Thursday, March 11, 2010

Let them play! Let them play!

Can't you see Our Man Corny running around and refusing to leave the gym until the Dutchmen are allowed to play another game?

On the off chance the Flying Dutchmen didn’t win the CAA Tournament, I knew I’d sit here at some point in the week leading up to Selection Sunday and write that the Dutchmen should seek an invitation to either the CBI or the CIT, the two newer and admittedly second-tier tournaments, because the team deserved another game (or four) after turning its season around in such remarkable fashion.

What I did not expect was to have an ally in Tom Pecora, who was pretty adamant last season in declaring that to participate in the CBI or CIT was to aid the NCAA in the further marginalization of mid-majors.

But there was Pecora at the podium in the basement of the Richmond Coliseum Saturday night, informing the two tournaments the Dutchmen would be glad to accept a bid if one were extended. The Dutchmen returned to practice yesterday with the hope that there will be at least one more game to play early next week.

“I feel fairly confident about it—I think that we’re worthy of playing,” Pecora said in his office after practice. “Last year I turned down the opportunity because we had six seniors. This year with all the freshmen, I think it’s important for us to play. If we got one more game, that would be great. If we can get two, even better. Keep on winning, you know?”

Hofstra athletic director Jack Hayes responded today to an interview request about the CIT and CBI with the following statement: “We are interested in playing in the postseason and would be thrilled to receive an invitation from any of the four postseason tournaments.”

The best way for Hofstra to assure itself another game is to offer to host it—almost surely in the CIT, which charges schools just under $30,000 to host, less than half as much as the CBI. Money talks with these new postseason tournaments (well, with the old ones too), which is why a certain friendly CAA rival with a worse overall record and lower RPI than Hofstra has already locked up a CIT home game.

Of course, nobody at Hofstra ever listens to me, and probably with just cause, so I don’t expect to be at the Arena next Tuesday or Wednesday night watching the Dutchmen take on a regional foe. My guess is if Hofstra wanted to host a CIT or CBI game, it would have already announced plans for ticket sales. Plus, the opportunity is fading as I type, with Creighton joining George Mason in revealing it will host one of the eight first round CIT games.

But despite the likelihood it would be a money-losing endeavor for the school—the two preseason NIT games that weren’t listed on the schedule in November drew barely 1,500 combined, well short of the 2,800 or so Hofstra would need to break even with a CIT game—the school should consider it part of a continued investment in the program.

The season began with a game at top-ranked Kansas and four games in the preseason NIT. Participating in the CIT or CBI won’t be as prestigious, but what if further solidifies the foundation for an NCAA Tournament run next year?

The administration need look no further than Monday night for proof it’s possible. Freshly minted CAA champion Old Dominion won the CIT last year (and had three home games before beating Bradley on the road in the title game). Hard to argue that the feeling and experience of winning a title, no matter how secondary, didn’t have something to do with the Monarchs returning to the big dance this year.

I wrote last spring that it looked bad when Hofstra—one of just seven 20-win teams who didn’t participate in a tournament—declined to participate in the CBI or CIT. I think, with skidding George Mason hosting a game, it’d look even worse if Hofstra had a chance to get a bid this year, but missed out because it wouldn’t host a game. (Note to Mason Nation and particularly those who eat paste and like to start fake Twitters: I’m not actually blaming Mason for this)

Despite the Patriots’ lousy stretch run (2-7 in their last nine games), and their obvious chemistry and maturity issues, I applaud Mason for extending its season. (That sound you just heard was the world spinning off its axis) With 10 freshmen or sophomores, it makes sense for Mason to do whatever it can to hasten the growing up process.

I also applaud Mason’s decision because that’s what schools without football do: They make a commitment to basketball, even if it means playing in the hoops version of the Tangerine Bowl. If Hofstra isn’t going to pour extra resources into the basketball programs now—with football gone and the men’s team having earned the opportunity to keep playing with 10 wins in its last 12 games—then when will it?

Plus, the brief history of the CIT downright demands Hofstra host a game. George Mason finished fourth in the CAA, just like Old Dominion last year. James Madison finished seventh in the CAA last season with almost the exact same record (19-14) as the Dutchmen this season but hosted a first-round CIT game and made it to the final four (sorry, I’m not capitalizing final four when it refers to the CIT or CBI, at least not until the Dutchmen are among the Final Four teams playing in one of the tourneys), where the Dukes lost to ODU.

Maybe history can repeat itself, except this time the seventh-place team beats the fourth-place team. Make it happen, Hofstra, and let the Dutchmen play at least one more game.

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