Feelings of anticipation and enthusiasm reigned among more than 200 people at Café 1853 in Manhattan College.
But with a single announcement, those feelings quickly turned into disbelief, anguish and frustration.
The Manhattan College men’s basketball team, joined by friends, family and alumni, found out its NCAA Tournament fate on Selection Sunday; a play-in game as a 16-seed against Hampton, with the winner facing the number one overall seed in the tournament, the Kentucky Wildcats.
Now get why the sudden range of emotions?
The last thing the Jaspers expected, especially coming off last season where they reached the NCAA Tournament, and this season where they finished with a decent 19-13 record, was to wind up as a 16-seed and even worse, the 67th ranked team out of the 68 teams who reached the tournament.
“I honestly thought we were going to get a 15 [seed], but we got a 16,” Donovan Kates said. “So we’re just going to go to Dayton, win a game, and then we’ll see what happens after that.”
But what will happen after that, is a matchup against the undefeated Wildcats. Granted, as long as the Jaspers can defeat a Hampton team that has won eight of its last 11, including four in a row to win the MEAC title.
For now, a potential meeting against the 34-0 Kentucky Wildcats is on the back burner. All the Jaspers say they are worried about is a matchup against Hampton, Tuesday night in Dayton.
“I’m a little surprised about the play-in,” head coach Steve Masiello said. “But there’s nothing I can do about it. So we have roll our sleeves up and get ready to work.”
“We have to play Hampton, so I’m not going to look past them,” Emmy Andujar said. “Obviously, they did something right to get into the tournament, so obviously they’re a good team. We just have to prepare for them on Tuesday.”
The turnaround will be quick, as Manhattan will have less than 48 hours to prepare for the biggest game of its season, but having already been to an NCAA Tournament last season, Masiello thinks will take away some of the stage fright his players might get.
“Last year when you go, it’s kind of all unicorns and beautiful things and you know, this is great,” Masiello said about reaching the tournament last season. “Now, it’s like ‘ok that’s great, we got that. We’ve been through that.’
“We had our first date. Now we want to get to know you. Now we want to see what this is about.”
The mentality the Jaspers took after the announcement was the right one. They were visibly upset at first, but after a few minutes, stopped dwelling on it and shifted their focus to winning a game in the NCAA Tournament. Even if it is a play-in game.
“Any win we’re going to take,” Ashton Pankey said. “We’re extremely happy to be here. We’re not going out there to lose. We want to go out there to win. But at the end of the day we’re happy to be here two years in a row. I think that says a lot about our program.”