It's called the "play-in game," even though both schools won their conference tournaments and earned automatic bids to the Big Dance. Arkansas–Pine Bluff, the Southwestern Athletic Conference champs, and Winthrop, the Big South champions, will square off in Dayton tonight for the right to play Duke in Jacksonville, Fla., on Friday. In many ways, this is both teams' national title game.
In their first-ever shot at the NCAA Tournament, the Arkansas—Pine Bluff Golden Lions can make $280,000 for their school if they win; that's the amount awarded to a school that wins the opening-round game. But Winthrop has nine Tournament appearances under its belt since 1999 and poses a formidable challenge to UAPB. It's not exactly David vs. Goliath, but it's close.
"It's just a big confidence booster for a little [Division I] school like UAPB to make it this far," one student tells the Pine Bluff Commercial. "There's just a sense of pride we can carry around here now and carry our heads a little bit higher."
Meanwhile, the grizzled veterans at Winthrop are excited for another NCAA Tournament experience. The Rock Hill, S.C., Herald reports that the Eagles are feeling loose heading into tonight's game.
"We are very excited about being here," Winthrop Coach Randy Peele tells the Herald. "We have been preparing all week. I told the players we were going to be the only game played Tuesday with a national television audience."
That's right, Coach Peele. You can catch the play-in game at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN.