Yeah I remember the good times and the bad times too. These last 11 days of holding on, the days were dull but the CBI game was long, guess it would have been better to say goodbye to you...
The good news about last night is there’s no need for the Flying Dutchmen and their fans to worry about how to celebrate a College Basketball Invitational championship. Rush the court or not? Raise a CBI banner or not? Buy a championship T-shirt or not? Brag about it or not?
Beats us. Those are IUPUI’s problems now, after the Jaguars of Alphabet Soup University ended the Dutchmen’s season (unless I can drum up funding for the Defiantly Dutch Invitational, to be held in front of my house on the 7-foot hoop that is used by the neighborhood kids and was blown over during the torrential downpours last weekend) with a thorough 74-60 victory supposedly witnessed by 952 people.
A brief tangent about the CBI and the lack of interest in it: I was going to rant and rave about fan apathy at Hofstra, until I realized that I’d also have to rant about fan apathy at Oregon State, Morehead State, Princeton, Saint Louis, Akron, George Washington and Eastern Kentucky.
Those eight schools hosted a first round CBI game and drew a combined 13,694 fans—just shy of 25 percent of the combined capacity of 56,400. Half the games were played in front of less than 1,000 people, with Hofstra drawing the most of the triple digit bunch. Here’s the ugly truth—the announced crowds with the capacity of the gym/arena in parenthesis.
I don’t know if it’s the economy, a lack of knowledge about the CBI (at some point, I’ll run the CIT numbers too), an oversaturation of postseason tournaments or some combination thereof. I’m rooting for these tournaments to succeed, because as my fondness for the 1994 East Coast Conference tournament proves, I’ve got a soft spot for things played in obscurity.
I also want the CBI and/or CIT to succeed because I believe most mid-majors will have no postseason tournament at all to participate in once the NCAA folds the NIT and expands to 96. But if you were there last night, I’d save your ticket as a future conversation piece, because no matter what it does or does not charge a school to host a game, there is no way the CBI can survive these types of numbers and this type of disinterest.
That said, if there is a CBI next year, and if the Dutchmen fall short of the NCAA or NIT and I’m unwilling to let go of the season, remind me of last night and tell me to shut the you-know-what-up when I start waxing poetic about how the Dutchmen should accept an opportunity to keep playing. Because last night was a depressing way to end what was a fun and fascinating season. (Of course, I realize that my friend Michael Hadley probably feels a whole lot differently, hope you enjoy that Billy Joel CD, you bum!)
It was so empty and so silent in the Arena for the opening tip last night that it actually felt awkward to be there. This is no exaggeration: Before Sully Ray’s parents arrived right at 7, I was completely alone in my section.
It was weird to carry on a conversation, because there was a pretty good chance the players would hear it. The shouting of the coaches was easily audible, as was one referee warning IUPUI star Robert Glenn he was going to get a technical foul if he kept chirping.
And the Dutchmen were as flat as the arena, coming out with no fire or passion—neither of which was lacking even during the worst of the January funk—and failing to find those necessary traits until it was way too late.
“The expression we use all the time is ’50 by 94,’” Tom Pecora said. “It doesn’t matter how many people are in the gym. It doesn’t matter if there’s a lot of people hanging off the rafters or if there’s no one in the gym It’s 50 by 94. You’re playing for pride [editor’s note: Boooo! Bad pun!], you’re playing for the name on the front of your shirt and you’ve got to go out and give a great effort. And we didn’t give a good enough effort tonight.”
IUPUI, meanwhile, looked right at home in the barren Arena. The Jaguars recorded just two sellouts this season at their home gym, which is dubbed “The Jungle” and holds a mere 1,215 people. And three “home” games at Conseco Fieldhouse—the 18,345-capacity arena whose main occupant is the NBA’s Pacers—drew an average of just 2,137 people.
So to see dust bunnies disguised as 952 people was routine for the Jaguars, who jumped out to leads of 13-0 and 21-2 and never came close to trailing. The Dutchmen, who trailed wire-to-wire just twice during the regular season—but not 126 days earlier during the opener at top-ranked Kansas—got within six late in the first half, but IUPUI went into the locker room on an 8-1 run and led by at least nine throughout the final 20 minutes.
