You might think from the title of this article that this is about last night's games and part of that's true. But the gist of this article starts in the eighth paragraph about my recent article on expanding the NCAA tournament and Kyle Whelliston's absolutely terrific Mid Majority article last night about Dayton. But first, continue reading on about yesterday's action.
Earlier in the day yesterday, I talked about how Oral Roberts might pull the "trifecta" of beating Stanford, Missouri and New Mexico. Well, the Golden Eagles did it, a convincing 75-66 win over the previously unbeaten Lobos. Juco transfer Michael Craion led four Golden Eagles' scorers in double digits with a double double of 18 points and 13 rebounds. Oral Roberts led from the beginning and had as large as a fourteen point lead before settling for an eleven point halftime lead, 38-27. It took 27 plus minutes of game time before New Mexico came back to take the lead 46-45 with 12:24 left. The teams exchanged leads several times over the next six minutes before Warren Niles' jumper with six and half minutes left gave the Golden Eagles the lead 59-58, a lead they would not relinquish again.
The Golden Eagles held the Lobos to 37 percent shooting including 5 of 19 from beyond the arc. The 7-6 Golden Eagles have had an interesting season so far. They have knocked off now New Mexico, Missouri and Stanford. They have also lost road games to struggling teams like Virginia and UALR, but have also lost to a possible Mid Majors Baker's Dozen member in Sam Houston State, as well as at Louisville and 8-4 Indiana State. They certainly don't shy away from competition.
The Golden Eagles are one of the unknown gems in mid major basketball. Before their struggles last season (finished 16-15 and were eliminated in the first round of the Summit League Tournament), Oral Roberts had been to three straight NCAA tournaments and three years ago knocked off nationally ranked Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse. Perhaps this means a return to The Dance for the Golden Eagles.
Also in yesterday's action, Michael Litos and I were slightly off in our predictions for the Old Dominion-Charlotte game. Litos had ODU winning by two, and I thought Charlotte's back court would be the difference in a close game. Um, no. ODU came out from the gate at the Constant Convocation Center and jumped on the Niners. The Monarchs' nationally ranked scoring defense only allowed 13 first half points enroute to an 81-48 shellacking of Charlotte. ODU shot 53 percent and had four scorers in double figures led by Gerald Lee's 16 points on 8 of 10 shooting. The Monarchs, simply dominated the glass, outrebounding the 49ers 45-24. The ODU frontcourt held the Charlotte frontcourt combination of Shamari Spears and Chris Braswell to 18 points combined, which is Spears' average on the season. So much for that "great matchup of front courts". Good job Gar.
It turns out I was unable to watch the ODU-Charlotte game, even though I was able to pay for a monthly fee to watch the live video of the game on the ODU athletics web site. I had some last minute Xmas shopping to do, pickup my kids presents over at my sister's and I dropped by a good friend's house to drop her present off.
But before that, I did watch the St Mary's - USC Hawaiian Diamond Classic Tournament game on ESPNU yesterday (and before that, I watched the end of the Western Michigan - Northeastern game where the Broncos dismantle the enigmatic Huskies - Northeastern is now 2-7 on the year). The Mary simply didn't play well against a quicker USC team and lost 60-49. The Gaels shot 6 of 24 from beyond the arc (way below their season average ) and Omar Samhan was held to nine field goal attempts. USC did a good job of collapsing their bigs on Samhan, forcing the Gaels' guards to look elsewhere. What made St Mary's so good last year was that Patty Mills had the quickness to penetrate and create his own shot. St Mary's guard tandem of Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova don't have that same quickness. This may cause trouble for the Gaels down the road.
Now for the gist of this article. In the beginning of this article, I talked about Kyle Whelliston has written a terrific article about Dayton's love of college basketball. In the article, Kyle talks about how "no other city would bring over 10,000 basketball fans to watch an eliminator between the NEC and the SWAC", which is the play in game for the NCAA tournament or as Kyle calls it the "P.I.G".
Now as I mentioned in the first paragraph as well, I recently wrote an article about how the NCAA should expand not to 96 teams, but to 68 teams. Then, eliminate the 64-65 P.I.G. but have two P.I.Gs with at large teams at Dayton and two more at another site. My reasoning was that the current 64-65 P.I.G. is not fair because those two teams won automatic bids and deserve to play in the round of 64.
