Locals play roles in NCAA

Several individuals who are household names in the Mid-Ohio Valley not only are participating in March Madness, but they also are succeeding in college basketball’s biggest show.

Start with Parkersburg South graduate Chase Fieler, who played a key role in Florida Gulf Coast’s stunning win over Georgetown on Friday night.

Fieler’s three dunks were played over and over on highlight reels. And why not? Of all the first-round upsets -and there were several -this one was the most shocking, bordering on the improbable.

When Florida Gulf Coast plays San Diego State at 7:10 p.m. today, you can bet the Eagles will have most of the nation pulling for the ultimate underdogs. The way Florida Gulf Coast performed on Friday, if it can bottle up that performance, the Sweet 16 certainly is a possibility.

Speaking of the Sweet 16, former West Virginia University coach John Beilein will return there, this time with the University of Michigan. The Wolverines have made it look easy thus far, beating upstart South Dakota State by 15 in the opening round then destroying Virginia Commonwealth by 25 on Saturday afternoon.

Before the tournament started, I remember thinking that Beilein’s Michigan team this year has for more talent than the West Virginia team he took to the Elite Eight.

Indeed, Michigan was No. 1 for a good part of the season. Although it took some stumbles down the stretch due to the rugged competition in the Big Ten, this is one of several teams capable of going all the way. Although it lives and dies by the jump shot, it plays good defense and has enough of an inside game to set up its outside shooters.

Virginia Commonwealth -which had a tournament history of pulling early shockers -had no answers on Saturday.

Beilein is one those classy coaches who quietly goes about the business of teaching basketball. He doesn’t seek the limelight other than to promote his players. He is a classy coach and it is good to see him doing so well. The South Region may be the toughest to get through, but Beilein has a chance to be in the Final Four.

While the Final Four may be asking a little too much of coach John Groce and his first team at Illinois, the former Ohio University boss has had a great initial season in Champaign, which comes as little surprise to fans of the Bobcats, who he led to 85 wins in four seasons, including a Sweet 16 appearance.

There’s no reason with all the talent in the Chicago area that the university that bears the state’s name can’t compete for the top players and thus put itself on the national basketball map.

Like Beilein, Groce is a low-key guy who doesn’t draw attention to himself. They remind you of professors as much as coaches.

Also like Beilein, Groce knows how to win.

It’s great to see those with local connections getting their chance to shine in the national spotlight.

Contact Dave Poe at dpoe@newsandsentinel.com