Chattanooga: a city in Tennessee. It is, indeed, a place you are allowed to reside. In all seriousness, it’s a solid little place: there’s minor league baseball, several quality food options, and a bunch of nice outdoor activities. Pound-for-pound, it’s one of the better mid-sized cities in the South. If I were not a nice man, I would say that they have minor league basketball and football, too, but that’s not very kind.
The Chattanooga Mocs basketball program has largely operated on the same treadmill for most of my life: never great, never bad, with one large outlier in the process. In 1997, Chattanooga was the best team in the Southern Conference and won the conference title, entering the NCAA Tournament at 22-10. They received a 14 seed, and in the minds of most, that was essentially it. That year, they’d draw 3 seed Georgia (yes, this used to be a thing) in the first round and were sizable underdogs. I’d imagine few bothered to even consider them for the upset; said Georgia team was one of the weakest 3 seeds ever, but you simply don’t pick a 14 seed to win.
All Chattanooga did was blow the doors off of Georgia for a half. At halftime, the Mocs led 46-31; they’d hold on for dear life in the second half, squeaking out a 73-70 victory. Realistically, that’s better than they could’ve expected to do. Surely, after a Round of 32 matchup with 6 seed Illinois, they’d be done. Instead, the Mocs demolished Illinois in the second half, winning 75-63. Now, out of nowhere, the Mocs were the talk of the nation – a 14 seed in the Sweet Sixteen for just the second time in NCAA Tournament history.
The dream would end soon, and they’d settle into the loop I mentioned previously. Since the end of their 1997 Sweet Sixteen loss to Providence, the Mocs have made the NCAA Tournament just three times, losing by double-digits in each matchup. They’ve finished outside of KenPom’s top 300 just once, but have never cracked his top 100 at season’s end. They’ve never lost fewer than three games in SoCon play, but – until Lamont Paris’ first year in 2017-18 – had never won fewer than five, either. They’re just…there. If nothing else, they provide a great opportunity to play college basketball and get a degree at a solid university. Life could be far worse.
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