College Sports

All my alma mater needs to do to advance in its first NCAA tournament is beat Kentucky

Actress and avid Kentucky fan Ashley Judd, center, tweeted: “I am so proud for #NKU!”
Actress and avid Kentucky fan Ashley Judd, center, tweeted: “I am so proud for #NKU!” AP

The good news: The men’s basketball team at my alma mater, Northern Kentucky University (NKU), earned a trip to the NCAA Division I tournament this year in its first season of eligibility.

The not-so-good news: Its first tournament game is Friday night – against Kentucky.

The Wildcats have been to the dance 55 times, played 167 tournament games, been in the Final Four 17 times and won the Division I championship game 8 times (second only to UCLA). And this year, this larger-than-life team is a No. 2 seed.

So, yes, Kentucky is favored – OK, heavily favored – against my NKU Norse (as in Vikings), who are Division I tournament virgins.

Even UK super-fan Ashley Judd couldn’t bring herself to bash these Northern Kentucky newcomers from up the road in Highland Heights, Ky. (right across the Ohio River from Cincinnati). “I am so proud for #NKU!” Judd tweeted a tad condescendingly.

But, hey, 24-10 NKU wouldn’t be the first David to slay Goliath during March Madness if it beats 29-5 UK on Friday at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis (9:40 p.m. on CBS).

Remember Richmond over Syracuse in 1991? And Florida Gulf Coast topping Georgetown in 2013? And Middle Tennessee State eliminating Michigan State last year?

NKU is only the second team since 1970 to be selected for the NCAA tournament in its first eligible season. It got an automatic berth this year after winning the Horizon League championship.

So it could happen, people! Beating powerhouse Kentucky and advancing in the tournament would be glorious for those of us who graduated from Northern Kentucky University, a one-time commuter school that has only been around since 1968. It didn’t even have bleachers when then-Northern Kentucky State College hosted its first Division II men’s basketball game in 1971. When I became editor of The Northerner, the school newspaper, in 1976, I was one of maybe 5,000 students.

Now 15,000 students go to NKU. And if the Norse beat Kentucky, the owner of a Cincinnati-based steakhouse has promised a free steak dinner to every one of those students. And probably one, too, for NKU’s mascot. He’s called Victor E. Viking. And with his mustache, his ponytail and his horned helmet, he’s already been named the No. 1 mascot in this year’s NCAA tournament by USA Today Sports.

Go Norse! Beat ‘Cats! Or at least don’t lose by 50 points...