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Berry Tramel: Lehigh hopes a trip to OKC turns out as well as it did for Patriot League rival Bucknell

by Berry Tramel Modified: March 17, 2010 at 4:59 am •  Published: March 17, 2010
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The anthropology, pre-med and mechanical engineering majors, who with sneakers and jerseys become the Lehigh Mountain Hawks, boarded a plane Tuesday in Philadelphia, chasing the dream.

Why not us? Why not now?

Or maybe not. Some dreams are too big to imagine.

No 16 seed ever has beaten a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. No. 1 seeds are a perfect 100-0 in sport’s ultimate David-and-Goliath matchup, and that figures to jump to 101-0 by the time Lehigh takes the Ford Center court at 8:40 p.m. Thursday against top-ranked Kansas.

But the NCAA Tournament is beautiful for Patriot League dreams. The last time a Patriot League team came to Oklahoma City, you know what happened.

Bucknell.

Never before had a Patriot League team won an NCAA Tournament game, but the 14th-seeded Bison became the latest star of Cinderella City.

And you know who they beat.

Kansas, 64-63. On the same date (March 18) in 2005. In the same session slot (late game). Against a team ranked No. 1 in the RPI, same as these 2010 Jayhawks. For Twilight Zoners, Northern Iowa played Wisconsin in the game before KU-Bucknell. Northern Iowa plays Nevada-Las Vegas in the game before KU-Lehigh.

Lightning never strikes twice in the same place, even in the home of the Thunder. Until it does.

"I haven’t forgotten that feeling,” said Bryan Goodman, who in 2005 was on Bucknell’s staff and now is Jeff Capel’s director of basketball operations at OU. "It was almost unbelievable. Couldn’t believe it had happened. Took a couple of days before it settled in. We were as shocked as anyone.

"When (Wayne) Simien missed that last shot, it was total jubilation. I can’t say it was a dream come true, because I’m not sure anyone dreams it.”

The Patriot League is an Eastern conference of academically elite schools. What author John Feinstein called "The Last Amateurs” in a book about a season with the Patriots.

Think Ivy League, without the snobbery. Lehigh, Lafayette, Bucknell, American U., Holy Cross, Army, Navy and Colgate. Not until this decade did the Patriot League offer athletic scholarships. Not until the last few years did the Patriot League give out the maximum 13 scholarships for basketball. Bucknell gave five full scholarships when it beat Kansas.

The Patriot League is one of those conferences you see every year on ESPN’s Championship Week, when the league tournament title is celebrated like V-J Day.

"It’s kind of a different feeling,” Goodman said. "You’ve already won your national championship. Your goal there is to make the tournament. The Patriot League is playing on house money once they’re in the (NCAA) tournament.”

Of course, that’s not the message Lehigh coach Brett Reed imparts to his team.

by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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