After winning second straight MAAC championship, Manhattan's NCAA Tournament experience begins on Tuesday, when Jaspers will face MEAC champion Hampton. (Photo courtesy of Vincent Simone via Big Apple Buckets)
It did not take long for Manhattan to learn its NCAA Tournament fate.
One year removed from being able to celebrate halfway through the selection show when the Jaspers drew Louisville last March, there was no such wait this time around, as Manhattan was the second team announced by Greg Gumbel on CBS, beginning their second straight experience in the field of 68 against Hampton University on Tuesday evening in Dayton.
"I'm a little surprised about the play-in," head coach Steve Masiello admitted upon seeing the Jaspers slotted next to the MEAC champion Pirates, "but there's nothing we can do about it. You've just got to roll your sleeves up, and get ready to go to work."
Should Manhattan defeat Hampton on Tuesday in their First Four matchup, the Jaspers would then position themselves to pull off what would be a titanic upset, as they would advance to meet undefeated Kentucky, the No. 1 overall seed in this year's field by virtue of their 34-0 record. But before anyone looks ahead to Thursday in Louisville, the group of players that has been down this road before is not getting caught up in a world of what-ifs.
"They're a great team," senior guard Donovan Kates said of Hampton, who at 16-17, plays a deceptively strong defense that yields only 68 points per game, and has four players averaging 10 or more points per contest. "Take nothing from them, but we're not looking ahead at all."
While the reaction inside Manhattan's student center on campus was one of stunned disbelief, the Jaspers' coach tried his best to put a positive spin on what many analysts and fans alike might consider a cruel fate.
"Everything about this is good," Masiello emphatically stated. "There's no negative about it, no matter how anyone wants to spin it. You're part of the NCAA Tournament. Right now, there's probably about 320 teams that are devastated, so I'm not going to sit here and complain, or be upset about my seed or 'I'm in a play-in game,' or any of that stuff. I'm going to make the best of it, have fun with it, enjoy it, and prepare like I would any other game."