UNCG punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament last week, but now the Spartans officially know where they will be dancing. They will be the 13 seed in the West Region, taking on 2017 national runner up Gonzaga at 1:30 p.m. (ET) on Thursday in Boise, Idaho.
The team learned of their NCAA Tournament in a packed Selection Show viewing party in the EUC’s Cone Ballroom on Sunday evening.
Even during spring break, about 500 Spartan fans crowded into the ballroom to watch the (extremely drawn out) selection show; TBS experimented with a different format this year, showing first the bids before unveiling the bracket, significantly lengthening the duration of the show.
Still, the Spartan faithful showed no signs of fatigue and collectively exploded in cheer when UNCG’s matchup with the Bulldogs was finally revealed. Indeed, it was a special night in the EUC, especially for Lakina Massey, mother of sophomore guard Malik Massey.
“I’m a very proud parent. Very proud. I just can’t believe this. I can’t even describe it. We always knew (Malik) was a winner, though,” Massey said with a grin. “They’re all winners.”
The Masseys were not the only ones floored by UNCG’s success. Prior to this year, it had been 17 years since UNCG’s last appearance in the Big Dance. Everyone on the present team were just kids back then; enjoying the prestige of the NCAA Tournament is a new experience for them, and most everyone at UNCG, including sophomore Allison Schwiegeraht.
“It’s a new experience for everybody on campus right now, for the whole city,” Schwiegeraht said. “It’s really exciting.”
Even before the show itself started, the Cone Ballroom was abuzz with energy. Fans donning blue and gold beads chomped down on hotdogs and chicken fingers; kids jumped up and down in the aisles.
Displayed on massive screens was the replay of UNCG’s victory over ETSU in the SoCon Tournament final. The final buzzer was perfectly synced with the team’s arrival at the Ballroom, which was met with a monumental round of applause.
Once everyone was settled in, Spartan head coach Wes Miller took a moment to address the crowd.
“We are absolutely thrilled to be representing this University and this city in the NCAA Tournament,” Coach Miller said. “We’ve really felt the love this week. Even though it’s spring break and our students aren’t around, we’ve just really felt the love… And we cannot wait to see where we’re going!”
After Coach Miller shut off the microphone, things turned nostalgic. Nearly a dozen former players, including members of the 1996 and 2001 NCAA Tournament teams, from all over the world sent in short clips congratulating the team on their accomplishments. It was another reminder that the bonds formed by this University run deep, and they never run out.
Chosen by CBS as one of a number of nationally televised viewing parties, the cameras cut to the Ballroom when UNCG’s draw was shown. UNCG’s reaction was one of the loudest and most impassioned, an announcement to the rest of the field that these Spartans would fight tooth and nail from tip-off to the final buzzer.
Spartan fans were optimistic about the team’s placement. Schwiegeraht predicted a Sweet Sixteen appearance. Cameron, aged 9, clad in her favorite UNCG basketball jersey, thought that UNCG would win the whole thing. Certainly a hot take, but it’s impossible to say that she’s wrong. Anything can happen in this tournament.
Before the Spartans can worry about a Sweet 16 or even a national championship, they have to fly a few thousand miles to Boise and take on an extremely talented Gonzaga team. Coming off their eighth consecutive conference championship, it will essentially be a home game for the 30-4 Bulldogs.
Gonzaga enjoyed their best season in school history in 2017, losing to North Carolina in last season’s national championship. They lost almost all of their production from last year, but big men Jonathan Williams and Killian Tillie stepped into leadership roles and the Zags are in the midst of another stellar season.
On paper, Gonzaga arguably has the advantage at every position. UNCG will have to hit the three at a high rate and rely on their stout defense if they are going to win. You can see how it all plays out on March 15 at 1:30.