INDIANAPOLIS (NBC 26) — Ben Vander Plas and the Ohio Bobcats are the prototypical March underdog.
"Coming from a mid-major conference like the MAC (Mid-American Conference), a lot of teams don't expect you to win a game in the NCAA Tournament," Vander Plas, a Ripon native, said.
"A lot of teams didn't expect us to win the MAC Tournament, either."
Ohio earned an invitation to the Big Dance after an unlikely run to the MAC Tournament Championship as the conference's No. 5 seed.
Then came Selection Sunday. The Bobcats first round matchup hit close to home.
"With us getting matched up against Virginia, obviously all the connections with Tony (Bennett) and a childhood friend in (Stevens Point native) Sam Hauser, that was a cool moment to see that we were going to play them," Vander Plas said.
"Tony" is Tony Bennett, Virginia's head coach and UW-Green Bay's all-time leading scorer. Ben's dad, Dean, played with Bennett at UW-Green Bay.
The two went to the NCAA Tournament together in 1991 after winning the Mid-Con Tournament Championship.
"One of (my dad's) best basketball memories is his NCAA Tournament run with Green Bay and he wanted this for us so badly." Vander Plas said.
The connections run even deeper than that. Ben's full name is Bennett. He was named after Tony's father, legendary coach Dick Bennett.
Despite the close ties, Vander Plas said his dad did his best not to bring up the matchup.
"We talked about it a little bit," he said. "I'm sure we're going to talk about it a little bit more now that everything's over but he let me focus on the game."
That proved to be the right decision. Vander Plas led the No. 13 seed Bobcats with 17 points as the upset the defending national champions in the first round on Saturday night.
"It was unbelievable," Vander Plas said. " I had a couple family members and friends at the game so that was really cool. Then obviously getting a win is really fun."
Ohio's tournament run ended with a second-round loss to Creighton on Monday night. Even with that loss still fresh, Vander Plas had a remarkably good perspective on his March Madness run.
"Looking back on the season, I don't think there's any disappointment or anything like that," he said. "We did something really special here and it's something we're going to be able to look back on as a really fond memory."
Vander Plas was a junior and said he expects to be back at Ohio for his senior season in 2021-22.