GREENSBORO, N.C. -- It’s a dream matchup nobody would’ve believed just a week ago; UNC-Greensboro versus Syracuse. Yet when both teams fell just short of making the field of 68 in the NCAA basketball tournament, the National Invitational Tournament jumped on the chance to pit the teams against each other.
It was just last week that Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said there was no value in playing the ACC tournament in Greensboro. That set off a social media firestorm and, unknown at the time, set up the most unlikely of pairings for the NIT.
The 32-team NIT will wrap up in Madison Square Garden in New York City but first the UNCG team will head to Syracuse.
The team boarded buses this morning for a ride to the airport in front of a nice-sized crowd of students, faculty and alumni.
UNCG Chancellor Franklin Gilliam hit the nail on the head.
“I suspect this is the most talked about 1 versus 8 game in the history of the NIT,” Gilliam said.
The matchup of UNCG versus Syracuse is an epic win for the university, Greensboro and the NIT even before the team heads north.
“It’s interesting the NIT selection committee pairing us up after those comments,” said UNCG head coach Wes Miller.
“It’s pretty clear that the NIT selection committee has a pretty twisted sense of humor,” Gilliam said.
For those in the crowd, the word of the day was karma.
“It’s about to bite Jim Boeheim in the butt,” said Chad Cheek, a UNCG alum.
For players like Diante Baldwin, a Greensboro native, it’s a crazy turn of events.
“I couldn’t have imagined this scenario last week. I was hoping we’d be in the NCAA tournament but since we didn’t make it and this game is being a big headline, it makes up for it a little bit,” said Baldwin, adding, “I didn’t really like those comments about Greensboro and talking junk about the city I grew up in so we’ll see what we can do about that.”
“We all took those comments to heart, I’m a Greensboro native and I took those comments to heart,” Miller said. “Deep down we believe in the city of Greensboro and we believe this is a great place for college basketball.”
Miller says he told the them just play hard and have fun.
“Just to stay in the moment, they’ve played together all year and play one possession at a time, that’s what we’ve preached from day one and we’ll continue to do that.”
And one last bit of hope from Gilliam.
“And you never know, on any given night, the shots can fall for you.”