But after reading Kyle's article, including his above comment, I have second thoughts. The P.I.G started in 2001 and has been at Dayton since the beginning. For the 64-65 teams, it is their chance for the national spotlight. For one night, they have the college basketball world to themselves. I didn't realize that they get 10,000 to see the NEC and SWAC play.
Kyle was referring to Mount St Mary's play Coppin State in 2008 - actually the attendance was 8,464 but my guess was that it felt like 10,000 for Mount Saint Mary's and Coppin State. After their win over Coppin, I was in Raleigh and got to see live Mount St Mary's play North Carolina in Raleigh. I wrote about the experience Mount St Mary's had playing the Heels. I noted in the article that the Mountaineers "weren't intimidated" by North Carolina and put 41 points up on the Heels in the first half. And I even noted that the Mountaineers showed that the Heels were "not a very good defensive team", which really showed in the national semifinal game vs. Kansas.
However, Kyle is right, they did get 10,00o plus attendance for the P.I.G this past tournament. The attendance for the game in March for Alabama State vs. Morehead State was 11,346. However, in 2007, it was 8,257 for Niagara vs Florida A&M (by the way, Niagara did not deserve to play in the P.I.G). In 2006, it was 7,764 for Monmouth vs. Hampton. So, was this past season an aberration or a trend. Hopefully a trend.
Now did the win in the P.I.G game help the Mountaineers' confidence against North Carolina? Perhaps. Did it help the other teams that won? Perhaps as well. But if there is going to be expansion of the NCAA tournament, I still say expand it to 68 teams and remove the 64-65 play-in game (but definitely have one of the two P.I.G regionals at Dayton).
If you look at the history of the P.I.G, a MEAC and a SWAC team have been there each four times. Is that fair that a team from either conference which has won an automatic bid has right now a 45% chance of playing in the P.I.G? No, it's not. Those teams deserve the right to not have to "play-in" the tournament. They won the auto bid to the tournament. They deserve the right to play in the first round of the tournament more so than at large Power 6 conference team that didn't even make their semifinals of their tournament.
Here's a question. Do the Mount St Mary's players that played in the 2008 NCAA Tournament talk more about the win over Coppin State or the 41 points they put up on the Tar Heels in the first half at Raleigh? I bet the latter. How about the eight teams that lost the play-in game? Would they have rather played the P.I.G in front of a national audience or the first round of the NCAA Tournament. I guarantee the latter. Give them the right to play in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Even if you don't expand to 68 teams or more, change the play in game to be the 64-65 at large game, where two teams that were on the bubble prove which one belonged and which one didn't.
Now Kyle's article was really not about the P.I.G. It was really about Dayton's love affair with college basketball. It's about how they sell out the Dayton arena even if the Flyers were 3-7 at the time. Or how Wright State, and my favorite mid majors coach Brad Brownell get such good attendance in a "large airport hangar" of an arena in the Nutter Center.
The answer lies in what Bill Daniels, the South Park Tavern owner in Kyle's article, says about Dayton "It's really all we've got." Kyle goes further discussing how Dayton's population has dropped over the years, due to failing Ohio industries, the economy etc. Those people are there trying to hold onto their lives, their houses and college basketball provides them with hope, the chance that the little guy can beat the big guy.
I know all about Ohio and the troubles it's facing. I wrote about this in my baseball blog, Ninety Feet from Home, when I traveled to see two Ohio major league baseball teams, Cleveland and Cincinnati. If you read about my trip to Cincinnati, further down the article, I talk about why the Great American Ballpark wasn't even half full that night. We drove by a closed GM plant on the Interstate. It's hard to go to even a baseball game, when you are out of work.
I even noted in a previous article about the Indians-White Sox game about how the Ohio highway system is still ticket taker based with toll booth attendants. No Easy Pass system. It's like you were transported back into the 70's. It fits right along the lines of the rest of the state, married to the auto and manufacturing industries, most of which are gone now. But perhaps the reason they still have their highway ticket system in place is that it provides sorely needed jobs.
One thing is for certain now. Somehow, someway, I am going to plan a road trip to see Dayton play in UD arena, or perhaps to see my favorite coach, Brad Brownell and Wright State play in Nutter Center. And I plan to go into the South Park Tavern for some beer and handcrafted Pizza. Hopefully, I will get better service than Kyle did. Maybe I will bring Bally. The chicks dig Bally.