Even if the balloons on the floor had been filled with helium, they would have had to compete for air space with the Siena Saints, who were sky-high after getting a No. 13 seed in the NCAA tournament on Sunday.
Siena (22-10) will play No. 4 Vanderbilt (26-7) in the first round of the Midwest Regional at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Fla., on Friday. Game time is 7:20 p.m., and Vanderbilt has been established as an eight-point favorite.
The Saints watched the CBS Selection Show on campus at the Sarazen Student Union, which became the site of a raucous celebration among about 300 fans in the room when Siena was posted on the brackets. CBS analyst Seth Davis wasted no time predicting that the Saints would be a dangerous opponent for the Commodores, who reached the Sweet 16 last year.
NCAA men’s basketball tournament bracket
To view an updated bracket for the NCAA men’s Division I basketball tournament, click here.
“It’s a big relief. Looking at bracketology, it was switching up every other hour,” sophomore forward Alex Franklin said. “To finally see it and get it done makes me real happy.”
“I wanted to go to D.C. because that’s where I’m from, but it really didn’t matter,” junior Kenny Hasbrouck said. “I could’ve gone to Nebraska and still had fun. I just want to play in the NCAA tournament.”
“Tampa, nice. Florida, nice,” senior guard Tay Fisher said. “It really didn’t matter where they put us, though.”
This will be Siena’s fourth appearance in the NCAA tournament since going to Division I, and the first since 2002, when the Saints beat Alcorn State in the play-in game and lost in the first round to eventual national champion Maryland.
A slim favorite to win the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in a preseason coaches poll, the Saints beat Rider in the MAAC tournament championship game last Monday and are riding a six-game winning streak going into the NCAAs.
Niagara, the MAAC tournament champion last year, was sent to the play-in game in 2007.
Siena was a No. 14 in 1989 when it upset Stanford in the first round.
“A lot of people get more hung up on seeds than we do,” head coach Fran McCaffery said. “The thing that I am happy about is I think it’s a measure of respect for our body of work this year.
“But once the teams and the seeds are announced, everybody’s 0-0, and whether you’re a 12 or 13 or 14, you’re going to have to play a really good team.
I felt like we deserved at least a 13. It’s good not only for our program, but for our league, because last year, I didn’t think Niagara deserved a 16.”
“People think of it as being an unlucky number, but after Friday, maybe we can change their minds about it,” Fisher said.
The Siena-Vanderbilt winner will face the Clemson-Villanova winner in the second round Sunday.
The other two first-round games in Tampa are Drake-Western Kentucky and Connecticut-San Diego from the West Region.
Siena comes into the game riding a wave of confidence in facing the Kevin Stallings-coached Commodores, who won their first 17 games. Vanderbilt lost to Tennessee in January, 80-60, but knocked off the Volunteers, 72-69, in late February, right after Tennessee had reached No. 1 in The Associated Press rankings.
McCaffery said he didn’t know much about Vanderbilt and withheld comment about the Commodores until today, after the Siena coaches had a chance to watch video.
Vanderbilt’s top two players are senior Shan Foster (6-foot-6, 205 pounds) and freshman center Andrew Ogilvy (6-11, 250), a native of Sydney, Australia. Foster, who has started all but 10 games as a freshman during his four years, is averaging 20.5 points per game and is shooting 47.3 percent from three-point range. Ogilvy is averaging 17.0 points and 6.8 rebounds per game.
One of Stallings’ assistant coaches is former New York Mr. Basketball King Rice, who played point guard at North Carolina.
“I’ve watched a few of their games,” center Josh Duell of Scotia said. “I saw them beat Tennessee. I know they’ve got a great shooter and a great big man, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens during the game, but we’re not scared, we’re ready to go out there and we’re ready to play.”
“We have to go out and fight every game like it’s our last, and that’s what we’re going to do,” Hasbrouck said.
“We have to go out there and be focused, and I’m pretty sure they’re saying the same thing about us,” Fisher said. “They probably don’t even know about us right now. People still spell Siena with two N’s like it’s a car. We’re going to get this right, though. We’re going to do the best we can and hopefully make a name for our program.”
Siena’s name is big enough for at least one analyst, Davis.
“I always liked Seth Davis,” McCaffery said, drawing laughter from several reporters. “For him to say that is truly a credit to our players. He’s watched our team, he knows we have good players. For him to say that makes me happy for them.”We played with a lot of pressure every night, because everybody knew we were picked first. So now he says we have a shot, and we’re going to have to play the way we have been lately.”