GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP)—The reality of the moment finally hit Binghamton’s players just before Wednesday’s practice when they stepped out of the tunnel and gazed up at the ACC banners in the rafters. Then, when Minnesota coach Tubby Smith walked past, guard Malik Alvin couldn’t contain a wide grin.
After that “Hoosiers” moment, the Bearcats took the court, trying their hardest to look like they’ve been here before.
“We’re just trying to take everything in,” guard Emanuel Mayben said. “It’s all of our first times, so we’re just trying to enjoy the moment and, at the same time, be prepared for what we’ve got in store tomorrow.”
This has been the day they’ve been pointing to at Binghamton ever since the school in upstate New York made the jump to Division I in 2001, craving the chance to join Richmond and Valparaiso and all those other little-known schools who knocked off the big boys and made March so mad.
The NCAA tournament, Tobacco Road, Coach K. Welcome to the big time, Bearcats.
Your prize: A Thursday night date in the East Regional with one of the bluest of the sport’s blue bloods—Duke—and its Hall of Fame coach.
“We’re here now,” coach Kevin Broadus said. “We need to put on our best show tomorrow to show the world that we belong here.”
The 15th-seeded Bearcats (23-8) could do that, some might say, merely by staving off the seemingly inevitable blowout for a half or so. Then again, it was only a year ago that the Blue Devils (28-6) also held a No. 2 seed when they were taken to the wire by Belmont, beating the Bruins on a basket in the final seconds.
That victory was the only one in the NCAA tournament since 2006 for the proud program that has reached 10 Final Fours and won three national titles in three decades under coach Mike Krzyzewski.
“What we’ve tried to do is just say, ‘Look, live in the present—not in the past or the future,”’ Krzyzewski said. “These kids have nothing to make up for. You spend your whole life making up for something. I don’t know if you ever take advantage of what is actually going on. I’ve told them, ‘Forget. We’ve learned from every experience over the last couple of years. Let’s just concentrate on right now.”’
That’s exactly what these Bearcats are doing. They enter with an 11-game winning streak that includes their first America East tournament title behind a coaching staff with big-school pedigrees and three starters who started out at other programs.
Broadus came to Binghamton two years ago after three seasons at Georgetown, and assistant Mark Macon starred at Temple in the 1980s. Forward D.J. Rivera transferred from St. Joseph’s and played immediately after receiving a hardship waiver from the NCAA, while Mayben and Alvin came in from junior colleges.
“Obviously, Binghamton hasn’t been heard of, basketball-wise,” Mayben said. “It was just (Broadus) as a man and his coaching staff.”
A win by the Bearcats would be one of the biggest upsets in tournament’s history, not only because only four No. 15 seeds have ever knocked off a No. 2, but also because the Blue Devils are on a roll.
Duke has won three straight and eight of nine, is coming off its eighth Atlantic Coast Conference championship in 11 years and is as close to healthy as it has been all season, Krzyzewski said. These Blue Devils hardly resemble the banged-up group from last year, when swingman Gerald Henderson fought a wrist injury and forward Kyle Singler battled the fatigue that wore down his freshman season.
So much for Singler being tired—the sophomore sharpshooter played 40 minutes in each of the Blue Devils’ three ACC tournament victories, scoring at least 14 points each time out.
“Kyle will play every second that he can play. He’s in shape to do it,” Krzyzewski said. “Really good players want to play. … And Kyle’s a really good player.”
At the very least, the Bearcats can count on a large chunk of the Greensboro Coliseum crowd—mostly, the fans decked out in baby blue—to pull for them. Rivals North Carolina and Duke both are playing roughly an hour’s drive from their respective campuses, and the Tar Heel fans were expected to root against the school they hate most.
As the Bearcats took the practice floor, they slapped high-fives with a North Carolina fan who told every player, coach and staff member, “Beat the Devils.”
“They say that Madison Square Garden is the mecca of NBA basketball. This is kind of like the mecca of college basketball—North Carolina, Duke,” Mayben said. “I think we’ve got a tough one in that we’ve got to play them here, but hopefully we’ll get some Carolina fans that don’t like them and show us some support.”