They gathered in a local sports bar, ready to celebrate a second consecutive bid to the NCAA tournament.
But as the pairings unfolded across the television screen Sunday night, Wisconsin-Green Bay's players had long faces. A hush fell over the bar when the final two teams in the 64-team field were announced.The Phoenix, despite its 25-4 record, a regular-season title in the Mid-Continent Conference and an appearance in the NCAA tournament a year ago, was left out.
But it did receive a National Invitation Tournament bid later Sunday night and will play at Manhattan on Thursday night. Among others snubbed by the NCAA who were chosen by the NIT were Virginia, Arizona State and Notre Dame
"It's a difficult thing," said disconsolate Phoenix coach Dick Bennett, who refused to criticize the NCAA selection process. "Yeah I believe we belong. We'll await our call from the NIT and hope that works out."
Bennett was most disappointed because he said the NCAA snub would make many forget what the Phoenix accomplished this season.
"It leaves the impression that our season wasn't special and I think that's unfair to everybody connected with the team," he said.
UWGB had road victories at Purdue, Colorado and Butler this season but was beaten in the semifinals of its league tournament by Eastern Illinois.
The Phoenix wasn't alone in its disappointment.
"There's always going to be some folks who are disappointed," Virginia coach Jeff Jones said after the Cavaliers were left out. "Unfortunately, this year we're in that number."
Virginia went 15-13 and finished with an 8-8 mark in the ACC, including victories over NCAA tournament-bound Florida State, North Carolina and Wake Forest.
"I think we all felt we were going to receive a bid," said Jones, who added that he based his confidence on several factors.
"The strength of schedule, the Sagarin power ratings, finishing fourth in the conference a game ahead of Wake Forest, splitting with Wake Forest, a number of quality wins and winning three of our last four games - I thought all those things combined to give us a good chance," he said.
Notre Dame's John MacLeod wasn't surprised the Irish (14-14) were not chosen.
"I felt that our chances were very slim," he said. "I was hoping, but it was a hope based on a slim prediction in my mind.
"The NCAA has never taken a team with a .500 record, I don't think. They certainly wouldn't make an exception. We played the toughest schedule in the country, but it doesn't make any difference."