After a strong season, USC Upstate was knocked out of the Atlantic Sun by Florida Gulf Coast, a school also in its first year of eligibility for the postseason. USC Upstate had 20 wins, but in the Atlantic Sun this meant that they were not going to the NCAA Tournament. It was a good season, but good seasons below the Red Line are often not rewarded unless they lead to a conference title. When I was at High Point and AZ Reid was a junior, we won 22 games, but it would end with a loss in the Big South tournament. But that was back when the NIT was the only Ghost Bracket. Today, the CBI and CIT both exist as well. And with the expansion of the CIT the last couple years, not only would USC Upstate still be playing, but they would be playing at home as well. This game against Kent State would also allow me to end my season with a postseason tournament a lot cheaper than the NCAA Tournament.
Ghost Brackets have come under fire by some, particularly on this site. Kyle came up with the term because all the teams playing in them are "dead", as they have been eliminated from that magical chance of winning the national championship. To Kyle, the season ends with a loss, and the CIT is an extension of a season that should be over. For partly the same reason, Kyle also is not too fond of at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament, which are revivals of dead seasons. The rationale is that each team should learn about the finality that comes with a loss when the season is on the line. Upstate never had much of a chance of winning the national championship, but after the FGCU loss they no longer had a path to a national title. And for that reason, many mock the existence of these tournaments. The humor website Sports Pickle mocked a CBI game between Wyoming and Washington State, in which they depict the CBI participants as calling in a fake score when they instead are going out for pizza. And there is also the budget issue involving postseason tournaments for cash-strapped mid-majors. Kent State would have to travel from Ohio to South Carolina for what some would call a meaningless game. To offset this cost, USC Upstate had to pay $30,000 for CIT hosting rights.
But Upstate was very glad to pay this fee. To be in the postseason as a Division I school was a big new experience for them, and the school was happy with being able to promote a #ghostbracket appearance. And by playing at home, they could promote to the Spartanburg community more about who they are. Upstate, in the shadow of other local sports programs, is desperate whatever attention they can get. A home game served as something to promote to the community. And one could argue that the ghost brackets are very similar to most bowl games in college football, which also have no impact on a national championship. All of the teams playing in the ghost brackets are quality teams, as the NCAA requires a winning record for non-automatic bids who are in the postseason. Most schools above the Red Line however feel the CIT is beneath them, and have slowly started to accept CBI bids only recently. But if you are a mid-major, these tournaments serve as a postseason experience that they will not have unless they win their conference tournament. The NIT has historically served as a measure for excellence among non-conference champions. Even after the NCAA Tournament passed the NIT as the most prestigious postseason tournament in the 1950s, the NIT still was known for quality basketball. One of my dad's favorite moments as a student at Southern Illinois was when his Salukis, in their last season before joining Division I, turned down playing in the Division II tournament to accept an invitation to the NIT. SIU would go on to win the NIT that year behind the play of future NBA star Walt Frazier. But with the expansion of the NCAA Tournament, the NIT is today only serving as the most prestigious of the ghost brackets. The NIT, CBI, and CIT are afterthoughts with little meaning attached for most schools.
But for Upstate, they were playing after their conference tournament and this was a big deal. The school doubled the price of regular admission, charging $15 instead of the usual $8. The tournament was hyped as the place to be for students and the Spartanburg community, with students receiving giveaways. One of these giveaways students received was a green tie-dye t-shirt (which students periodically receive during the season), with this one reading "First Dance". I am not sure making the CIT qualifies as making the "Dance", but Upstate is too proud of what they have accomplished in such a short period at the Division I level that this does not matter to them. Of course, Upstate knows how to produce hype. They have some of the nicest scoreboards with large HD video boards and a hyped up starting lineup, which seems a bit ironic in an arena with an actual seating capacity less than Charleston Southern (which was thought to be Division I's smallest arena). The usual PA announcer has a delivery more akin to what you find with professional wrestling, although he was not present for this game. In addition, Upstate promoted Eddie Payne's 400th career coaching victory that came with he school's 20th win in their final regular season game. Payne was credited on his profile with 380 career wins going in to this season, but when I tallied up his win total from each school and each season, it only came out to 377. If that is correct, then Payne still had three more wins going into tonight's game to get career win 400. But Upstate seems to promote what it can, and Payne has had a long career at many different places leading up to his success at USC Upstate.
So with all this hype surrounding the CIT, I looked into buying a seat online. However the ticket system used by the CIT for Upstate was different from their regular system and this newer system did not show seat locations. I held off on buying a ticket, and checked a few hours before tip to see the webpage say there were no tickets left. I briefly panicked, although I figured that most likely Upstate had taken the online sales down in order to manage sales at the door. But shortly afterwards the tickets were back up online, so I made sure I got one. And by game time Upstate did sell out, not bad for the CIT although this was a rather small arena with only 818 seats. And when I got there, Upstate had a tailgate party where they were selling food outside the arena. I already had eaten before, so I did not get anything. I could tell that Upstate seemed to deeply care about this game, which few teams do with the CIT.
