Tulsa is just above the Red Line in Conference USA, which was briefly on our side of the line last season. With 3,000 students, they are the smallest school above the Red Line. The Golden Hurricane however has a very competitive athletic program, and were one of the top teams usually in the Missouri Valley through the mid 90s. Today their opponent was Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers are on our side of the line, but have a strong tradition. Western Kentucky made the Sweet 16 four years ago under coach Darrin Horn and future NBA player Courtney Lee. This matchup between Tulsa and Western Kentucky should be a good game to bring in plenty of fans.
Except it didn't. That is because this game was played at a neutral site at 12:30 PM on a Thursday afternoon. Only about 1,000 fans showed up at the College of Charleston's 5,100 seat Carolina First/TD Bank/Whatever Bank Owns It Now Arena. This was the first game of the Charleston Classic, a tournament developed by ESPN to fill space on ESPNU's lineup. Like the tournament that Kyle went to a couple years ago in Daytona, this is a showcase event with Division I basketball all day long that few people come out to watch.
Like is too often the case, schools play in this tournament for money. Not many people come, and those that do are charged $20 for every 2 games. Ads are plastered across the arena with various sponsors, and the pep bands were to wear Foster Grant sunglasses since Foster Grant was a sponsor. Wearing sunglasses indoors does not make much sense, but this is the logic with the DirecTV Charleston Classic brought to you by Foster Grant. The tournament usually draws both strong mid-majors and weak power conference schools. With their sights on money, tournament organizers have been increasingly likely to sacrifice good basketball and go with the weak schools from above the Red Line.
Host College of Charleston played in the tournament three years ago, and NCAA regulations make them ineligible to play in it again until next year. Drawing fans is a challenge, especially on a work day in the afternoon. During the game that followed, I joked on Twitter how this is the only place you can see a half full mid-major arena for two major teams playing. Tony Ciuffo, C of C's former radio announcer, replied that a half full arena is actually a good crowd. During football season, most fans unfortunately are not ready for basketball.
Not many C of C students were going to come to this game, being an afternoon on a school day. But one C of C student showed up at halftime with textbooks in hand and cheered for the Hilltoppers six rows behind their bench as they looked to pull off the Red Line Upset. C of C students had to deal with ESPN programming schedules as well, as recapped by Joe Wright in their 8 AM game against Morehead State Tuesday. The pep bands were handled by the high schools of Cross and Timberland, from rural Berkeley County an hour north of Charleston. One idea could be to bring in more students from the high schools to serve as student sections to enhance the atmosphere even further.
The Hilltopper fans outnumbered those from Tulsa. But as the game progressed, it didn't seem to matter. Darrin Horn is now coaching at South Carolina, and Courtney Lee graduated to the NBA. These are not the same Hilltoppers that made the Sweet 16. WKU kept it close early, but foul trouble took its toll and Tulsa would go on to roll to a 65-49 win. Western Kentucky's next opponent is LSU, which lost to Northwestern in the next game. Maybe then they can have more success chasing for the coveted Red Line Upset.
TULSA 65, WESTERN KENTUCKY 49 11/17/2011
TULSA 3-0 (0-0) -- M. Glover 2-7 9-13 13; J. Clarkson 4-12 0-2 9; S. Haralson 3-11 1-1 9; K. Maduka 7-8 2-2 16; D. Magley 2-5 2-2 6; T. Peete 2-3 0-3 5; E. McClellan 1-5 5-6 7; S. Idlet 2-7 4-5 8; J. Richard 1-2 0-0 2; R. Smith 1-2 1-2 3; D. Medder 0-0 0-0 0; D. Wishon 0-1 0-0 0; J. Booker 0-0 0-0 0; J. Coleman 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-56 15-23 65. WESTERN KENTUCKY 1-2 (0-0) -- D. Gordon 2-12 0-0 6; K. Kaspar 3-6 0-0 7; N. Snipes 4-13 0-0 10; C. Dickerson 0-3 0-0 0; K. McDonald 5-13 0-0 13; V. Zollo 0-6 0-0 0; K. Anyigbo 2-8 4-6 8; O. Akamune 2-4 1-1 5; J. Crook 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 18-67 5-7 49.
Three-point goals: TULS 4-15 (S. Haralson 2-7; J. Clarkson 1-4; T. Peete 1-2; E. McClellan 0-1; R. Smith 0-1), WKU 8-31 (C. Dickerson 0-2; K. McDonald 3-8; D. Gordon 2-6; K. Kaspar 1-3; N. Snipes 2-8; V. Zollo 0-4); Rebounds: TULS 46 (D. Magley 12), WKU 34 (D. Gordon 9); Assists: TULS 14 (J. Clarkson 3), WKU 10 (D. Gordon 3); Total Fouls -- TULS 15, WKU 22; Fouled Out: TULS-None; WKU-None.