TAMPA — For longtime Tampa Bay area resident Ken Titus, the NCAA bracket-makers were unbelievably kind. He's a 1971 graduate of tiny Siena and has the first chance in about two decades to see his alma mater play in person. He and his cousin, Roger Urbanski, a Siena alumnus from the Class of 1970, quickly purchased tickets.
"We're just ecstatic," Titus said. "We have about 25 Siena alumni in the area. There may not be a lot of volume, but we're very supportive."
Heck, he named his 100-pound German shepherd Siena. And she comes for a pat when anyone says "Big Dance."
"We know it (winning today) is a long shot for us, but we still talk about upsetting Stanford (in 1989)," Titus said.
The Cardinal was a No. 3 seed. Today, Siena draws No. 4 Vanderbilt.
"I was born and raised in Buffalo, so I've had my share of heartbreak," he said, referring to the Bills' losses in the Super Bowl. "We're due."
A HOMECOMING: Clemson director of basketball operations Josh Postorino has been enjoying a homecoming — he graduated from Clearwater High — with one notable exception. He has been inundated with requests for tickets from family and friends.
"I'm still looking," he said. "I'm already over 25 now."
NO RESPECT: Vanderbilt won 10 games in the SEC, including wins over NCAA Tournament teams Kentucky, Georgia and then-No. 1 Tennessee.
Yet for the second straight year, many analysts have the Commodores among the most likely upsets in the first round.
It's enough to make the players, well, annoyed.
"That's something I haven't been able to understand," said senior guard Shan Foster, the SEC player of the year. "Last year we felt like we had a pretty good team and had beaten the most ranked teams last season. And this year, we've beaten a number of quality opponents. We've won 26 games. We're not a 4 seed but by a miracle, you know? … We say every day in practice the only thing that matters is those guys that are on the court and our coaching staff. Because in the end, we can't control what other people are saying about it."
HEY, LOOK AT US: Maybe Western Kentucky coach Darrin Horn should compare notes with USF football coach Jim Leavitt. Both certainly understand what it means to play in a state where they can be overshadowed by bigger, more established programs — despite having success of their own.
While Leavitt must contend and recruit against Florida, Florida State and Miami, Horn is in the same state as powerhouse programs Kentucky and Louisville.
How do you compete with that? You don't, Horn said.
"I think the important thing for us is we want to be the best at who we are," he said. "We're not trying to be somebody else. Our program has great tradition. I think it has a reputation over a period of 30, 40 years in college basketball. We just want to make sure that we're really good and put forth a team that we feel like can compete with anybody in the country."
This is Western Kentucky's 19th appearance in the NCAA Tournament, but the Hilltoppers haven't advanced past the second round since 1993 when they lost an overtime contest to Florida State in a regional semifinal.
The task before them is clear.
"The only way to get real recognition in this sport is to win and to win at the right time," Horn said. "That's really all you can do."
NOTHING TO SEE HERE: Despite the 21-game win streak, the national rankings and all the national press, there arguably remains a perception that Drake isn't built for an extended NCAA Tournament run.
For their part, the Bulldogs are fine with that.
"The lack of respect around the country when people talk about Drake … it's kind of allowed us to play pressure-free," coach Keno Davis said. "When everybody already expects the other team to win or your season or great winning streak or your conference championship or your postseason play to end, that takes the pressure off you when everybody else is picking the other team."
Ticket update: About 3,000 tickets remain for the games.
Times staff writer Stephen F. Holder contributed to this report.