New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie raised eyebrows at the first-round game in Buffalo Thursday when he sat behind the Notre Dame bench, wearing a Notre Dame shirt, and rooting against New Jersey-based Princeton. That was easy to explain, according to Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, the former Delaware coach, who said, “Chris Christie is a Delaware grad. When I got the job, he was just an attorney. Big hoops guy and was real supportive of my program.”
Christie was back yesterday, watching as Notre Dame fell to West Virginia
“We were great friends when I was in Newark, Delaware and he was a hoops fan lawyer from New Jersey,” the coach said, adding that Christie’s daughter attends Notre Dame and is a student manager. “He knows more about my team than some of my staff. The guy is unbelievably plugged in to our stuff, so we love having him around.” — Mark HERRMANN
Top seeds remain perfect since the NCAA Tournament expanded. They’re 132-0 against No. 16 seeds after the Kansas Jayhawks beat UC Davis 100-62 Friday night. Kansas has won its opening game 11 straight years. — AP
PAST THEIR BEDTIME
Kentucky coach John Calpari severely criticized the NCAA early Saturday morning for scheduling his team to play a first-round game against Northern Kentucky that had him in the interview room at 12:30 a.m. after a 79-70 victory.
He asked reporters to limit their questions, which they did, and off the Wildcats went to bed.
On Saturday afternoon, the players were asked whether the late night bothered them. Not so much, it turned out.
“We’re all young,” De’Aaron Fox said. “We ain’t tired at midnight. I mean, they had to play at midnight, too, so it was just whoever brought the most energy. I mean, I don’t think you should (play that late), but we were all right.”— NEIL BEST
PUT ME IN, POP
Brad Calipari played only 45 minutes this season as a freshman guard at Kentucky, scoring eight points and grabbing three rebounds.
As his father noted on Saturday, being a walk-on at Kentucky can be difficult. “It’s hard to get on the practice floor, let alone on the (game) floor,” John Calipari said.
What complicates the dynamic is that the elder Calipari is Brad’s coach.
“My wife’s on me all the time: ‘You’re up 21, why don’t you put him in? Come on,’” John said. “But it’s just nice being around him, like when we travel. It was my birthday down at Alabama, and I was feeling awful. I was in a room by myself. I call him and say, ‘Come on up here.’ ‘Why?’ ‘Because I’m in a room by myself. Come on up.’ ‘Dad, please don’t make me come up there.’
“He still brings clothes over to wash to his mom, though. I know he does that. It’s probably against NCAA rules, but he does it.”— NEIL BEST
BLACK TIE OPTIONAL
Notre Dame and West Virginia were matched up yesterday but not tied up. Their respective coaches are notable for never wearing neckties.
Mike Brey of Notre Dame prefers the open collar look, having switched from the mock turtle style he wore for many years. “I was in America East. It’s a bus league,” he said, referring to his time as Delaware’s coach. “You wear a sweatshirt on a bus, you beat Boston University and you bus six hours.” In that context, he added, the turtleneck just felt comfortable.
“I stayed with it until my daughter said, `Dad, that’s got to go. That’s out,’ ” he said. “But there’s no way I can put a tie on.”
West Virginia’s Bob Huggins is the most casual dresser among big-time coaches. He wears a school athletic department pullover. Huggins said that early in his career, and many pounds ago, he used to wear a shirt and tie and vest and jacket. Once when he was coaching Cincinnati, he was sweating heavily and needed to change clothes at halftime.
“So they brought me in a pullover, and I put it on and coached the second half in a pullover,” he said the other day. “I was walking in, my ((athletic director)) said, ‘I just want to tell you look really good in that pullover. That’s what really coaches should wear.’ So I started wearing one. Which was good until I got the new president, and the A.D. denied saying I looked good in a pullover.”
But he never stopped wearing one. — Mark HERRMANN
THE COLD FACTS
Coaches in the NCAA Tournament are not wildly enthusiastic about the experimental rule being used in the NIT, in which team fouls are reset at each 10-minute mark, effectively dividing a game into four quarters. Wisconsin coach Greg Gard, for instance, pointed out that high schools in his state and Minnesota have gone from quarters to halves.
No one was as bluntly emphatic as West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, who said, “I think we ought to stop having our rules committee in Palm Springs.” His point was that by being in such a nice setting, members feel compelled to hang around and come up with various ideas. He added, “I do think we ought to have ((the meetings)) here in Buffalo. In February.” — Mark HERRMANN
DANCING WITH CINDERELLA
Since the NCAA Tournament field expanded in 1985, 17 teams have won first-round games as double-digit seeds in consecutive years. Middle Tennessee and Wichita State joined that club this year.
Of the 17 teams, four (Harvard 2013-14, Tulsa 2002-03, Detroit 1998-99, Tulane 1992-93) did not advance past the Round of 32 either year. Three teams lost in the Round of 32 the year before making a run into the second weekend. All three were 10 seeds -- like Wichita State, which will try to add its name to that list Sunday with a win over No. 2 Kentucky. Kent State reached the 2002 Elite Eight, and Texas advanced to the 1990 Elite Eight and 1997 Sweet 16.
No team has won a first-round game in consecutive years with a worse average seed than Middle Tennessee, which won as a No. 15 in 2016 and a No. 12 in 2017. (Middle Tennessee played Butler Saturday night.) Harvard won as a No. 14 in 2013 and a No. 12 in 2014. — ARI KRAMER