Just after 6:30 p.m. yesterday, the men's basketball team got the news it had been waiting for. Princeton will take on the University of Nevada-Las Vegas Thursday in Hartford, Conn., in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
The Tigers (26-1 overall, 14-0 Ivy League) were rewarded for their dominating season with the fifth seed in the East regional. The time of the game will be announced Monday afternoon.
For Princeton, the announcement ended weeks of speculation about how high a seed the team's stellar record and national ranking warranted.
While the No. 8 Tigers' ranking is higher than all of the fourth-seeded teams, three of the three seeds and one of the two seeds, the team was not displeased with the seed it received. No team from the Ivy League has ever been seeded higher.
'Things worked out right'
"I thought it was great," head coach Bill Carmody said. "It's the highest that any team in our league has ever been. We thought we'd be around there. I feel like it was fair and things worked out right. Now, we've just got to go and play."
"I wasn't expecting anything higher than a four," senior forward James Mastaglio said. "With the field the way it is this year, everybody's so good. All the way down to the seven or eight seeds – they're all teams that have won over 20 games this year. If we had been a three seed or a seven seed, we still would have been playing the same kind of opponent."
The Runnin' Rebels of UNLV (20-12, 7-7 Western Athletic Conference), the Tigers' opponent, are coming off a surprising string of victories in the WAC tournament. The Rebels have won six consecutive games, including wins over nationally-ranked Utah and New Mexico in the WAC tournament.
"I watched UNLV the last two or three nights playing in the WAC tournament," Mastaglio said. "They're on a roll. It's a team that's real hot. I'm actually surprised they got a twelve seed. I thought they'd be up around an eight or a nine.
"They beat Utah, Fresno State and New Mexico three days in a row. Those are three top of the line teams."
Black and blue
UNLV features a bruising inside game led by forwards Tyrone Nesby, Kaspars Kambala and Kevin Simmons. Nesby averages 15.7 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, Kambala averages 11.9 points and 7.5 rebounds and Simmons averages 11.4 points and 6.1 rebounds. The Rebels, however, will be without six-foot, 11-inch center Keon Clark. A projected first-round NBA draft pick, Clark is no longer with the team.
Just after the seedings were announced, an ESPN camera caught the Rebels celebrating their upcoming matchup. While UNLV might be celebrating now, they will face a team a higher-seeded Princeton team Thursday with the best record in Division I.
"I saw UNLV slapping high-fives when they got the notice that they were playing Princeton," senior guard Mitch Henderson said. "We're definitely not going to be scared of playing UNLV. We're 26-1 because we've played well together all year and we're consistent. We're not going to get nervous."
If there was a disappointing part to last night's announcement, it was the fact that after playing much of its season in the northeast, the Tigers will be playing in Hartford.
"I think we all wish we were playing somewhere a little more exotic than Hartford," Goodrich said.
Still, Hartford's proximity will mean less travel time for the fans and the team.
"The thing that's nice about Hartford is that we just go there and start playing some ball," Henderson said. "We don't have to go halfway across the country to play."
Link to the NCAA ladder: http://www.usatoday.com/sports/basketba/skm/skcmfs08.htm