Kennesaw State’s plan to try to upset Xavier

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

College men’s basketball teams from Georgia have a recent history of upsets in the NCAA Tournament.

No. 14 Mercer over No. 3 Duke in 2014.

No. 14 Georgia State over No. 3 Baylor in 2015.

Kennesaw State coach Amir Abdur-Rahim has a plan to try to improve the probability of the No. 14-seeded Owls upsetting No. 3-seeded Xavier when the teams meet in the first round at 12:40 p.m. Friday in Greensboro, North Carolina.

It starts with reaching out to his mentors and former bosses, Billy Kennedy and Tom Crean, as well as a group of as many as 15 coaches that dubbed itself the “New Wave” when it came together as new program leaders during the COVID era.

“These guys have been like brothers to me over the last two or three years,” said Abdur-Rahim, who took over the Owls ahead of the 2019-20 season.

The group incudes Missouri’s Dennis Gates, former La Salle coach Ashley Howard, Charlotte’s Ron Sanchez, FIU’s Jeremy Ballard and Seton Hall’s Shaheen Holloway, among others.

“I’ll lean on that group, just ask those guys, ‘Hey, what was your experience? What should I be looking for with something that I may not be aware of that I want to be aware of? Whether even if it’s just preparation, even if it’s recovery? What are some things that you guys did that was successful that you think we should incorporate?’ and we’ll go from there.”

Holloway’s advice may be particularly helpful because he was the coach at Saint Peter’s during the 2021-22 season when the 15th-seeded Peacocks defeated second-seeded Kentucky and then seventh-seeded Murray State, and then third-seeded Purdue before losing to eighth-seeded North Carolina in the Elite Eight.

That run was one mentioned by Kennesaw State’s Chris Youngblood as one that he hopes can inspire them when the Owls take on Xavier, which features one of the highest-scoring offenses in Division I.

Teammate Terrell Burden said one of his favorite upset runs featured Florida Gulf Coast in 2013, when it made it to the Sweet 16 by defeating Georgetown and San Diego State before losing to Florida.

Abdur-Rahim will also lean on his assistants, some of whom have NCAA Tournament experience. Abdur-Rahim’s came as an assistant at Texas A&M. Ben Fletcher made it as a player and then as an assistant coach at Troy.

Abdur-Rahim called that experience invaluable.

“I know when I go downstairs in 15 minutes or whatever that they’ll already have film downloaded (of Xavier),” Abdur-Rahim said. “The guys will give the (players) exactly what they need to be successful.”

But Abdur-Rahim said Kennesaw State isn’t going to reinvent itself. It will play with four guards. It will be physical. It will dive for every loose ball.

It’s worked so far. It may work again in an attempt to upset Xavier.

“It’s the same old boring habits that got us here that we’re going continue to rely on and be our best at,” he said.