by Scott Selheimer
March 16, 2014, NEWARK, Del. (ISN) – The University of Delaware’s journey back to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament has been a long one. And so will the trip to actually play the game.
The Colonial Athletic Association champion Blue Hens found out their NCAA destination Sunday night and Delaware is headed across the country to Spokane, Wash. to take on Big 10 champion Michigan State in the second round this Thursday, Mar. 20. The game time will be announced on Monday.
A crowd of well over 500 exuberant Delaware students and fans packed the Carpenter Sports Building for the NCAA Watch Party and had to endure a long wait until the final segment of the live CBS TV announcement. When Delaware’s name finally came up beside Michigan State in the East Region, a roar went up throughout the arena.
The No. 13 seed Blue Hens (25-9), riding a five-game win streak, are headed back to the NCAA Tournament for the fifth time in school history but for the first time since the 1998-99 campaign. Delaware will take on a Michigan State team that is a perennial NCAA championship contender and captured national titles in 1979 and 2000.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for us to be back in the NCAA Tournament,” said eighth-year Blue Hen head coach Monté Ross, the CAA Coach of the Year. “Playing a tournament-tested team like Michigan State with a Hall of Fame caliber coach in Tom Izzo is an exciting opportunity for our program. We will embrace that opportunity and will be ready for the challenge.”
Also playing in the Spokane first round games on Thursday will be No. 5 seed Cincinnati (27-6) taking on No. 12 Harvard (26-4), No. 5 Oklahoma (23-9) facing No. 12 North Dakota State (25-6), and No. 4 San Diego State (29-4) facing No. 13 New Mexico State (29-7).
The Spartans, who finished second in the Big Ten regular season standings with a 12-6 conference mark, held the top spot in both the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches Polls for three weeks in the early portion of the season, and is ranked No. 22 in this week’s polls.
Gary Harris leads the Spartans by averaging 17.1 points per game, while Adreian Payne has added 15.8 points and 7.4 rebounds per contest. Keith Appling chips in with 12.3 points per game to go with a team-high 144 assists, while Branden Dawson is the fourth Spartan averaging double figures with 10.4 points while grabbing a team-best 8.3 boards per game.
Delaware is paced by senior guard Devon Saddler, the third leading active scorer in Division I who leads the Blue Hens with 19.7 points per game. Davon Usher, a first team All-CAA selection along with Saddler, is averaging 19.4 points per contest, while CAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player Jarvis Threatt is contributing 18.1 points to go with 139 assists.
Senior Carl Baptiste is averaging 11.3 points and a team-high 8.0 rebounds per game for the Blue Hens, while junior Kyle Anderson is the fifth Blue Hen averaging double figures at 11.0 points per contest. Delaware has won five consecutive games, including Monday’s pulsating 75-74 last second win over William & Mary in the CAA Tournament final in Baltimore.
Thursday’s game will be the first ever meeting between Delaware and Michigan State. The Blue Hens and Spartans faced off in the first round of the 2007 Women’s Basketball Tournament in East Lansing, Mich.