Colgate learns its NCAA men’s basketball tournament destination: Raiders are headed to Milwaukee

Hamilton, N.Y. — They sat through the Pittsburgh and the Buffalo brackets, each time prepping…

Hamilton, N.Y. — They sat through the Pittsburgh and the Buffalo brackets, each time prepping for an eruption of elation.

When a 15 seed or a 14 seed or a 13 seed popped up on the big screen here at Donovan’s Pub, where the Colgate men’s basketball team gathered to witness their NCAA Tournament destination, the room grew quiet and everybody sort of held their collective breath.

>> NCAA men’s bracket

>> Enter our Bracket Challenge for a chance to win great prizes

>> Check out Syracuse.com’s best NCAA Tournament betting offers and promotions

Finally, Colgate learned what it had waited since last Wednesday to learn: It would play Big Ten power Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

Tournament selection committee members slotted Colgate (23-11, 16-2 Patriot League) as a 14 seed. The Raiders play third seed Wisconsin (24-7, 15-5 Big Ten) Friday in the Badgers’ backyard.

The Raiders will play in their second-straight NCAA Tournament game and third in the last four years. They lost to Arkansas 85-68 last season in Indianapolis, when the NCAA Tournament uniquely held its championship in one site. In 2019, Colgate lost to Tennessee, 77-70, in the NCAA Tournament.

Jack Ferguson, the Patriot League tournament MVP, and Tucker Richardson, who made the all-Patriot League tournament team, sat Sunday afternoon with the rest of their teammates to see where fate would take them. Both seniors, they will finish their careers with three trips to the NCAA Tournament. (Covid-19 canceled the 2020 tournament, though Colgate lost in the Patriot League title game that year and would have gone to the NIT.)

Colgate players said the proximity of Buffalo and Pittsburgh was enticing; Nelly Cummings, Colgate’s senior guard, is a Pittsburgh native.

Ferguson, frankly, was dreaming of warm weather destinations. (Hello, San Diego.) But in the end, nobody cared where the NCAA selection committee sent them.

They sat and sometimes reacted (Tennessee again? Buffalo?) while a roll call of other teams in other regions finally led to Greg Gumbel saying “Colgate.”

Then, jubilation.

CBS Sports cut to a live feed of the Raiders as their name popped up on the big TV board.

“I definitely started to get a little nervous, I don’t know why,” said Ferguson, who dropped 25 points on Syracuse in Colgate’s win over SU last fall. “More excited and anxious. My palms started sweating a little bit. Good nerves. Each team has been different. It was special to sit here with these guys.”

“It’s just a really exciting day,” Richardson said. “I think an hour ago it hit me: We’re about to find out who we’re going to play in the NCAA Tournament.”

Richardson said he’s watched Wisconsin play a few times this year and assessed the Badgers as “a good and experienced team.”

In the back of the room, Matt Langel looked over the heads and shoulders of the team he has led to another NCAA Tournament date. His assistant coaches positioned themselves around the room, some of them playing with kids who ran and giggled among the tables and chairs.

“For me, this is a special time of year for all basketball fans,” Langel said. “But I’ve got a 12-year-old son and an 8-year-old son and a 14-year-old daughter and they’re starting to have dreams. I remember being their age. And I know our guys remember being their age. This is what you dream of, a chance to be a part of it. It’s fun to watch them and their emotion and their experience and excitement. For me, that’s really fulfilling.”

Contact Donna Ditota anytime: Email | Twitter