For Robert Hornby and his Arizona Wildcats, Thursday night's 81-64 win over Belmont was somewhat matter-of-fact. It was the other headlines from the NCAA tournament's second round — Harvard's upset over New Mexico and Gonzaga's near-ouster by Southern University — that have big implications for the No. 6 seed.
"The bracket really opened up in my mind," Hornby said. "With Gonzaga not performing to expectations, it makes them look a little bit more vulnerable. And with New Mexico out, it's not a bad thing to play Harvard in the second round."
Just like the real tournament, anything can happen in NJBIZ Brackets, and while the Wolff & Samson attorney is well aware his alma mater will now have to "quash the Cinderella" — in this case, Bob Grady, of the state investment council — it changes nothing for him. Like his Arizona team, Hornby has had a chip on his shoulder since the No. 11-seeded Bruins were floated as an early-round upset pick.
But you'd be hard pressed to find a lot of people who had Harvard coming out of the second round, and Grady is basking in the glow of his alma mater’s first-ever NCAA tournament win, after his Crimson knocked off No. 3 seed New Mexico.
Grady said he was impressed by Harvard’s ability to hold up against a physical Lobos team.
“What was great is that they (Harvard) really played their game from start to finish,” he said. “It seemed like New Mexico, who obviously was the more physical team and probably the more athletic team, they really never got on track.”
Grady said he was texting fellow alumni throughout the game last night. He said the win is particularly heartening because it shows a strong academic school can also be strong on the athletic field.
“It’s nice to see a program with true students athletes,” he said. “These are great athletes, able to beat a national caliber team but they’re also good enough students to succeed at Harvard.”
The team now moves on to play No. 6 Arizona. Grady said he knows no game’s ever easy in the NCAA Tournament, but he said there’s been a high level of parity in the league this year, calling to mind the famous line from the National Football League, that any team can win on any given Sunday. The same holds true in March Madness, he said.
“In any given game Harvard has a chance.”
But Hornby was born ready for NJBIZ Brackets — he grew up in the university's home city of Tucson.
"It's in your DNA from when you're a little kid there, and it's hard to get away from it, even coming out east here," Hornby said, noting that Tucson has no major sports and is hours away from Phoenix. "You just sort of grow up expected to know when the game's on, expected to watch the games and expected to root for the team."
He also has impeccable timing as a fan. He graduated from the school in December 1996, but stuck around for an internship the following spring, just as Arizona won its first and only national championship.
The memory also sparks "one of the funniest images" from the celebration that followed the title game that year: Tucson police, "in full riot gear with shields and face masks," lined up outside the university. But rather than seeking to menace the crowd or intercede, "they all held out their hands, and all of the students ran by and slapped them high fives."
"(It) was a great sense of euphoria and relief at the same time, given that the program had been so good for so long," Hornby said. "And it was a great thing to be a part of, growing up there and waiting to see what would happen, how people would react."
Elsewhere in Thursday's NJBIZ Brackets action, a hard-charging Davidson College, led by Jack Wellman, came within a point of what would have been a major upset of No. 3-seeded Marquette. But in the end, David Bataille, vice president of finance for ADP, was able to hold his own, though he isn't normally glued to the television during the tournament, but he did manage to see the end of yesterday's game when Marquette squeaked out a one-point win against Davidson College.
Some co-workers thought he might have stayed home to watch the tournament, but Bataille said he was working from home because he had a furniture delivery scheduled.
"I can't sit home and watch games," he said. "If only it was that easy."
Bataille, a 1987 Marquette graduate, was on a conference call when a consultant sent him an e-mail telling him how close the game was. That's when he turned on the TV in time to see his alma mater pull out a win.
"It was a real nail biter," he said. "It was pretty thrilling."
As a college student, Bataille said he was fanatical, and played pickup games in the gym with some of the Golden Eagles' players. He even had season tickets and went to nearly every home game.
"It was great when we played a home game against a big opponent like Notre Dame," he said. "The energy, excitement and school spirit was such an adrenaline rush, and close games were always better than blowouts. If we won, it was great, but the thrill and hope was what it was all about."
He is traveling this weekend to see family, so may not be watching tomorrow when Marquette plays Butler.
"I won't go out of my way, but I'll watch if it's convenient," he said.
The upset that did happen was later in the day, when No. 12 Oregon dispatched Oklahoma State. Ducks fan Deborah Howlett didn't have fellow Oregon fans with her to watch her alma mater beat Oklahoma State on Thursday night, she did have Facebook and Twitter.
"That's one of the great things about social media," she said. "There aren't many Oregon fans around here, but I was in touch with my college chums. We had a great time exchanging texts and tweets."
She enjoyed watching in a sports bar near her home, eating wings and drinking beer, and knowing that "victory was never a doubt." But when the Ducks face off against the St. Louis Billikens tomorrow night, Howlett plans to view the action at home.
"I will be at home on the couch, where I can yell like a crazy woman," she said. "St. Louis has a good team, and I think they're a little underrated, but Oregon has the players to play with them. I'm looking forward to a great game."