At this point, anyone with even a passing interest in the NCAA Tournament knows the history: A 16th seed has never knocked off a No. 1.
Will the glass slipper finally fit the ultimate Cinderella on Thursday inside KeyBank Center? Mount St. Mary’s is eager to find out.
The Mountaineers, fresh off their victory Tuesday over New Orleans in a First Four game, face the daunting task that is No. 1 overall seed and defending national champion Villanova (7:10 p.m., CBS).
Bring it on, the Mountaineers said Wednesday.
“I mean, records are meant to be broken,” guard Junior Robinson said. “We have the confidence going into this game, that if we take care of things the way we’re supposed to and handle ourselves in the manner that we can, why not?”
“Everything to gain and nothing to lose,” forward Chris Wray added.
Undoubtedly, any pressure that exists Thursday will belong solely to Villanova.
“You’re a one seed, and so you’re supposed to win it if you’re the one seed, right?” Wildcats coach Jay Wright said. “It’s all about how you handle that.”
Should the unimaginable start to look possible Thursday – i.e., the Mountaineers threaten an upset – Wright knows an entire arena full of basketball fans will become the biggest Mount St. Mary’s supporters on the planet. Having never happened before, the 16-over-1 upset is that eagerly anticipated.
Wright has seen that before – in his own home.
“We played Monmouth in the Wells Fargo Center where we play our home games. They were a 16 seed and they made a run on us and the whole building turned on us,” he recalled Wednesday, going back to 2006. “It was like a Monmouth home game in our arena. I was shocked. I had never experienced that. We were No. 1 seed and everyone was going for the underdog. That's a crazy kind of pressure especially when you're on your home court. You know those teams, they can get it going and they put game pressure on you when you're a one seed. You got to be ready for it.”
When they started the season 1-11, few could have ever imagined the Mountaineers getting the opportunity they will have Thursday night. But coach Jamion Christian structured his team’s schedule that way for a reason.
“I think pressure is what you put on yourself,” he said. “We've tried to do a great job of doing that in practice every single day, so I don't know if that really exists in our world. We're going to go play freely because that's how we play.
“I have such a great belief in the guys we have on our roster. We've challenged ourselves to the highest levels we could this season, playing six NCAA Tournament teams, playing on the road against some of the very best. You have to believe at some point that your preparation has you ready for the moment.”
Mount St. Mary’s is 1-28 all time against ranked opponents, including 0-3 this season. The Wildcats, at 31-3, come into the game No. 1 in the country.
“When that ball goes up tomorrow, it won't matter if they're national champions or not,” Christian said. “That's the reality of it. The team that puts together the best game plan and the team that follows it best will have the best opportunity to win. They've done that 30-plus times this year. That's the challenge that it is.”