GREENSBORO, N.C. — It’s real now.

The Kennesaw State men’s basketball team is on the verge of the NCAA Tournament. The stage is bigger. The lights are brighter.

Kennesaw State arrived in Greensboro on Wednesday and went through their final practice Thursday. Next is a first-round game against favored Xavier on Friday. The remarkable journey continues for at least one more game in uncharted territory. This is Kennesaw State’s first venture into March Madness.

“We have a saying in our program, be where your feet are,” Owls coach Amir Abdur-Rahim said. “To be sitting here on a Thursday morning, with an opportunity to play in one of the greatest tournaments in the world, I’m going to make sure not only myself, but our team, we are going to be exactly where our feet are.”

Where they are is a No. 14 seed preparing to play a No. 3 seed. The game tips at 12:40 p.m.

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Kennesaw State has come a long way – not only in the four seasons that Abdur-Rahim has been in charge, but this season as well. Adbur-Rahim likes to tell the story of Terrell Burden, the senior point guard, who was too timid to even call out a play as a freshman.

However, here is how the team has progressed even this season, according to Abdur-Rahim.

“When we started the season, say a timeout comes, they are waiting for us to come into the huddles and tell them, ‘Hey, these are the adjustments we need to make, this is what we need to do.’ Even all the way down to the play call.

“Now, I probably have to sit there and wait probably 45 seconds for them to get done talking about the adjustments, what happened on that last play, what they need to clean up. … Now Terrell is, ‘Hey Coach, what do you think about this? Let’s look at this play. Chris (Youngblood) has got it going. Ahmad (Johnson) is doing a really good job. Let’s go with this.’ Hey Rell, call it. It’s your show. You got it.”

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On the court, Kennesaw State will be at a height disadvantage. Xavier has a couple of 7-footers, including starter Jack Nunge. Kennesaw State’s tallest regular player is Alex Peterson at 6-7.

The Owls will use a four-guard offense to force the tempo on offense and cause havoc on defense. Their likely starting lineup will feature Burden (5-10), Youngblood (6-3), Brandon Stroud (6-6) and Spencer Rodgers (6-4). They surround forward Demond Robinson (6-8).

Xavier will use a lineup of guards Souley Brown (6-3), Colby Jones (6-6) and Adam Kunkel (6-4) and forwards Jerome Hunter (6-8) and Nunge.

“When we play four guards, we are pretty tough,” Youngblood said.

“We like to push the pace,” Burden said. “Play with a fast tempo. Go up and down. We want to be smart with our shot selection. Just be smart on both ends of the floor. Play fast. Pressure them.”

Xavier got a quick education in facing Kennesaw State when the draw was announced Sunday. Coach Sean Miller and four players Thursday already were up to date on an area of concern in facing the Owls. Beware of their defense.

“They really pressure with their defense, and they can force and create turnovers, steals, blocks, deflections,” Miller said. “When their pressure is up and thriving, that really helps their offense, and they are able to get easy baskets. … Being able to play good offense and not turn the ball over and take care of it is really going to be essential for us being able to have an opportunity to advance.”

Playing bigger teams is not new for Kennesaw State. The Owls have played Florida, San Diego State, Virginia Commonwealth and Indiana – all on the road. They lost each, but that was early in the season. The lesson learned: The Owls must be physical.

“Now, the thing that is different for them, that we don’t see in our league, is that they play two traditional bigs,” Abdur-Rahim said. “They really want to pound you in the paint. We play we play four guards. Because we play four guards, if Brandon and Quincy (Ademokoya) and Chris, if they aren’t physical like they need to be, not only throwing it to them in the paint but on the glass, that could be an area that they can really exploit with their size and their ability.

“But we played at Indiana with two traditional bigs, at San Diego State, even VCU. We held our own. We are older. We are more battle tested than we were back then. We are a lot more disciplined than we were back then.”