And it seemed that one team that did not care too much about the CIT was Kent State. The Golden Flashes have a strong mid-major athletic program, with the basketball team having been to the Elite Eight ten years ago. The CIT was not a big step for their program like it was for Upstate. From reading online discussions from Kent State fans, they seemed to care about the game but less so than most of the games that came before it. But it seemed that some of the players were not too thrilled about having another game eight hours south of Kent. One bench player was quoted in the online discussion that they could "chalk it up as a loss", and this tournament was a waste of time. This seemed to mesh more with the critical view of the ghost brackets. Kent State was playing this game more as a chore than as a big game they needed to win, even though a loss meant they would not play any games for the remainder of the 2011-2012 season. Three other teams in the MAC were participating, and one of the CIT selection committee members was Antonio Gates, a former Golden Flash who went on to success in professional American-style football. Kent State was expected to show up and play, and so they went to Spartanburg. But the only question was how could they perform with little to play for?
While the entrance was a little less hyped than usual, USC Upstate did not promote this game in a neutral manner that is usually seen with other campus site postseason events. And while Kent State did bring some family members and some isolated alumni from the area, it was clear that this was the Spartans' big game, and not that of the Golden Flashes. And when the game tipped off, that was clearly shown on the court as well. Upstate came out firing, and by the second media timeout at the under 12 mark of the first half Upstate already led by 15 points. Upstate would continue to cruise throughout the first half, even with little production from A-Sun Player of the Year Torrey Craig. Upstate led by as much as 20 points in the first half, and was up 40-22 at halftime.
But Kent State changed things up a bit at halftime. KSU coach Rob Senderoff would send his team off to a much better start in the second half, and showed a bit of passion during timeouts and also yelling at the officials. A brief conflict between the KSU family members and Upstate students occurred when the Spartan fans wanted Senderoff to be sent off as he unleashed a tirade on the sidelines. KSU cut the lead to eight, and it seemed that they finally were starting to get into the game. But Upstate still had more life in them, and Craig began to takeover. Craig finished with 17 points, most of which were in the second half before he left with an injury with a couple minutes left. By that time, Upstate was dominating the game again. USC Upstate would get the 73-58 win, and it was there enthusiasm for just making the CIT that carried them in this game. The team that wanted the win got it.
And that would be the end of college basketball for me in this season, and this is my final recap for the 800 Games Project. The season would continue for the Spartans, but only briefly as they were eliminated two days later from the CIT by Old Dominion in Norfolk. With this being my final recap, I have delayed it a bit unintentionally to gather all my thoughts on the season. The great thing about this season was to help out with what has been my favorite college basketball website since I first started reading it on a daily basis four years ago, and have always been at least an occasional reader from the beginning. I have not been able to contribute financially when I spend the little money I have to create my own adventures, so this was a venue where I could share what I have been doing. When I met both Matt Cayuela and Ross Lancaster at a Charleston Southern-Coastal Carolina game, I compared it to events with my previous hobby in geocaching. Few people understand what I am doing when I go to hundreds of sporting events every year, even my own dad thinks I am crazy at times doing this. But with this 800 Games Project, I got to meet others who do much of the same things I do. I even found somebody in Matt who actually goes to more Division I basketball games than I do! Nobody can compare to what Kyle has done over the years, and that is what has made the 800 Games Project such a challenge. It takes all of us and each of us (#AOUEOU) to accomplish our goals. And while this is it for me, we still have a little ways to go , and I hope this helps get us to the finish line.
And of course all of the games we go to, even ghost bracket games, have meaning attached to them. Maybe Kent State did not get to where they wanted to go to like their fellow MAC member Ohio did, finishing in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. But Kent State was once part of the same struggle and still played on here in this game. And we must remember that we have to support each other, because we are in this together in the struggle to fight the teams above the Red Line. Kyle's essay on the Sports Bubble helped tie the whole Red Line struggle with financial survival as the teams at the top are motivated by economic greed and use Our Game as a stepping stone to make money. And the name that Kyle gave this site comes from the fact that we are the majority of Division I basketball. There are only 94 schools above the Red Line, with two more schools getting exemptions. After that, there are 249 schools that belong to Our Game. Therefore, we are the majority with over 72 percent of all teams being covered by this site. And while the bigger schools have more students than we do typically, most students do not attend a school above the Red Line.
According to the most recent data from the Office of Postsecondary Education, there are 8.8 million full-time undergraduate college students at any school with a sports team, whether that be Division I or below the Black Line. Of that number, only 1.7 million attend a school above the Red Line. Yet we have many students at our schools more interested at what goes on across the line. Why? The problem is that when most people think of Division I athletics, mid-major basketball is not usually what comes to mind. All the time I see stories where pundits complain about how corrupt college sports has become and how athletes do not see much of the money that their schools are making from their efforts. While the CIT may not hold the same standard of relevance as the NCAA Tournament, these pundits need to take a look at games like what I saw with this game. Two teams playing in front of a small yet passionate group of fans with the only reward being what the teams make of it. This is what college sports ought to be more like.
