SALT LAKE CITY — Moments after winning the Big Sky championship on Saturday, the Weber State Wildcats didn’t care about the whens, wheres or whoms of the NCAA tournament.
They were mostly thinking about the whats.
“We goin’ dancing,” shouted star player Davion Berry as he circled the court, looking for a place to land. “We goin’ dancing.”
Heaven knows it wasn’t an original quote. That line has been repeated by dozens of teams since Sunday’s bracket was announced. The only schools that don’t really get into it are the ones that are there every year.
For everybody else, it’s a trip.
This is March Madness, 2014 and 2013 1997 1980, etc. It’s the only month when the little guys are thinking they’re big guys. And the big guys are just thinking they can’t look past teams like Weber State.
So the Wildcats are one of the small teams hoping to make a splash. They’re matched against the Arizona Wildcats, a No. 1 seed, on Friday in San Diego. Odds of Weber winning: great, if you also bet on “Santa with Muscles” winning an Oscar.
A No. 16-seeded team has never beaten a No.1 seed.
“I guarantee one thing,” Weber coach Randy Rahe told reporters on Sunday. “The Wildcats are going to win.”
Rahe is one of those fresh faces that appears during tournament time. Much of the field is made of the Mike Krzyzewskis of the world. They talk but don’t say a lot. To Krzyzewski, winning the national championship is the goal. First-day madness and dancing are for little guys.
Most years Duke could sneeze its way into the Final Four. Then there are the schools just glad to be included.
“I’m proud of these guys,” Rahe said. “I’m happy for the administration, I’m happy for these kids, I’m happy for the community.”
Truthfully, it’s the Weber States that give the tournament flavor. While the field isn’t made up of all the best teams, it’s close. Some say the tourney should admit nobody below an RPI rating of 100. But to do that would ruin the fun of saying this kind of thing to co-workers: “I had a feeling about Coastal Carolina.”
So now comes the hard part for Weber.
The small Wildcats are facing a team that could win the championship. The big Wildcats lost in the Pac-12 championship to UCLA, but that should only serve to help them focus. The little Wildcats?
It’s a trip to Disneyland.
Arizona has the Pac-12 player of the year, freshman of the year and coach of the year. It also has the resume of the year, which includes the best defense in America.
The big Wildcats have been to the NCAA tournament 31 times, including four Final Four appearances and one championship. The little Wildcats now have an impressive list of 15 appearances, but haven’t been there for seven years; haven’t won more than one game since 1969.
“No words can explain the feeling I have right now,” Weber center Kyle Tresnak said on Saturday, before again adding, “I just can’t explain it.
Also hard to explain: why Americans love underdogs so much.
“We’re playing pretty good, that’s a good sign,” Rahe said on Saturday. “We’ve got a lot of confidence, a lot momentum. We’re excited to find out who we play and where we play, but to be honest with you, I couldn’t care less who it is, where it is — it doesn’t matter.”8 comments on this story
OK, it matters today.
Many point out that Weber is unaccustomed to facing the kind of size and athleticism Arizona presents. True, but who isn’t?
“I’m always a firm believer that if you just keep working, stay humble and stay hungry, that a lot will come back to you,” Rahe said.
Humility shouldn’t be a problem on Friday.
So Weber should just enjoy the reward it earned.
Meanwhile, America should enjoy Weber State.
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