By Michael Carman
Peninsula Daily News
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Freeman's enthusiasm increases with every win.
“I'm so excited for Cal Poly, the basketball program and the entire school,” Freeman said.
“All those guys on that team I either recruited or helped coach.”
Freeman served as an assistant on Callero's staff at Seattle Pacific University from 2005-2009 and at Cal Poly from 2009 until being hired by the Pirates last summer.
A week ago, Callero, brought the Mustangs into the Big West Conference tournament with a 10-19 record and the seventh seed.
With that kind of record Cal Poly's only path to the NCAA tournament was to earn the tourney title.
The Mustangs did just that, confounding favored UC-Santa Barbara all game long in a 69-38 win, edging top seed California-Irvine 61-58 and toppling Cal-State Northridge 61-59 to earn a ticket to an NCAA tournament play-in game against Texas Southern.
In the play-in game, Cal Poly (14-19) allowed the Tigers' NBA prospect Aaric Murray to score 38 points, but held down the other Texas Southern players in an 81-69 win Wednesday.
The Mustangs' reward? A No. 16 seed and a matchup with the undefeated No. 1 seed Wichita State Shockers (34-0) today in St. Louis.
No 16-seed has ever taken down a 1-seed in the history of the men's tournament, with No. 1's holding an 116-0 record.
Princeton and East Tennessee came closest in 1989, with one-point losses to Georgetown and Oklahoma, respectively.
Most times these games are laughers, with just 14 of the 116 games decided by a single-digit margin, and top seeds winning by an average of 24.8 points, according to espn.com.
But that's why they play the games.
Freeman is undeterred by the Mustangs overall record.
“Five of those losses are against teams in the NCAA tournament field, so a little of it is misleading,” he said.
The Mustangs lost to tournament teams in Arizona, Oregon, Stanford, Pitt and Delaware this year, racking up the 37th toughest nonconference strength of schedule out of 349 Division I teams, according to ESPN.
“They have been in those big-time environments,” Freeman said.
“Regardless of 16 vs. 1, Callero is going to keep them loose and keep them believing in each other, and I expect them to play comfortable with a nothing-to-lose attitude.”
To pull off such a gigantic upset, Cal Poly needs to “make it a half-court game, grind it out defensively and make Wichita State earn everything,” according to Freeman.
When the Mustangs are on offense they'll “move the ball from side to side and make Wichita State guard them all the way across the floor.”
Freeman will be busy today, hosting recruits and showing them what Peninsula College and Port Angeles have to offer, but he plans to carve out some to watch his former players and colleagues battle Goliath.
“We'll definitely watch the game but we want to get the recruits a full view of what we are about and what is available here,” Freeman said.
He will hit the recruiting trail on a trip to California and Las Vegas next week, looking for some height and a little scoring punch to help replace departing leading scorer Xavier Bazile.
The Cal Poly-Wichita State game will be televised at 4:10 p.m. on CBS (channel 7).