After a week of waiting, the Belmont Bruins finally learned the details of their Big Dance invitation in front of a packed Beaman Student Life Center Sunday evening.
The Bruins, a No. 13 seed in the Southeast Region, will play the Wisconsin Badgers Thursday night in Tuscon, Ariz. The game will be at 6:27 CST on truTV.
Hundreds of fans in the Beaman were ecstatic when they saw the matchup and were then featured on CBS’s national selection special.
The location in Arizona provides the Bruins a chance to play the Badgers at a legitimately neutral site.
“There aren’t a lot of Bruin fans in Tuscon — or Badger fans probably,” head coach Rick Byrd said. “It’s always good when you can play a quality team somewhere other than their home floor.”
For the Bruins, it will be business as usual before they make the 1600-plus mile trek to Tuscon this week, senior Jordan Campbell said.
“We’re going to focus on the game and go in, like every game this season, expecting to win. We just need to go focus and practice,” he said.
Byrd said there won’t be any gimmicks in practices or preparations before then. “It will be just like the first scrimmage we had this season.”
Even with this mentality, the team is coming into the tournament with more confidence than many think any Belmont team has had.
“This year, it’s a little more than being happy we’re in the tournament,” said senior Jon House. “There’s definitely a buzz going around our team and on campus. We’re going into the tournament looking to be competitive and looking to win.”
Byrd even made a bold prediction to hundreds of fans at the Beaman before the brackets were unveiled.
“Hopefully, we’ll have another one of these parties when we go to the Sweet 16 next week,” he said.
The team feels the NCAA selection committee gave the Bruins a seed they deserved, said House. Their No. 13 seed is the highest any Atlantic Sun team has had since 2001, when the Georgia State Bulldogs defeated Wisconsin in the first round.
“This is one of the best seasons Belmont’s had in a long time,” sophomore Ian Clark said. “It’s a great feeling knowing that all out hard work is paying off.”
The Bruins’ matchup with Wisconsin will be a challenge. The Badgers (23-8) defeated then and current No. 1, Ohio State, earlier this season at home. Their ability not to make turnovers, the best in the nation, will be an interesting matchup for the Bruins, who are second in the nation in turnovers forced.
On the other hand, the Badgers lost their last two games, including a puzzling 36-33 loss to Penn State (19-14) last week in the lowest-scoring game in the 14 years of the Big Ten tournament.
“They really take care of the ball. They really execute. They shoot great. They’re going to be hard to guard because they run their stuff so good,” Byrd said.