NKU celebrates third trip to the “big dance” in four years

Norse return home with a new expectation this time

NKU celebrates third trip to the “big dance” in four years
NKU defeated UIC in the Horizon League Tournament Championship game to make the NCAA Tournament a third time in four years (Source: NKU Athletics)

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. (FOX19) - The Northern Kentucky University men’s basketball team arrived back on campus Wednesday afternoon, trophy in hand, a little more than 12 hours after winning another Horizon League Tournament Championship.

This has become the new norm for the Norse making the NCAA Tournament a third time in four years.

“I think the expectation is there to where we feel like we should be playing for a championship every single season," NKU senior guard Tyler Sharpe told FOX19 Now. "The grind, all the hard work you put in to get here, doesn’t take any of the sweetness away. That’s why you see the celebration.”

The celebration was different when NKU made the tournament for the first time in their first year of Division I eligibility in the 2016-17 season. Facing Kentucky in the first round, before ultimately losing, felt like a right of passage. Last season’s run to the tournament proved it wasn’t just a fluke after a year off, but it resulted in another first-round exit against Texas Tech. This time, the mood has shifted. It’s no longer about just getting there, it’s about an experienced team winning that first game.

“Now, we’ve shown that the program is strong because you have two different coaches that can win here," said head coach Darrin Horn. “There’s more that can be done. We still haven’t beat a high major (team). We still haven’t won in March. We feel like we’ve tried to build a way of playing that gives you a chance when you get in these one-shot deals. We’ve got a unique defense. We play five guys on the perimeter who can shoot the ball.”

NKU is projected to be a 16-seed or a 15-seed by many of the bracket experts right now. UMBC became the first 16-seed in NCAA tournament history to beat a one-seed when they defeated Virginia in 2018. A 15-seed has defeated a two-seed eight times.

“It’s not the want to, it’s the drive to do it,” said NKU redshirt junior guard Jalen Tate. “We’re probably going to get the type of seed where we face a big team that everybody knows about. Having an opportunity to knock them off is amazing.”

NKU will learn its seeding and destination on Sunday at 6 p.m. The Norse, as opposed to previous years, aren’t currently planning a watch party at the university as a result of COVID-19 precautions.

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