And the meaning that this had for me was being able to get outside, and discover new places. Sports are a great route for helping manage travel plans and see new things. I do not live as close to a Division I school as most people do on here. After my grad school in South Carolina finished their guarantee game slate, I had to travel at least a full hour to each. And at most places I was an outsider that did not fit in with the rest of the crowd. That is true not just at HBCUs like S.C. State where I stand out more visually, but also when I am at HPU's road games cheering on the away team. Even with this game at Upstate, I came by myself not knowing most of the people there, and that is the case most everywhere I go. Even where I go to where I most belong when I go back to High Point, I do not quite fit in there either. The students now are pretty much entirely different, and even much of the people working at HPU are different as well. But experiencing new things is what keeps me going. And the great thing about the 800 Games Project is that others are motivated to behave differently as well. Matt went all over the Carolinas this year after he thought he would just be staying in Myrtle Beach most of the year with his Coastal Carolina season ticket. More people are going to new places, and that is why there has been a leaderboard for miles at the bottom of this webpage. We must fight provincialism, the accepting of only your normal everyday surroundings. I wish there was a chart that showed the number of venues each person has gone to, as for this project I attended 56 games in 20 different arenas. Matt went to even more different arenas than I did, going to 66 games in 23 different venues. Raymond Curren and Donovan Potts both got to 18, and it is great to see people cover many different spots beyond what they are familiar with. If I had more money I would try to visit even more.
And so that is it for what I can do. I tried watching some games on television during the NCAA Tournament, but now I am so used to be at an arena where I can look at something beyond advertising during timeouts and see everything there is to see. My biggest hope is that we can get the 11 games (as of writing this) we need in addition to this recap, and I lok forward to reading the epilogue that appears to be likely written by Donovan Potts. I do not know what my level of involvement will be in Season 9 yet, but I hope to be active in some way. I have thought about starting my own site for other niche markets, such as mid-major basketball or non-Division I basketball, markets that are even less served than mid-major hoops. I have always wanted to start a website where people can submit photos and reviews of different sports venues, similar to what Matt has done with bars in the Myrtle Beach area on his Myrtle Beach Happy Hour website. But for now, I must move on to the next phase of my life. I spent four years in high school, four years of college, and just now finishing up four more years of part-time/volunteer/graduate school work. Now I hope to find an area that I can belong to and become employed full-time. Where this next phase will take me I do not know. But just like all parts of our game including the ghost brackets, we never know what will happen next and where we will end up in life.
And for one last memento on the season, I have a slideshow of all the games I have been to. Each year I try to put together my own slideshow of games I attended at all levels, which will be 162 this year once I go to a NBA game in Charlotte in a couple weeks with my family. And I have not been good at getting photos in most of my recaps, despite taking lots of photos at each game. So here is a look back at my 800 Games Project experience:
at SOUTH CAROLINA-UPSTATE 73, KENT STATE 58 03/15/2012
KENT STATE 21-12 (10-6) -- M. Porrini 4-9 0-0 8; J. Greene 3-9 6-8 12; R. Holt 4-9 0-0 9; C. Guyton 2-6 0-0 5; J. Manns 2-3 0-0 4; E. Gaines 3-5 1-4 7; K. Brewer 1-4 2-2 4; C. Evans 1-3 1-1 3; P. Jackson 1-1 0-0 2; M. Henniger 0-0 1-2 1; D. Manley 1-1 0-0 3. Totals 22-50 11-17 58. SOUTH CAROLINA-UPSTATE 21-12 (13-5) -- T. Greene 3-9 8-8 16; T. Craig 7-15 1-2 17; R. Glenn 5-7 2-3 12; M. Blessing 0-2 0-0 0; J. Maxey 5-9 3-5 13; A. Rodgers 4-11 0-0 8; B. Olumuyiwa 2-4 0-1 4; C. Rogers 1-3 0-0 3; F. Miller 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 27-63 14-19 73.
Three-point goals: KENT 3-17 (M. Porrini 0-3; C. Evans 0-2; R. Holt 1-5; E. Gaines 0-1; C. Guyton 1-3; K. Brewer 0-2; D. Manley 1-1), SCU 5-18 (C. Rogers 1-1; T. Craig 2-5; T. Greene 2-6; F. Miller 0-2; A. Rodgers 0-2; M. Blessing 0-2); Rebounds: KENT 28 (J. Greene 6), SCU 33 (R. Glenn 8); Assists: KENT 9 (M. Porrini 3), SCU 12 (A. Rodgers 4); Total Fouls -- KENT 13, SCU 17; Fouled Out: KENT-None; SCU-None.