Like it or not, Stony Brook’s Seawolves were fitted for Cinderella’s slipper when the NCAA Selection Committee slotted them opposite Kentucky in an East Regional first-round game Thursday night in Des Moines, Iowa.
Tournament officials always swear story line is not a factor in arranging the bracket. But the chance to match the first-time NCAA participant with the quaint name against a hoops Goliath making its 55th appearance in an 9:40 EDT start, when it should draw a huge television rating, was too good to pass up.
“Is that the story line?” SBU coach Steve Pikiell asked Monday after practice. “We’ve embraced all the challenges . . . I hope our experience helps us. You’ve got to be poised. I mean, they have lottery picks, the best high school players in the country.
“Let’s put it this way: I didn’t put in one phone call to a kid who said, ‘Kentucky is recruiting me.’ . . . It’s great for a young university that’s been swinging at the fence here for a few years to get an opportunity to play the king of college basketball. That’s what Kentucky is.”
The elation that swept over Stony Brook on Saturday when the Seawolves captured the America East title and automatic NCAA bid could have been dampened when the daunting matchup was announced Sunday night. But they are embracing the moment. There was a phalanx of local television crews on hand Monday afternoon, and Pikiell was scheduled later for seven TV and radio interviews.
The prospect of facing a roster loaded with future NBA pros thrills the Seawolves. “They’re one of my favorite teams to watch because they’re so entertaining,” said Seawolves star Jameel Warney, who also was scheduled for an ESPN interview. “They’ve got one of the best defending guards in Tyler Ulis, a lottery pick in Jamal Murray and a great guard in Isaiah Briscoe. It’s a great matchup for all of us, and we’ll see what we do on Thursday.”
Stony Brook wing man Ahmad Walker, who will be tasked with alternating between guarding Murray’s all-around game and the slashing moves of Briscoe, was aglow. “What better way than to go up against one of the most prestigious institutions in basketball?” Walker asked. “They’re a team everyone dreams of playing. Especially coming from a small school like Stony Brook, to play a team like Kentucky is exciting.”
Greenlawn’s Lucas Woodhouse will alternate with Walker on Briscoe and Murray, and as Stony Brook’s top assist man, he has to find ways to get the ball to Warney in good spots to score. After sitting out last season as a transfer, Woodhouse said Pikiell told him last fall he’d be cutting down the nets, and here he is.
“I think it’s so cool,” Woodhouse said. “Growing up, you watch these [power] teams consistently winning national championships and making it to the Final Four, and now we’re facing off against one of those teams, the biggest name. It’s going to be fun for us, and we’re excited.”
Because of his speed, Carson Puriefoy III is most likely to draw the matchup against Ulis, a candidate for national player of the year. “It’s like a dream getting all this national attention, and it’s because of all the hard work we put in day in and day out,” Puriefoy said. “It really means a lot to us that we’re in this position to be able to play a great team like Kentucky.”
Earlier this season, Stony Brook played at Vanderbilt, which is one of three SEC teams in the NCAA tourney, and led by 10 points in the second half before losing in overtime. “We talked today about how we stood toe-to-toe with Vanderbilt,” Puriefoy said. “We think we can play with anybody in the country. We have all the pieces. We’ve just got to bring it together.”
Woodhouse agreed Vanderbilt was good preparation, but he added, “This is at a higher stage. It’s on CBS and everything. It’s just huge, and it’s going to be awesome. It’s a lifetime experience.”
There have been 25 No. 13 seeds who defeated No. 4 seeds in the first round since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985:
2013LaSalle 63,Kansas St. 61
2011Morehead St.62, Louisville 61
2010Murray St.66, Vanderbilt65
2009Cleveland St.84, Wake Forest69
2008Siena 83, Vanderbilt62
2008San Diego 70, UConn69 (OT)
2005Vermont60, Syracuse57 (OT)
2003Tulsa 84, Dayton71
2002UNC Wilmington 93,USC89 (OT)
2001Kent St.77, Indiana73
2001Indiana St.70, Oklahoma 68 (OT)
1999Oklahoma61, Arizona 60
1998Valparaiso70, Mississippi 69
1996Princeton 43,UCLA 41
1995Manhattan 77, Oklahoma67
1993Southern93, Georgia Tech78
1992SW Louisiana 87,Oklahoma83
1991Penn St. 74, UCLA69
1989Middle Tennessee97, Florida St. 83
1988Richmond72, Indiana 69
1987Xavier70, Missouri 69
1987Missouri St.65, Clemson 60