DAYTON, Ohio (CBSNewYork/AP) — 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 on Tuesday night — 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 on Monday. “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 championship teams.
But he said he has never even considered what it would be like to take his Jaspers up against the Wildcats.
“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 who 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.”
Here are five things to watch in the First Four game:
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 played on relatively even terms with No. 4-seeded Louisville in the second round before falling 71-64.
“The experience is definitely to our advantage,” said 6-foot-10 Ashton Pankey, who had 16 points in just 20 minutes against the Cardinals. “We’ve been here before.”
CARRYING THE BANNER
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 in the heart of the schedule, and closed the regular season just 12-17. Then they won their last four games 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 at 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,” said Deron Powers, who averages 10.5 points a game. “You can’t really tell from that record what kind of team we have.”
A lot has happened quickly for Manhattan. Their name was among the first mentioned when the brackets were revealed. Then the team had a practice, watched film, went over a preliminary scouting report on Hampton and boarded a flight to Dayton, Ohio, on Monday morning.
“Last year, it took us a while to get picked,” point guard RaShawn Stores said. “This year it happened fast.”
Hampton, making its fifth trip to the NCAA Tournament, will most likely be without its best player, 6-8 Dwight Meikle. He was sidelined in the opener of the MEAC Tournament.
“He wants to play, but the thing is going to be how effective he can be,” Joyner said.
HISTORY ON THEIR SIDE
Maybe Kentucky should take either team seriously. After all, each has been a part of some memorable NCAA headlines over the years.
No. 15-seeded Hampton shocked second-seeded Iowa State 58-57 in the 2001 tournament’s first round in Boise, Idaho, when Tarvis Williams hit a 4-footer with 6.9 seconds left.
The Jaspers, seeded 12th, rocked No. 5 Florida 75-60 in the 2004 first round, and also pinned fourth-seeded Oklahoma with a 77-67 loss in the first round in 1995.
“There’s no such thing as a bad seed or a bad draw this time of year,” Masiello said Sunday night on WFAN radio. “Just the fact that we’re in the NCAA Tournament again this year, I couldn’t be any happier.”
(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)