Washington State and Gonzaga were issued their road maps for the first round of the 2008 NCAA men’s basketball tournament Sunday afternoon, and their assigned routes – unlike last season when both teams were sent to Sacramento, Calif. – proved to be dramatically diverse.
The Cougars (24-8) were awarded a No. 4 seed in the East Region but afforded the luxury of staying out west to open the tournament with a Thursday matchup against 13th-seeded Winthrop (22-11) in the Pepsi Center in Denver.
GU (25-7) was given a No. 7 seed in the Midwest Region and shipped off to Raleigh, N.C., for a first-round matchup against 10th-seeded Davidson (26-6) in the RBC Center.
The WSU-Winthrop game tips off at 4:20 p.m. (PDT) on Thursday, with Friday’s GU-Davidson showdown scheduled to start at 9:25 a.m. (PDT).
Coaches and players from both schools met with the media after the brackets were announced Sunday afternoon and expressed little in the way of dissatisfaction over their first-round seedings, opponents or locations.
“I don’t get too preoccupied with seeding,” said WSU coach Tony Bennett, whose Cougars earned an at-large tournament berth for the second year in a row after finishing in a tie with Southern California for third place in the regular-season Pacific-10 Conference standings. “I loved what (former Indiana coach) Bobby Knight said yesterday: ‘Whatever seed you are is pretty insignificant. What it’s about is playing good basketball.’ “
GU coach Mark Few, who has his regular-season West Coast Conference champion Bulldogs playing in their 10th consecutive NCAA tournament echoed Bennett’s sentiments.
“We had us somewhere in the six through eight (seeds),” he said, “but seeding is really not that big a deal. If you’re not a (first-round) one or two, then you better put the hard hat on and strap everything up tight because it’s going to be a battle.”
GU’s senior forward David Pendergraft, who will be playing in his fourth NCAA tournament, said he had yet to discuss what to expect with freshman teammates Steven Gray and Austin Daye, who have played key roles for the Zags this season.
“I’m just kind of letting it soak in with them a little bit,” he said. “Then, when it comes to putting our hard hats on tomorrow, we’ll sit down and talk about it as a team. It’s the NCAA tournament, and it comes with a lot of emotion and fire, but I think those two will be able to handle it.
“They’re both really talented and ready go, and I’m not worried about them.”
As for drawing Davidson, which has won 22 straight games – the longest such streak in the nation – Pendergraft added, “There’s nothing you can change, so there are no regrets. You gotta beat six teams to achieve your ultimate goal, and this is just our first opponent.”