The NCAA Tournament hasn't yet begun, but March already has its first Cinderella.
Austin Peay was a mega-longshot to win the OVC Tournament, the 8-seed in an eight-team tournament. The Governors had to pull four upsets in four days, three of them against teams that got to rest thanks to the league's odd stepladder bracket format. Ken Pomeroy's numbers gave the Govs just a .5 percent chance of winning the tourney.
The odds weren't in Austin Peay's favor, but clearly, that didn't matter to them. The Governors demolished Tennessee Tech, roared back from a double-digit deficit to beat Tennessee State, shocked top-seeded Belmont in overtime, and drilled 16 threes to knock off Tennessee-Martin. (No matter what word you put next to "Tennessee" in your school's name, the Austin Peay Governors are ready and willing to whoop you.) And now they're going dancing.
That said, the NCAA selection committee will rank them on their sub-.500 regular season, not their miracle run. The Governors will probably be a 16 seed, and they'll probably slotted into the First Four. That means they'll again be in a scenario where they'll have to win one game just to play a highly favored, well-rested opponent.
Are the Govs going to pull another upset? Well, once again, the odds clearly aren't in their favor. But clearly, that doesn't matter to them.
The No. 1 chant in college sports
Yes, their fans cheer LET'S GO PEAY:
This is not a joke by some frat kids. It is not a thing rival fans made up to mock Austin Peay. LET'S GO PEAY is the official, school-sanctioned cheer of Austin Peay. The team's website is "letsgopeay.com."
If you watched the OVC Tournament, you heard the LET'S GO PEAY chants. If you watch them in the NCAA Tournament, you will probably hear the LET'S GO PEAY chants. It is a constant.
They have been doing this for decades. In the 1970s, NYC streetball legend Fly Williams decided to play his college ball at APSU (recruited, oddly enough, by now-Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton.) He dominated, averaging 29 points per game and leading the Govs to one of two NCAA Tournament wins in school history. And the fans embellished on their pre-existing piss chant, cheering "THE FLY IS OPEN, LET'S GO PEAY."
I am in awe of this school and its fans. I love jokes about pee and poop and farts and wieners and butts, but even as a potty humor aficionado, I still fail to slip these references into the vast majority of my conversations.
Every year, at every sporting event, Governors fans make this joke, about how their school's name is "pee." Austin Peay State University is an accredited institution of higher education that has handed out legitimate degrees to tens of thousands of students, and every person who has learned and loved at this place has embraced this joke. It is a piece of bathroom humor that makes an entire community proud, a potty joke that thousands of people have collectively decided will never get old. Quite frankly, it's beautiful.
Congrats, Governors. Urine the NCAA Tournament.
How could they pull an upset?
Simply put, Chris Horton is a dang monster. Against Tennessee Tech in the first round of the tournament, he had 37 points and 21 rebounds. In the big upset against Belmont, he had 30 and 16. And in those games, he took 16 and 11 shots. He was a dang force of nature, and it is very good that he gets to show his skills to a national audience.
His strength is ... well ... his strength. He bullies his way into great position on the boards, and is is one of the best rebounders in college basketball — he's fifth in the country with 12.0 per game, and ninth in offensive rebound rate. And when you get yourself into great positions, you're going to get fouled a lot. He attempted 281 free throws this year, fourth in the nation. While most of the players who get to the line the most are speedy guards, Horton is the only big man in the top 15 on that list.
Horton got hurt in the conference final, but there's been no indication from Austin Peay that this will keep him out of the tournament. One of the benefits to having the first bid in college basketball is Horton will have a week and a half to recover.
The other reason they could maybe win a game is that freshman guard Jared Savage has decided he's one of the best shooters in college basketball. He's only averaged 6.5 points on the season, but caught fire in the OVC Tournament. First three threes against Tennessee State, then five against Belmont, then eight in the final against UT-Martin. If he continues the trend and hits, like, 11 against APSU's first-round opponent, well, that would hypothetically be a good thing.
Clear eyes, full hearts, Dave Loos
Dave Loos is Austin Peay basketball. I'd love to say he's been their coach longer than I've been alive, but technically, that's not true. When Loos was hired on July 14, 1990, I was 6 days old. Dave Loos was hired in the post-Rodger Sherman's birth era, but the pre-Rodger Sherman's bris era.
Loos has been really, really successful. Six 20-win seasons, five regular season conference championships, and now four NCAA Tournament bids. He's a member of the school's Hall of Fame, and the court where the team plays is now named Dave Loos Court. He's the school's all-time leader in wins and the conference's as well. He used to be APSU's athletic director, but now he's just the coach. Saturday was his 69th birthday, and with an expiring contract, there is some speculation that he will retire after the season. This would be a hell of a way to go out.
We're telling you about this man because we have to tell you about his family. You will notice the phrase "Rally For Rhyan" written on the back of Austin Peay's warmups. "Rhyan" is Loos' granddaughter, an adorable 5-year old battling Stage 4 neuroblastoma. Donations can be made here. If you can't donate, Rhyan's 6th birthday is Tuesday, and the Rally for Rhyan facebook page says she would probably like some messages.
Hopefully, Austin Peay's tourney participation can get Rhyan's story in front of as many eyes as possible.
Austin Peay was a governor of Tennessee in the 1920s, so yes, Austin Peay is the Governors. This is a governor:
Photo credit: Jim Brown, USA Today Sports
Peay himself was clean-shaven, bald, and, um, didn't wear a monocle. But Doofy Sports Colonel Sanders is a better mascot, than a boring bald guy, so, there it is.
Peay is remembered as a pretty good governor — per Wikipedia, he was rated the best governor in Tennessee history by a poll of 52 Tennessee historians in the 1980s — but he's also known for signing the law that led to the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial. So, yes, this college is named after a guy famous for preventing evolution from being taught in schools.
For some reason, APSU's women's teams are called the Lady Govs, because women are incapable of being regular governors, I guess. I understand that it may be hard to imagine a woman in an elected office, but there are actually several female governors of states right now!
Why have I heard of these guys before?
This is Peay's seventh trip to the NCAA Tournament. Most notably, they knocked off Illinois as a 14-seed in 1987, with big man Darryl Bedford nailing five threes. The tourney hasn't been as kind to Austin Peay in recent years, losing by 22 to Louisville in 2003 and by 20 to Texas in 2008.
Trenton Hassell is probably the most prominent NBA-er in Peay history. The 2001 OVC Player of the Year never made the tourney while at APSU, but did carve out a nine-year NBA career as a defensive wing.
Can they actually pull an NCAA Tournament upset?
Well, it doesn't seem likely. The Govs played two games against likely NCAA Tournament teams, and both were ugly, a 80-41 blowout against Vandy and a 102-76 blowout against Indiana. Austin Peay is the OVC champion, and nobody can take that away from them, but this team wasn't .500 in conference play in a low-major conference.