“When you go into the postseason, if it’s not the big dance, you’ve got to hope that guys are focused and locked in,” Pecora said. “And we came out flat. We’ve never come out that flat. I don’t know if we’ve ever come out that flat in all my time here. So we just dug ourselves a big hole.”
In addition, while it’s pretty easy for the Dutchmen to play the no respect card during the CAA season, it was the Jaguars who had all the ammunition Wednesday. IUPUI finished the regular season with an RPI of 83, finished second in the Summit League with a 15-3 mark and went a gaudy 24-10 overall. Yet the Jaguars were never in the NIT discussion and had to travel halfway across the country to take on the Dutchmen, who were knocked out of the CAA Tournament in the quarterfinals and entered Wednesday with an RPI of 145.
“I think they were hungry, obviously, I think they were upset they lost in their championship game to Oakland and I think they felt like they had something to prove,” Pecora said. “I thought they came in right from the get-go and they played with great energy at the beginning of the game. You can’t let that happen anywhere, but especially at home.”
Nor did it help that this was a terrible matchup for the Dutchmen with Greg Washington out due to a sprained ankle. The beastly 6-foot-7 Glenn abused the Dutchmen for 32 points on 9-of-18 shooting and a 14-of-17 performance from the free throw line.
Nathaniel Lester drew the start—his first since Jan. 23—in place of Washington but was back on the bench after Glenn scored two easy baskets on him in the first 94 seconds. Lester finished with eight points, half of which he scored in the final minute, as the Dutchmen fell to 1-8 in his last nine starts.
“Not having Greg Washington—not making excuses, but he’s the perfect guy to guard Glenn, because he’s mobile and he can chase him around,” Pecora said. “We tried Nat Lester a little bit, but then we had to guard him with a bigger person and that was a tough matchup for us. But hey, good teams make adjustments and guys who come off the bench take advantage of being starters when those situations arise.”
The idea of playing in the CBI was to get valuable experience for the underclassmen, but Lester wasn’t the only one who underperformed. Little-used freshmen Yves Jules and Matt Grogan remained little-used. Chaz Williams had an impressive second half, during which he scored all 13 of his points, but played just six minutes in the first half as his late-season slump continued. And while Charles Jenkins led the Dutchmen in scoring with 21 points and flirted with a triple-double by collecting seven rebounds and seven assists, he also had five turnovers and took just 13 shots.
Only Halil Kanacevic and David Imes turned the experience into a positive. Kanacevic had another double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds) and added a career-high six blocks while Imes pulled down three rebounds and had a block in 15 minutes, his most extensive action since Dec. 12 against New Hampshire.
The night was no better for seniors Miklos Szabo and Cornelius Vines, each of whom played key roles in the Dutchmen’s February resurgence but finished their careers by scoring two points apiece. Szabo played just 20 minutes on a night when the Dutchmen needed big performances from their bigs and Vines was 1-of-10 from the field and 0-of-8 in 3-point attempts.
It was quite a departure from the last time they played at the Arena 18 days earlier, when an enthusiastic Senior Day crowd turned out to say goodbye for the first time and saw Vines flirt with the school record for 3-pointers in a single game. Maybe, if the administration could get a do-over, that’d be the last image Szabo and Vines have of the Arena.
And maybe, if the administration could get a do-over, the last image of 2009-10 would be of the exhausted Dutchmen expending every bit of energy in the double overtime loss to Northeastern in the CAA quarterfinals. Maybe there was no way to refuel after that, and after a frantic second half in which the Dutchmen turned a 2-7 start into a 10-8 finish. Maybe it’s better to be left wanting more, instead of getting more and not doing much of anything with it.
The 2009-10 Flying Dutchmen season is like a thoroughly engrossing and memorable concert that ends with the band yodeling throughout its encore. You won’t forget the magic created earlier in the evening—“This won’t define our season,” Pecora said—but the anticlimactic ending will stick for a while.
“Whether you win or lose, it’s a teachable moment,” Pecora said. “When we sit down and meet, I’m going to talk to them about what happened tonight, why it might have happened and how we can prepare to make sure this never happens again.”
As long as “this” also refers to playing in the CBI or CIT, I’m all for it.