NORFOLK, VA (WTKR)- Only once in NCAA Tournament history has a No. 16 seed upset at No. 1. Norfolk State sees no reason why it can't be the second.
The Spartans face Baylor on Thursday to begin their March Madness, facing a Bears team that is the top seed in the East Region and the defending national champion.
"We haven't even talked about them being defending national champs, we just say that we've got to try to win a game on Thursday, [doesn't] matter who we play" NSU head coach Robert Jones said. "I just told the guys we're packing until Sunday. We don't have any intentions of coming back home Thursday. If it happens, it happens, but our intention is to come back on Sunday."
History shows that a No. 16 pulling off a first round stunner is improbable, but not impossible. 2018 saw UMBC take down Virginia in an historic upset, one that's giving the Spartans a little bit of inspiration.
"We've got a saying 'why not us?," said junior guard Christian Ings. "If they can do it, we can do it. Why not us? Why can't we do it?"
"I've kind of watched highlights on that," added senior and Norfolk native Joe Bryant. "I feel like nobody's going to take us for granted. The way our record is, how hard we play, it's all about us. We've just got to come locked in and be ready to win."
Norfolk State won its second straight MEAC championship and comes into the tournament with a 24-6 record. The Spartans are second in the country in field goal percentage defense, holding opponents to a 37.4 shooting percentage. Bryant, who earned MEAC Player of the Year honors, does damage from all over the floor, but most notably from the free throw line, where he connects on more than 95 percent of his attempts, good enough for fifth in the nation.
"It gives us a lot of exposure," Bryant said of the first round match-up with the Bears. "It gives us the opportunity to play against some pros, they've got some pros on that team. It gets us ready for the next level and it also gives the guys motivation for when we come back next year."
News 3 Reporter Penny Kmitt was on the scene when the Spartans were preparing to leave for the tournament.
Baylor is 26-6 on the season and is ranked four in the latest AP and Coaches Polls. The Spartans faced the likes of Wichita State, Xavier and New Mexico during the regular season. Those who made the trip to the NCAA Tournament last year got a rude awakening when facing Gonzaga, but this year NSU may be a little bit more prepared.
"Last year we only played against mid-majors," Jones noted. "We didn't play against any high-majors last year, so playing against Gonzaga was a shock."
Norfolk State and Baylor will tip off on Thursday at 2:00 PM in Fort Worth, Texas.