and Cake." It was the under-four timeout after all, and tradition is tradition.
It's an underrated part of the college basketball environment. Our cheer and dance teams plus pep band bring a great deal of atmosphere to the Constant Center throughout the season. In the post-season, we'll say this because we're in New Orleans, they've kicked it up a notch.
"People don't realize this when they see our band perform during the season, and wonder why we don't do this, or don't do that. But we've built our program specifically for the NCAA Tournament," said Tim Minter, drum major and student director with the Old Dominion Pep Band.
The NCAA gives a thick rule book to teams who qualify for the Tournament. Each band must have 30 members, and no more than 30 members. No amplification of any kind is allowed. Minter said ODU has two standing, 30-member bands, for the exact reason that this week necessitates - so one band can perform for the men's games, and the other can perform for the women's games.
And since Minter is a crazed sports fan, he did both this week. "The process was epic," he said. "I did the women's NIT game in Norfolk on Wednesday. But I hadn't missed a men's game at home or in the playoffs all season. I went online and looked up fares, and the only flight I could find that got me here on time left at 5:40 a.m."
Minter arrived from the airport, his hair looking like Thomas Dolby's, a mere three minutes before the bus left for the arena. Why put himself through such a madcap trip? "Because this is my school. I support my boys."
Minter swam and played baseball at Granby High in Norfolk, and has loved sports his whole life. But other band members like Allyson Vaccaro have been bitten by the bug, too. Vaccaro transferred to Old Dominion University from decidedly non-sporting Misericordia University in Pennsylvania.
She came for the Speech Pathology program, but Vaccaro discovered the ODU Pep Band during football season, and has loved playing basketball games as well. For one thing, it's taught her a game she knew almost nothing about. "I never knew I would get so into it. Now I think I could tell you a ton about basketball. It's amazing," she said.
During Monday's game, the band and cheer teams did a great job. Our one, packed section of ODU fans responded to their every instruction, standing along with the fight song, chanting "O! D! U!" Vaccaro said it's so gratifying when the crowd responds to what the band is trying to do.
For the students of the band and cheer teams, it's also been a great experience being in New Orleans. The two teams went on a bus tour of New Orleans on Friday, and it was part history, part humor, and part stark reminder that this fun city is still recovering from Hurricane Katrina.
Cheer team members Ashleigh Spencer and Chrissy Smith said it was eye-opening and amazing at the same time.
"Katrina happened five years ago, and so many of these homes haven't even been rebuilt yet," Spencer said. "There were entire streets of empty lots where there used to be houses, and there was just nothing there," Smith said. "I was very surprised. I didn't think it would that bad here, still."
She said on boarded-up homes, spray paint labels indicated people who had died during the Katrina deluge.
But the tour also had an upbeat tone, Spencer said. Dottie, their tour guide, was a total New Orleans historian, and reveled in showing the homes that movie star Brad Pitt had spent millions of his own money to build, for city residents who remain after Katrina. Dottie mentioned that the population of the city is more than 100,000 less than it was before Katrina hit.
Spencer said New Orleans was a great place to host the NCAA Tournament. "It's so fun, it's a great city, and it's great to be here to cheer for ODU," he said.
Saturday, 1 p.m. - So who are these Baylor Bears?
My wife can confirm this. I have watched an inordinate amount of college basketball this season. "Oh, Akron and Toledo are on ESPNU? I'm in." I am very fortunate my wife is so patient with my obsession.
Strangely enough, I hadn't seen one second of action of the Baylor Bears, today's opponent for the Monarchs, before their first-round game versus Sam Houston State. In fact, my first look at the Bears was a very up-close one.
As the ODU players and coaches charged off the court following our upset win over the Irish, I followed them, to get the jubilant initial moments in the team locker room. I rounded the corner and headed under the grandstand, and ran smack into the middle of a double line of Baylor players, who were waiting to take the court for their warm-ups.
Unsmiling, the players chanted "BAAAAY-lorrrrr! BAAAAY-lorrrrr!" in the seconds before heading out to the court we had just left. There was something overtly intense about their guys. A fierceness. Then I watched the Bears use their supreme athleticism to beat a scrappy Sam Houston State team in their first round game. This is no cupcake we face today. They're the three seed in this region for a reason.
Here's what we're up against. Baylor is 25-7, and is in the top 25 of both national polls. The Bears average 77.6 points per game, which is 25th in the country. They're in the top 10 in the entire nation in field goal percentage, hitting shots at a 48.9 percent clip.
Baylor's floor leaders are its two guards, Tweety Carter and LaceDarius Dunn. Dunn leads the team in scoring, averaging 19.4 per game. Carter leads in assists, averaging 6.1 per game. Ironically, it's Baylor forward Ekpe Udoh who's attracting the most attention from NBA scouts. A junior, Udoh is projected to be a lottery pick in the NBA Draft if he leaves school early.
Udoh's a leaper. He attracted the attention of our leaper on Thursday. Our guys got their first good look at Baylor after their game with Notre Dame was done. The players sat together in a section behind one of the baskets, doing a little advance scouting.
ODU guard Kent Bazemore, no slouch himself, said one thing leapt out at him "All the athleticism, man," he said. "Everybody's playing up above the rim." Bazemore's a leaper himself, so of course he noticed when Baylor's Udoh came down the middle of the Sam Houston State defense for a dunk attempt. "His head was up above the rim. We said, 'Man, we've gotta stop that.' But if we box out and play good defense and cut down on that, then his head won't be above the rim against us."
Brendan O'Hallarn works in public relations for Old Dominion University
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