After drawing a match-up with the Duke Blue Devils in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Sunday, the Rams led a wild celebration in the McGraw Athletic Center.
It being the first time the Rams made the field of 64 since 1990, there was cause to celebrate. But Monday, the reality of playing against the juggernaut that is the Duke basketball program set in for the CSU coaches and players.
“We’re excited about playing in the tournament, but we’re not so excited about playing Duke,” Rams’ head coach Dale Layer said. “But that’s where we are and we’ll make the best of it.”
Duke’s history in the NCAA Tournament is that of legend, stacked with great plays and great players. The Blue Devils have made 25 tournament appearances, posting a 73-22 record with three championships. By comparison, the Rams have made only seven tournament appearances with a 3-8 record. The furthest a CSU team has ever advanced in the tournament is the Elite Eight in 1969, but that was when the tournament was limited to only 16 teams.
“We know no one is expecting us to win,” forward Ronnie Clark said. “We’re looking at it like any other game and we’re not going to get caught up in all the hoopla.”
As the No.14 seed, the Rams face Duke as the No. 3 seed in the West Region. Since the tournament was expanded to 64 teams in 1985, a 14 seed has defeated a 3 seed only 13 times, most recently when Weber State defeated North Carolina 76-74 in 1999. The furthest a 14 seed has advanced in the tournament is the Sweet Sixteen with Tennessee-Chattanooga accomplishing that feat in1997 and Cleveland State in 1986.
“Now it’s all hitting home,” center Matt Nelson said. “We’re playing Duke and none of us have been here before. We’re just going to enjoy it.”
Nelson, still recovering from the lacerated left eye he suffered in the Mountain West Conference championship game Saturday, will likely be the most difficult match-up for the Blue Devils.
“It’s just a little sore,” Nelson said of his eye. “But I can see fine.”
One thing the Rams do have going for them is the fact the game will be held at Utah’s Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City, a place where CSU has already won this season. Besides the Ram fans that make the trip to Utah, CSU players and coaches are counting on some support from other Mountain West fans in Utah.
“It’s great we’re in a city that is a Mountain West city,” Layer said. “I think we won over a few fans in the conference tournament so I’m hopeful they’ll rally around us.”