Monarchs to face Butler; Hampton draws Duke

Daily Press

Last season, Old Dominion won a first-round NCAA tournament game.

It was an impressive achievement, but the Monarchs left New Orleans feeling like they could have accomplished more after the high of their 51-50 win against Notre Dame faded in light of the disappointment of a 76-68 second-round loss to Baylor.

"I was probably as devastated after the Baylor loss as I've been in years, because I had such hope and belief in what we could do," Monarchs coach Blaine Taylor said.

ODU's chance to erase that memory will come Thursday, when the ninth-seeded Monarchs (27-6) take on eighth seed Butler (23-9) in the first round of this year's NCAA tournament in Washington, D.C.

"We're going in there to win," said senior forward Frank Hassell, who is averaging 15 points and 9.6 rebounds and has seven double-doubles in the last nine games for the Monarchs, winners of nine straight. "I expect to come out of there with some scratches and bruises and a smile on my face."

Four other state teams made the expanded 68-team field. Hampton (24-8), which beat Morgan State on Saturday for the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship, was seeded 16th and will play defending national champion Duke (30-4), the No. 1 seed in the West regional, in Friday's first round in Charlotte, N.C.

George Mason (26-5), the regular-season CAA champions, earned a No. 8 seed and will face No. 9 Villanova on Friday in the East regional, while Richmond (27-7) will play Vanderbilt on Thursday in the Southwest regional. VCU (23-11) got an at-large berth into one of four first-round games on Tuesday in Dayton, Ohio.

The Pirates are making their first NCAA appearance since 2006.

"It gives you a chance to measure your program and see where you are," Hampton coach Ed Joyner said. "We're going to go in there and scrap it up. We believe we can win."

Hampton is led by junior guards Darrion Pellum and Kwame Morgan, who combine to average 34 points per game. The Blue Devils boast the ACC player of the year in senior guard Nolan Smith, averaging more than 21 points per game, and sharpshooter Seth Curry.

"We have some guards that can score, and they have some guards that can score," Joyner said. "They have guards that have won a national championship. You're not going to do anything to surprise them. You're not going to do anything to rattle them."

At ODU, a few hundred fans gathered with the team and coaches to watch the NCAA selection show. They erupted into cheers as the Monarchs' NCAA fate was revealed, even though some prognosticators had projected the two-time Colonial Athletic Conference tournament champions, 20th in the latest RPI, as high as a fifth seed.

"I was definitely hoping for a higher seed, but the fact that we got a 9 seed in D.C. kind of makes up for that fact," said senior forward Keyon Carter. "Being a 9 seed in D.C. is better than being a 7 seed anywhere else. The Monarch fans are going to come out and flood the Verizon Center."

The winner of the ODU-Butler game will, in all likelihood, face top-seeded Pitt in the Southeast region. The Panthers are second in the nation with a plus-10.4 rebounding margin. The Monarchs are first at plus-12.2.

"I'll take them," Carter said.

Like Taylor, Carter will also take the memory of the Baylor game, and the lessons it taught him, into this year's tournament.

"It was more the way the Baylor game unfolded," said Carter, whose Monarchs were seeded 11th in 2010. "They jumped out on us, but they were a 3 seed, and we outplayed them in the second half. That let us know that we can play with anybody in the country."

Butler, which has also won nine games in a row, is led by 6-foot-8, 230-pound senior forward Matt Howard, averaging 16.7 points and 7.8 rebounds.

The Monarchs have met the Bulldogs, the national runners-up last season, once before, losing 57-46 in the first round of the 2007 NCAA tournament. That season, the Bulldogs went on to beat Maryland and Florida on their way to the Sweet 16.

"They're one of a half dozen or a handful of teams that have taken non-BCS basketball to a different level," Taylor said.

With another first-round win, and an even deeper postseason push, the Monarchs could join that club.

"We definitely plan on winning more than one game," Carter said. "(We) know that no matter what the jersey says on our opponents, we can play with them. We don't need any miracles to win."

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad