RTC columnist Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) is looking for the spirit of college basketball as he works his way on a two-week tour of various venues around the West. For more about his trip, including his itinerary and previous stops on his journey, check out the complete series here.
Last Thursday night, I was able to see the second best team in the country play – on their famed, raucous home floor, no less. Monday night I had a date with the second worst team in all the land, and we met up in the fourth smallest gymnasium in Division-1. This Southern Utah-Sacramento State matchup did stand out from all others on my itinerary (and probably not in the most flattering of ways), but games like this one cut to the core of why this trip exists. On their own, small-conference programs rarely find the spotlight (although Sacramento State can tell you that when they do, it’s kind of fun…), but college basketball would not be the same without them. The Tournament wouldn’t be the Tournament without 1991 Richmond, 2001 Hampton, or 2013 Florida Gulf Coast; consider college hoops without its flagship event, and the sport would certainly need some redefining.
My focus typically lies with the home team when I’m visiting a new venue, but the host Hornets had to share my attention with their visitors from Southern Utah last night. Yes, Rush the Court is fast becoming the Thunderbird Times, but don’t pretend that you could avert your eyes from a train-wreck in progress, either. Nick Robinson’s team entered Monday night with a Ken Pom ranking of 350 (out of 351), still seeking their first D-I victory of the season. When #351 Grambling snapped a 45-game D-I losing streak midway through the action in Sacramento, Southern Utah was suddenly facing a must-win if they sought to avoid the true basement of the rankings.