Going into Thursday's games, only three schools were left in the Big South and Southern Conference that have not been covered. The schools in the Southern Conference are Georgia Southern and UNC Asheville. For the most part, the most prominent mid-majors have all had at least one person recap them. Mid-majors that care about basketball usually have fans that are on this site that as a result go on to cover their teams. With that said, prominent Missouri Valley member Wichita State is one of the 39 schools still to be checked off, and it is an absolute shocker (pun intended) that nobody has written about them yet.
For the most part however, these schools haven't been covered because their schools do not emphasize basketball. UNC Asheville is an interesting case of a Division I school that to a large extent de-emphasizes athletics in general, as evidenced by their very low athletic budget. But as for the Southern Conference schools, American-style football distracts much of their fanbase from basketball. This is also the case with many of the Mid-South schools, such as those in the Southland, which is the only conference left where most of its members have not been covered yet. As I have mentioned before, football is the big separating factor historically between the Big South and Southern Conference. Three schools have been granted a waiver to not play scholarship football: College of Charleston, UNC Greensboro, and Davidson. And these schools also tend to put the most emphasis on basketball as well. Only Chattanooga of the football schools seems to have succeeded in building a good basketball culture at the school as well.
Back in Kyle's ESPN days during Season 4, I asked him once in one of the chats which schools in the south had the best atmosphere. Kyle qualified the response by saying that big-time football takes away from basketball in the South, but that Winthrop, High Point, and Davidson all had good atmospheres. And these three schools either have no football team or one without scholarships as is the case with Davidson. The SoCon arenas are much bigger than those in the Big South for the most part, as the SoCon schools have been around longer. But schools like Appalachian State and Western Carolina mostly play in empty arenas on a nightly basis. The non-football schools do well, while everybody is watching other sports. And beyond football there is baseball as well, which is a major college sport in the southern and western regions in the United States as Joe Wright talked about in his recap between C of C and Elon.
But aside from Florida, much of the southern United States does care about basketball, but mostly near the Atlantic coast. The Appalachians are a different story, and the 800 Games Project map is void of games in that region. One problem Appalachian State has is that it is located in the small mountain resort town of Boone, with its fanbase spread out across all of western North Carolina. When I have seen ASU in Charlotte or Greensboro, the Mountaineers get a good showing of fans on the road. But home games rarely are ever full. Football fits more into the lifestyle of their fans, where on a few Saturdays in the fall they can head to the mountains to watch American-style football. Appalachian State has become one of the most successful mid-major football programs, winning three consecutive FCS titles and beating Big Ten power Michigan in 2007.
Tonight I would get to see the Mountaineers in Spartanburg, and Appalachian State had finally made its first appearance in the 800 Games Project. The Mountaineers were playing at Wofford, which also emphasizes football. But the Terriers have made the best they can of limited resources, having won the last two SoCon titles under Coach Mike Young. Wofford is the second smallest school in Division I, yet can still have both competitive football and basketball. The student body is fairly closely knit at Wofford, and will support all Terriers on campus. The community support from Spartanburg is a bit lacking at times, as Ben Johnson Arena is hardly ever full. To a large extent this is because of Wofford's small alumni base. Wofford does a remarkable job in sports considering its size, and they have definitely been able to carve out a basketball niche under Young.
Like most Wofford games, the Terriers have had to rely on playing a slow game to win. Unlike what I have seen with Winthrop, Wofford does better on offense than defense, although the score does not reflect that typically given the slow tempo of the game. Early on, much like they did at High Point, the Terriers had to score from outside shots by Kevin Giltner. But as the second half got under way Wofford was able to expand their lead by wearing down big men Andre Williamson and Isaac Butts. Williamson did manage 20 points, but the damage to Wofford was limited as the Mountaineers could not push the ball. Butts is big at 6-10 and 290, but Drew Crowell was able to beat him and the foul-prone Omar Carter for 19 points to lead Wofford to a 73-61 win. It will not get easier for the Mountaineers, who will play at Western Carolina Saturday as the Catamounts are coming off an impressive 141-39 win against Toccoa Falls on Tuesday.
So now Appalachian State has been covered, and there are 38 teams left. Hopefully we can do it, but we will need the help of those in the football-heavy areas. Hopefully there are people in those areas who care about basketball as well, and if you know them please let them know of the 800 Games Project. To be successful, we are going to need writers from all parts of the country, and with schools all around the country this should be done.
at WOFFORD 73, APPALACHIAN STATE 61 01/19/2012
APPALACHIAN STATE 7-10 (3-4) -- A. Williamson 8-12 2-2 20; O. Carter 2-8 2-5 6; J. Trice 2-8 3-4 7; T. Hamilton 2-6 0-0 5; M. Neal 2-4 2-2 8; N. Healy 1-5 0-0 3; G. Vilarino 3-5 0-0 7; I. Butts 0-1 0-0 0; M. Woods 2-4 0-0 5. Totals 22-53 9-13 61. WOFFORD 11-8 (4-3) -- B. Loesing 4-11 2-2 10; K. Giltner 6-9 2-2 18; D. Crowell 6-10 7-8 19; K. Cochran 2-6 0-0 5; A. Smith 4-6 0-0 8; L. Skinner 3-5 1-2 7; J. Byrd 3-4 0-0 6; D. Rinksalis 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 28-52 12-14 73.
Three-point goals: APST 8-23 (O. Carter 0-1; A. Williamson 2-3; J. Trice 0-2; N. Healy 1-5; G. Vilarino 1-1; M. Woods 1-3; T. Hamilton 1-5; M. Neal 2-3), WOFF 5-14 (D. Crowell 0-1; K. Giltner 4-5; B. Loesing 0-3; K. Cochran 1-4; J. Byrd 0-1); Rebounds: APST 23 (A. Williamson 9), WOFF 30 (D. Crowell 8); Assists: APST 11 (M. Neal 3), WOFF 16 (B. Loesing 7); Total Fouls -- APST 14, WOFF 15; Fouled Out: APST-O. Carter; WOFF-None.