After defeating Lehigh University 72-57 in the opening round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament Tuesday night in Dayton, Ohio, the Rattlers earned the 16th seed in the St. Louis Region. The team will now face the tournament’s top seeded University of Kentucky Wildcats today at 7:10 p.m. in Columbus, Ohio in the first round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
The Wildcats are lead by seniors Gerald Fitch and Erik Daniels and super sophomore Kelenna Azubuike. Fitch leads a balanced offensive attack with 15.8 points and four rebounds a game, while Daniels chips in with 14 and six. Although Fitch leads the Wildcats in scoring, head coach Tubby Smith has experimented with bringing him off the bench during the Southeastern Conference tournament.
“The coach has to decide what makes the team play better and it worked,” Fitch told ESPN after last Saturday’s 78-63 victory over South Carolina in the SEC semi-finals.
Once again, the Wildcats are streaking at the right time of year.
Last season they ended the regular season with a magical 23 game winning streak, this year the winning streak is only nine games but just as impressive.
During their rise to the top, Kentucky has beaten opponents by an average of nearly 16 points a game, while shooting 45 percent from the field. In order for the Rattlers to have a chance against a potent and balanced Kentucky offense, they must keep the Wildcat shooting percentage closer to the 29 percent they held Lehigh to.
FAMU was able to beat a bigger Lehigh team Tuesday night with their athleticism, an advantage they will not have this evening. In their game against the Mountain Hawks, the Rattlers only shot 33 percent from the field, something that must be improved upon if they are going to upset the tournament’s top seed. The Rattlers must also replicate the rebounding effort they put forth Tuesday night, this time against a bigger and much more physical Kentucky team.
“A 16 (seed) upset over a one (seed) is going to be tough,” head coach Mike Gillespie Sr. told the Dayton Daily News after Tuesday night’s historic victory.
To call this task tough would be an understatement. Since the NCAA tournament has expanded to 64 teams in 1985 no number one seed has ever lost in the first round, the closest call coming in 1989 when Princeton lost 50-49 to an Alonzo Mourning-led Georgetown team.
One advantage the Rattlers will have over a Kentucky squad that only has six players averaging more than ten minutes a game will be depth.
“We’ve always felt like we’re a pretty deep team. We play an up-tempo game so everyone will have to play,” junior guard Tony Tate told a media day audience Monday in Dayton.
In an interview at the NCAA’s media day, Gillespie expressed his gratitude for this opportunity, which began when he became the Rattlers head basketball coach in 2001.
“I was blessed to be able to get the job and all I’ve tried to do is resurrect this program back to some greatness,” Gillespie said.
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