‘It would be huge’: No. 14 seed Colgate seeks first-ever NCAA Tournament win

The Raiders have made it to five straight NCAA Tournaments. Camie Jobe | Photographer

By Michael Haag | Sports Editor

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — March Madness feels different when you’ve been there before.

For those inexperienced mid-major teams that are making their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance, there’s probably a feeling of “We’re just happy to be here.”

That’s not the case for No. 14 seed Colgate, which is in the Big Dance for the fifth straight year. The Raiders have suffered first-round exits in each of the last four seasons, and the program is 0-6 all-time in the NCAA Tournament.

Senior forward Jeff Woodward said a round of 64 win over No. 3 seed Baylor on Friday “would be huge.”

“It’s been a goal of our team all season long,” Woodward said. “We’ve gotten close. … We know how hard it is. We know Coach [Matt] Langel always says how fragile the game is. We know how much it takes to get there. And we want to experience the satisfaction of actually finishing the job.”

Woodward was a member of both Raiders (25-9) teams that came close to getting over that opening-round hump. Colgate held second-half leads over Arkansas (2020-21) and Wisconsin (2021-22) in Woodward’s freshman and sophomore seasons, respectively. The Raiders have built second-half leads in three of their last four NCAA Tournament trips.

Their next opportunity to finish the job comes when they face No. 3 seed Baylor men’s basketball at 11:40 a.m. CT in the FedExForum in Memphis. The two programs have never faced each other before, but Colgate is 4-7 against current Big 12 opponents.

The Raiders are still looking for their first-ever top-25 win, as their only power-conference wins have come against Syracuse, a team they defeated twice. Colgate head coach Matt Langel, who’s in his 13th year with the school, said Baylor’s shooting and physicality will be tough to match.

“The physicality is a challenge. Athleticism is a challenge. Length is a challenge. Speed is a challenge. [RayJ] Dennis’ passing is a challenge. There’s a lot of challenges in these games,” Langel said. “I think there’s going to be an adjustment period.

“We haven’t played against that size, length and physicality in months now. So how quickly we can adjust to those things is going to be important to the game.”

Langel — the winningest coach in program history — added that Big 12 games are super physical and that NCAA Tournament games may not be officiated with the same amount of leniency, particularly on the defensive end of the ball.

“Baylor hasn’t played a team like us in a while,” Langel said. “They’ve played teams like Texas Tech and Cincinnati and Iowa State. So there’s certainly always a feeling-out process to this game. I think how you make it out of that first stage of the game is very important for us.”

The Raiders will have the ability to put their 3-point shooting defense to the test, as they rank 14th in the nation by holding opponents to 29.8% shooting from deep. The Bears have the ninth-best 3-point shooting team in the country based on percentage (38.8%).

Something has to give, and Baylor head coach Scott Drew said his group is stressing getting quality looks from beyond the arc.

“Whatever the defense takes away, they usually give you something else,” Drew said. “And you try to just do your best to make sure that your team’s getting the right shots for the team and what they do best.

“And at the same time, this time of year, it’s great playing somebody you haven’t played. Everyone’s tired of playing conference opponents. You want to play someone who doesn’t know every tendency you have and every play call you have. So [we’re] excited about that.”

Michael Haag is a third year Journalism student from Floresville, a small town about 30 miles south of San Antonio. Haag is entering his third year at the Lariat and is hoping to continue developing his sports reporting skill set. After graduation, he plans to work on a Master’s degree in Journalism in order to one day teach at the college level. He does, however, plan on becoming a sports reporter for a publication after grad school.