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Salute NCAA Tournament’s little guys for doing right thing

Loyola-Chicago guard Ben Richardson cuts down the net

Loyola-Chicago guard Ben Richardson cuts down the net after the NCAA college basketball MVC tournament championship game against Illinois State on March 4, 2018, at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. Loyola-Chicago won 65-49. Credit: AP / Chris Lee

Here’s to the little guy. Every one of them in the NCAA Tournament field. Here’s to rooting for a team that can lift the shroud over this year’s One Shining Moment, that can make us forget that the important initials in college basketball this season are not RPI but FBI.

Cheer for the mid-majors, who have their own problems and suspensions but who are by and large not guilty of the infractions that put a blight on the game. Here’s to Davidson coach Bob McKillop, whose team won its way into March Madness by beating Rhode Island in the Atlantic 10 final Sunday.

“We played with joy this whole tournament,” said McKillop, who played at Chaminade and Hofstra, then coached at Holy Trinity and Long Island Lutheran before going to Davidson and helping to turn Stephen Curry into a megastar.

No offense to Notre Dame, which was knocked out of the field of 68 because Davidson won (the latter had not been headed for an at-large bid, while Rhode Island was guaranteed a spot regardless). But it is refreshing to see that a mid-major, a little guy, can control the narrative. Let’s hope that becomes a trend.

We should not let the excitement over The Big Dance, which for my money is America’s greatest sporting event, erase the stain that some of the biggest programs have created by attracting the federal investigation into college basketball corruption. There is a chance that the championship someone will win on April 2 will be stripped away (“vacated,” to use the NCAA euphemism) someday after authorities keep digging.

You can say the system needs change, that players essentially are unpaid fundraisers for their colleges because of the donations and applications they help to attract. Fair enough. But that is a separate question. The fact is, rules are rules and documents indicate that people affiliated with major college programs broke them.

Celebrity coaches, toasted as detail-attentive geniuses, tend to say they are totally ignorant when someone finds something very wrong about their teams. It is time to clean up all of that.

While we’re at it, enough of the caterwauling about middling teams from major conferences who do not get invited to The Big Dance. Is it really a crime that USC is not in, or Oklahoma State? Better we should expend our emotions on celebrating with Lipscomb, which is in the field for the first time.

Cheer for Loyola-Chicago, its present, its chaplain (a 98-year-old nun, Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, who emails every player after every game) and its history. The team is in after a 33-year absence.

Better yet, it made a huge mark when it won the NCAA championship 55 years ago. The 1963 team started four black players at a time when that was unheard of. In the Midwest Regional, it faced all-white Mississippi State, which disobeyed the segregationist governor’s order to refuse to play.

Jerry Harkness, the star of that title team, told the Chicago Tribune this past week, “You see these flashbulbs, pop-pop-pop, and I thought, ‘Hmm, this is more than a game.’ ”

When this year’s Ramblers won the Missouri Valley Conference title, coach Porter Moser told reporters, “Especially in the world of what is going on in college basketball . . . these guys and this program can lift our heads high and say, ‘We’re doing it the right way.’ ”

Here’s to the right way. Here’s to Davidson, with heart that cannot be measured by RPI (rating percentage index).

“It’s an unbelievable feeling and I am just fortunate to be on a team where my teammates believe in me, our coaches believe in me and our assistants believe in me,” said Kellan Grady, who had the guts to go baseline and make the basket that sent the team dancing.

Here’s to belief. Here’s to the joy. Here’s to the little guy.

New York Sports