The euphoria surrounding Thursday's win over Washington State has been pushed aside. There's still more steps to take.
This afternoon, the Canisius College basketball team will do what no Griff team has done since 1963 -- head to New York City for the National Invitation Tournament Final Four.
Coach John Beilein's club meets Virginia Tech in Monday's first semifinal at 7 p.m. in Madison Square Garden.
"Right now the way we're playing, we can play with any team in the country," said Canisius forward Craig Wise. "We're going into it to win. We're not happy just to play there. If that's the case, we shouldn't have played (Washington State). We want to win the whole thing."
Following the Canisius-Tech matchup, Marquette will play Penn State at about 9 p.m. Both of the games will be televised by ESPN. The winners play for the championship Wednesday night at 8:30; the losers meet in the consolation game that day at 6:30 p.m. ESPN will air only the championship game.
The Griffs (21-12) will hold their final practice in Buffalo at 10:30 a.m. today in the Koessler Center. They will then take a 1:30 p.m. flight to New York City and practice again at 6 p.m. at Fordham University in the Bronx, the school of former Canisius coach Nick Macarchuk.
Beilein will miss the morning practice because he will take part in a news conference for the four head coaches today at noon at the Marriott Marquis, the tournament headquarters.
This will be the second NIT Final Four appearance for Canisius, Virginia Tech and Penn State. Marquette will be playing in the semifinals for the fourth time, but the first since 1970.
The Griffs' lone appearance was in 1963, when a team led by Bill O'Connor, Tony Gennari and Tom Chester finished second. The Griffs beat Villanova in the semifinals, 61-46, but lost to Providence in the championship game, 81-66. Current Georgetown coach John Thompson scored 15 points in that game, which was played before a Garden crowd of 18,499.
For perspective, consider that the Griffs had played a total of six NIT games prior to this year and are guaranteed of playing five this year alone.
Virginia Tech won the title in 1973 with a 92-91 overtime victory over Notre Dame. Marquette was the 1970 champion after beating St. John's, 65-53.
None of them have been in the Final Four since Penn State finished third in 1990. Tech was a third-place finisher in 1984, while Marquette's last appearance was the 1970 team.
This will be Canisius' first contest in New York's famed arena since losing to Manhattan and Fairfield in a 1976 Christmas tournament. Even though there's likely to be some early-game jitters, one school of thought in the Canisius camp is that the Griffs might be more relaxed than any other time in the tournament because the tough part -- simply getting to the Garden -- is over.
"It's been relaxed from the start and I think that's why we've been winning games," said guard Chris Young. "We're just playing basketball. Coach (Beilein) told us we're paying a little less attention to scouting reports than in the regular season and just going out to play."
Virginia Tech (23-10) is a Metro Conference team that will be joining St. Bonaventure in the Atlantic 10 next season. The Hokies, from Blacksburg, Va., should be instant A-10 contenders next season because they have no seniors on their roster.
The Hokies were left out of the NCAA Tournament after losing to Southern Mississippi in the Metro semifinals. They had the highest Ratings Percentage Index (38th) of any team not to make the field.
Tech definitely would have made the field had it defeated Virginia in a non-conference game the last week of the regular season. But the Cavaliers, who will be playing Arkansas today in the NCAA Midwest Regional final, eked out a 63-62 win and Tech was shunned by the committee.
"I watched them play on TV (in Wednesday night's 64-61 quarterfinal win over New Mexico State) and they're a talented team," said Griff center Micheal Meeks. "It's going to be another challenge. We have a nothing-to-lose attitude. Basically, we have the same confidence we've had all year. Now with the wins, we also know what we have to do, especially on defense."
Tech is led by 6-foot-7 sophomore forward Ace Custis, who averages 16 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. Three other starters score in double figures -- 6-6 Shawn Smith (15.9), 6-2 guard Damon Waitlington (13.7) and 6-3 guard Shawn Good (12.8). Those four all average at least 34 minutes and the Hokies rarely play more than seven players in a game.
Virginia Tech, a sensational defensive team, held opponents to 40.9 percent from the field and just 67.6 points per game.