Color us embarrassed. If you had asked most of our staff who were the likely upset picks this year in the bracket, one of the last names you would have heard would have been Little Rock.
Despite the now 30-4 record after beating Purdue on Thursday afternoon in overtime, this was a team that we consistently underrated, even in the most recent Mid-Major Madness Power 15. One of our voters did pick the Trojans as the best team, but that was an anomaly compared to the rest of us. Even with that praise, Little Rock was No. 10.
So to all of us save one, when the Trojans were down by 14 with five minutes to go against the Boilermakers, it looked like we were correct.
And then Josh Hagins happened, and the Boilermakers decided that basketball wasn't exactly a sport that they wanted to play any longer.
Why did we doubt this team?
They didn't play the most impressive schedule leading into the NCAA Tournament. It was pretty much a middle-of-the-road affair, and the best wins came against San Diego State and Tulsa. Those two teams were bubble at best, and as we know, Tulsa was one of the final teams to be selected to the Tournament, and almost no one thought they belonged.
The Sun Belt was a middling league too, and the Trojans lost three time in the league, and not even to the best teams. It was Arkansas State, Louisiana-Monroe and Appalachian State that got those victories, with ULM the best of the bunch. The others were close to the bottom 100 in the country.
And when the Trojans did crack their way onto ESPN3, and we tuned in, it was against one of those teams, and they looked out of sorts. There was no way this team was as good as their record suggested. They couldn't even beat the bottom of their league.
That isn't to say that they didn't have players, but Purdue should have had no issue with these guys, much like Texas Tech didn't have issues earlier this season.
Josh Hagins has been on the radar, and he was amazingly efficient for the Trojans, continuing to dominate in the Sun Belt, much like he did last season to lesser fanfare. He would go along quietly taking 10 shots per game, and scoring 12 points per game, but he wasn't lighting it up like this. He had other contributions from the floor, and that made him the likely most valuable player in 12 games.
Lucky 13 was even better, by far.
He outscored his best total this season by 11, and the best of his career by seven. He didn't just set a mark that was slightly better on his way out. He crushed his previous best.
The peripherals were there too, which made this performance even better. In case you missed it with all that scoring going on, he had seven rebounds, six assists and five steals, while turning the ball over... oh never.
He was so well-rounded, you would think he was auditioning for an NBA job and this was his final chance to get someone's attention (by the way, this worked for Kyle O'Quinn and a couple of other players who happened to go off in the NCAA Tournament, and pull an upset).
Today changed my mind about the Trojans, just a little too late for my bracket though. It proved to me that this team has the heart of a champion, and that isn't just of the Sun Belt. This is a team willing to fight because they have absolutely nothing to lose, so why not just go all out and win.
They embody the spirit and enthusiasm of their head coach, Chris Beard. His fire, his determination, his confidence, all show through on the floor. He knows that they have been overlooked by everyone, but he doesn't care because he has this team focused on one thing, and that is the next opponent, and how to win in 40 minutes, or 50 if it calls for it.
We will for sure be rooting for them to do this again when they stare down Iowa State, although it will be no surprise to the Cyclones how good Little Rock is any longer. And we might even go as far as to pick them to win.
After all, what do all of us have to lose at this point if we do.