After working as a student manager, staff member and assistant coach under Billy Donovan at Florida, Chattanooga coach Matt McCall should be used to winning championships. Still, there has to be something awesome about leading an historic program back to the glory land, and setting a new school record along the way in your first year as a head coach.
“I learned from the best. I really did. I’ve been blessed to be with some great coaches, none better than Coach Donovan,” McCall told ESPN after the win. “I’m so happy for these players. They’ve been through a lot. I’m the third head coach for some of these guys. They deserve it.”
The Mocs extended its school record for wins in a season with their 73-67 win against East Tennessee State in the Southern Conference title game on Monday night, backing up a regular season conference title with the league’s automatic bid to the 2016 NCAA Tournament. Chattanooga could have gone into Selection Sunday with a chance to make the field of 68 as the loser of this game, but McCall and his players have to be glad to avoid that stress.
You see, Chattanooga is not your average Tiny Dancer. The 29-5 Mocs earned the right to be a legitimate contender for an at-large bid with wins at Dayton, at Georgia and against Illinois out of conference. The win against Dayton is not only the most impressive on their tournament resume, but maybe the most important for the team’s season since it came right after losing preseason Player of the Year Casey Jones to an ankle injury.
But while the resume was enough for the NCAA Tournament discussion, it’s only fitting that such a big season for this program was highlighted by a conference tournament title. The win gives Chattanooga 11 SoCon tournament titles (second all-time in league history) and puts the Mocs back into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009. The last time Chattanooga was in the field of 68, they had the full support of younger Jimmy Fallon, then in his first years as the host of “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.”
Will Fallon step up again to support UTC? We’ll see. Anyway, back to basketball stuff.
- Record: 29-5 overall, 15-3 in SoCon (No. 1 seed)
- Most recent tournament appearance: 2009 (No. 16 seed who lost to No. 1 UConn 103-47 in the Round of 64)
- Jerry Palm predicts: 12 seed
- RPI: 59
- KenPom Ranking: 107
- Sagarin Ranking: 109
- Best wins: at Dayton, at Georgia
- Worst losses: vs. UNC Greensboro, at Western Carolina
- Notable stat: 29. The 29 wins so far this season is not only the most in Chattanooga program history, but for the moment it’s the most wins of any team in Division I. Kansas and Villanova, with 27 wins each at the moment, are expected to tie or surpass that number by the end of the weekend but at least for a few nights there was not another team that has won as much as the Mocs.
Closing quip: Chattanooga beat Dayton without its best player and has only lost five times this season. This team has been driving towards a league championship and return to the NCAA tournament all season, embracing the message of a young first-year coach and now they’re in the Big Dance with a real chance to win a game or two.
The last time UTC wasn’t a 15-seed or a 16-seed it was 1997 and the Mocs made it to the Sweet 16. With their balance and commitment to defense, there’s no 4-seed or 5-seed that wants to draw Chattanooga.
Lots to celebrate for Chattanooga! They are the 2016 #SoConHoops Champion & punched their ticket to @marchmadness! pic.twitter.com/L4JBGf8ltc
— Southern Conference (@SoConSports) March 8, 2016