DAYTON, Ohio -- Like many college hoops fans, Hampton coach Edward Joyner Jr. has thought about playing mighty Kentucky.
The thing is, Joyner's team -- if it can find a way to knock off Manhattan in a First Four game tonight -- will get its chance to play the intimidating Wildcats in the NCAAs on Thursday in Louisville.
"I'm going to give you the truthful answer -- I believe everybody has thought about that," Joyner said with a laugh yesterday. "I'd say 1 percent of me has thought about it. And I say [if we do], I'd probably have Jesus on speed dial. I hope he's hot that night, if we play."
Manhattan's coach knows more than a little about Kentucky. Steve Masiello was a walk-on for Rick Pitino with the Wildcats and was a part of two national title teams.
But he said he has never even considered what it would be like to coach his Jaspers against Kentucky.
"It's the furthest thing from my mind, maybe because I lived it," Masiello said. "Hypothetically, if there was another 1 [seed] waiting for Hampton or us, maybe I would have. But because it's them, it's the last thing I'll think about."
For two teams that had to win their conference tournament just to get into the NCAA field, winning a game in the tournament is enough of a challenge. But that doesn't mean everyone -- coaches, players, fans -- can't daydream.
"Actually, it's funny. We were just talking about it," said Reginald Johnson, Hampton's leading scorer (11.6 ppg). "We can't keep talking about Kentucky. We have to play through Manhattan first. So it's a little bit on our minds, but mainly we're just focusing on Manhattan and what we have to do."
Hampton (16-17) is the 24th team to make the NCAA Tournament field with a losing record. The Pirates got off to a 1-5 start, won only two of 10 games during one span, and closed the season at 12-17. Then they won their last four to capture the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament title and an NCAA berth.
A team with a sub-.500 record has won in the NCAAs in two of the past three years -- Western Kentucky was 15-18 in 2012 and won in the First Four, as did Cal Poly a year ago when it came in at 13-19.
The Pirates feel they have something to prove. "We get kind of a bad rep for our record this year," Deron Powers said. "You can't really tell from that record what kind of team we have."
Manhattan (19-13), which also started 1-5, followed a similar script. It won its last four to grab the Metro Atlantic Tournament title and an eighth NCAA trip. A year ago, the Jaspers almost beat No. 4-seeded Louisville in the second round before falling 71-64. "The experience is definitely to our advantage," Ashton Pankey said. "We've been here before."
A lot has happened quickly for Manhattan. Its name was among the first mentioned when the brackets were revealed. Then the team had a practice, watched video, went over a preliminary scouting report on Hampton and boarded a flight to Dayton yesterday morning.
"Last year, it took us a while to get picked," RaShawn Stores said. "This year, it happened fast."