YSU coach talks Wright St., Butler in NCAA Tournament
Jerrod Calhoun has seen most things during his coaching travels.
In 2010, he was about five hours to the west in Indianapolis as part of the West Virginia University men’s basketball team.
His team fell to Duke in the national semifinals in Indianapolis, but the then Director of Basketball Operations saw the hometown Cinderella take shape and almost become college basketball royalty that weekend.
If not for Gordon Hayward’s desperation half-court shot being a hair off, it might have been the mid-major Bulldogs celebrating an NCAA Championship. Instead, yawn, it was Duke.
Since then, Butler has been a fixture in the NCAA Tournament.
“First thing when you think of Butler, you think of March — March Madness,” Calhoun said.
Calhoun, who just ended his first season coaching the Youngstown State University Penguins, saw his team play Butler in December.
The Bulldogs were Horizon League members then, but are now in the Big East.
They also played Wright State, this year’s HL Tournament champion.
Both are part of this year’s NCAA Tournament.
Wright State (25-9) is a 14th-seeded team playing third-seeded Tennessee (25-8) Thursday at 12:40 p.m., in Dallas in the South Region.
Tenth-seeded Butler (20-13), is playing seventh-seeded Arkansas (23-11) on Friday at 3:10 p.m., in the East Region at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit — the place where Wright State won the Horizon League Championship.
This Butler team has a culture of winning started years ago, but brought to the forefront with back-to-back NCAA Championship game appearances in 2010-11.
Butler is coached by former Bulldogs standout LaVall Jordan, who coached Milwaukee to the Horizon League title game last season.
Butler is led by Kelan Martin and has key victories over Ohio State and former No. 1 team in the nation, Villanova.
“They play in one the best leagues in America,” Calhoun said. “They’re used to physicality. They’ve seen about every single defense anybody can throw at them. Certainly they’re going to be a team that’s going to be right there.”
As for Wright State, the Raiders beat the Penguins twice this season.
The combination of HL Tournament MVP Grant Benzinger and league freshman of the year Loudon Love is potent.
“Part of the tournament is about how you get easy baskets,” Calhoun said. “Any time you have a big guy like Loudon Love you can throw the ball down in the block, that’s certainly a high-scoring opportunity.”
Wright State has some momentum most high-major teams might not have coming into the NCAAs after they lose in their conference tournament.
The Raiders also have Ursuline graduate and junior guard Mark Hughes, who was named to the Horizon League all-defensive team.
Most teams in the NCAAs have one or two stars. The Raiders have faced a wide variety of opponents this season and Hughes has hounded each team’s best player.
“I think Mark Hughes is a kid that has shown the entire year his ability to guard top-notch players,” Calhoun said.
Both Wright State and Butler have not only played YSU, but have a legitimate shot to win in the next couple of days.
“I think both of those teams are going to fair pretty well in the NCAA Tournament,” Calhoun said.