Before officially hearing Fresno State’s matchup on TV, Bulldogs coach Rodney Terry already was studying up on the upcoming opponent.
An Internet leak of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament bracket had come to Terry’s attention several minutes, if not a half an hour, before the CBS national broadcast finally revealed Fresno State (25-9) was a No. 14 seed and would play No. 3 Utah (26-8) at 4:27 p.m. Thursday in the Midwest Regional in Denver.
Fresno State might’ve waited 15 years to get back to the NCAA Tournament.
But Terry couldn’t help but get started even just a tad earlier with his scouting, using his cellphone to find information about the Utes prior to the official announcement.
“This time of year, you never take for granted being in postseason play and having a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament,” Terry said. “I tell my guys it’s a lifetime experience for them, something they’ll never forget.
“Just be excited about the opportunity and the moment.”
Fresno State earned an automatic bid into the 68-team NCAA field by beating San Diego State 68-63 on Saturday and winning the Mountain West tournament.
Nonetheless, Sunday’s selection show proved to be nerve-racking for many among the 200-plus in attendance to watch the announcements with the Bulldogs basketball team.
Especially to those not privy to the leaked bracket.
Each time a matchup involving a Pac-12 team or a big-name program like Duke or Kentucky was announced, players and fans eagerly awaited to hear Fresno State immediately after.
For Fresno State fans and players who didn’t know or refused to believe the leaked internet report, they had to wait until the very end of the two-hour broadcast to hear the Bulldogs called on national TV.
Senior Marvelle Harris, despite seeing the leaked bracket, purposely waited for the official announcement before celebrating even to himself. He never had the patience or the desire to watch a Selection Sunday show in previous years, knowing the Bulldogs were not part of March Madness.
He wanted to enjoy every minute of the wait Sunday.
“I was on the edge of my seat the whole time waiting for it to come out,” Harris said. “When it finally got leaked, I heard it from some of my teammates. It’s still an exciting experience.
“This is what you dream of growing up, going to the NCAA Tournament. It’s one of the biggest events of the year. You take pride in it. It’s just an honor.”
Fresno State and Utah have played each other 14 times in school history, with the Utes owning a 10-4 advantage.
The Utes also won their previous matchup, 90-77 in 2013.
Utah finished runner-up in the Pac-12 tournament, falling 88-57 to Oregon in Saturday’s final.
The Utes, who had won nine straight prior to losing to the Ducks, average 77.6 points per game and allow 69.1 points.
Utah led the Pac-12 with 48.9 percent shooting from the field and ranked second in rebounding at 32.9 boards per game. The Utes also were second with an assist to turnover ratio of 1.3.
The Utes are giving up a Pac-12 worst 36.7 percent shooting on three-pointers and they struggle on the offensive glass, recording 9.6 per game for the second fewest in the Pac-12.
Jakob Poeltl, a 7-foot sophomore from Austria, leads the conference with 65.6 percent shooting from the field and ranks second in scoring at 17.6 points per game.
He’s also averaging nine rebounds, fourth best in the Pac-12, and 1.6 blocks, which ranks seventh.
Jordan Loveridge, a 6-foot-6 senior, and Brandon Taylor, a 5-foot-10 senior, both rank in the conference’s top 12 in three-pointers made per game.
Fresno State, meanwhile, is averaging 75.3 points and allowing 70.4 points per game. The Bulldogs also shot 34.2 percent behind the arc, including a 10-of-24 showing in the Mountain West championship.
Harris is averaging 20.6 points, which ranked third in the Mountain West, and tallied a conference-best 4.56 assists per game.
Harris and Cullen Russo also are No. 2 and No. 3 in the Mountain West, averaging 2.19 and 1.65 steals per game.
“The sky’s the limit for our team,” Bulldogs point guard Cezar Guerro said. “We’re riding the momentum. We’re on a good run. It’s time to take advantage of it and see how far our ladder is.”
Thursday’s game will be televised on TRUTV.
Should the Bulldogs advance past the Utes, they would face the winner of No. 6 Seton Hall (25-8) and No. 11 Gonzaga (26-7).
Fresno State will begin selling tickets to the NCAA Tournament on Monday at 559-278-7160.
“It’s a blessing,” Edo said. “My past two years, I’ve been sitting home watching March Madness. Now I get to be part of the madness.”
MIDWEST REGION: NO. 3 UTAH VS. NO. 14 FRESNO STATE
▪ Vitals: 4:27 p.m. Thursday (TRUTV) at the Pepsi Center in Denver
▪ Records: Bulldogs 25-9; Utes 26-8
▪ How they got here: Fresno State earned an automatic bid by winning the Mountain West tournament; Utah earned an at-large bid out of the Pacific-12
▪ Leading scorers: Bulldogs, Marvelle Harris 20.6; Utah, Jakob Poeltl 17.6 ppg
▪ Common foe: Fresno State went 2-1 against San Diego State, most recently winning 68-63 Saturday for the MW title. Utah beat SDSU 81-76 on Nov. 17.