2018-19 Season Recap
By: Ethan Hennessy
This post is wrapping up and looking back at the road trips I went on, the games I saw, arenas I visited, and experiences I had in this 2018-19 college basketball season (my junior year of college). I’m mainly writing this so that I’ll be able to look back and have a record of the great experiences I had, and games I attended this season.
What a season it has been! It started way back on October 27th 2018 in Kalamazoo Michigan, and 38 games later ended April 5th 2019 in Chicago Illinois. I saw games in nine different states and the District of Columbia. I traveled as far south as Nashville Tennessee, as far north as Milwaukee Wisconsin, as far east as Princess Anne Maryland to a school called literally called Maryland Eastern Shore, and as far west as DeKalb Illinois. I took in everything from a top 15 upset and court storming to the matchup between literally the two worst teams in division one basketball at the time (352 vs. 353). I saw and covered a team win a postseason tournament championship, and saw a team lose their exhibition game to a division two school.
After two preseason exhibitions I covered in Michigan at Western Michigan and #19 Michigan in which the home team both times beat Northwood I set off on my longest college basketball roadtrip from Northwest Indiana all the way down to Nashville Tennessee and Bowling Green Kentucky. I stayed with my friend Koty Geyer in Southern Indiana for the weekend for this trip. We got an early start to the day on Saturday getting down to Music City by mid morning. We toured the Country Music Hall of Fame and had some authentic southern chicken. Then it was off to game one of our doubleheader at Lipscomb University. It felt weird to be at an Atlantic Sun arena because that is a conference that is primarily in Florida, and both my university and hometown are not particularly near Florida, so I did not think I would be visiting an ASUN school anytime soon.
The campus was pristine, Allen Arena is a beautiful arena, and the ticket clerk was even from Northwest Indiana. Game two of our double header took us to Conference USA country to see the Western Kentucky. The Hilltopper mascot I claimed as my spirit animal, and was probably the coolest mascot I saw all year. One aspect I thought WKU missed out on was selling their signature red towel at games because I would have bought one, but there were not being sold at Diddle Arena.
Back home for thanksgiving break I took in a game at University of Maryland with my brother as we saw Marshall. The highlight of that game was the bucket of popcorn we got with a free refill.
When back in the Midwest I made my annual trip to Notre Dame an hour east of Valpo. This time I went with my friends Ian and JN as we witnessed a good game in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Notre Dame won it on an Illinois buzzer beater that rimmed out. Purcell is always a great venue to see a game at. It is one of the smallest ACC arenas with not a bad seat in the house. The folks in South Bend are always super nice, and unless you try to go for the big ACC games like Duke or North Carolina the tickets are usually surprisingly very cheap. One of the things I remember most from this trip was us slipping and sliding on the sheet of ice that covered all of Notre Dame’s sidewalks, and when returning to Valpo we got stuck behind a truck for a little while in the tollbooth exiting I-90 on a snowy night.
The very next day I headed to Northwestern to cover their ACC challenge game against Georgia Tech at the newly renovated (and very purple) Welsh Ryan Arena.
It was cool to get to interview Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner after the game.
The calendar flipped to December and that saw my first two Valpo division 1 home game appear on the schedule. The first was a Sunday matinee game against UC Riverside which was my first Big West team I have seen.
48 hours later we welcomed the High Point Panthers to the ARC. This game was neat because GG Smith former Loyola Greyhounds head coach is an assistant on the panthers staff. His father Tubby Smith former national championship winning head coach is also the head coach at High Point. I got to get a picture with both, and talk with GG before the game.
Loyola MD has an always will been my team through childhood and up through currently because I grew up on Loyola and MAAC basketball going to multiple games every year because my Mom is a professor there, so even though many of the faces have changed in Reitz now it is always cool to run into those greyhounds connections at different games. At the Valpo High Point game Rik Smits former NBA All Star for the Indiana Pacers was also in attendance to see his son Derik play for the crusaders.
Despite losing a close one (which was a very unfortunate theme for Valpo home games this year) to High Point it was still a cool game to be at.
The throwback Loyola week did not stop there as former Loyola assistant coach Greg Manning who is now the video coordinator in College Park for the Terps was nice enough to hook my friend JN and I up with tickets to see #23 Maryland take on Purdue in West Lafayette.
I had seen a game at Mackey Arena back in my freshman year, but I sat way up at the top in the uncomfortable bleachers, and it was a blowout against Cleveland State, so it was very exciting to go back for a great game. We actually sat below the court on the floor which meant we could only see from the chest up of players. As the grandmother of one of the Maryland players commented “I thought this was supposed to be an engineering school”. However, there were few complaints from me about the vision because I was just glad to be there, and for free nonetheless. The environment at Mackey was electric, and despite my Terps losing a close one we managed to get on BTN! On the ride back we passed through the wind turbine farm north of West Lafayette on I-65 which all flash simultaneously at night, and is wild to see if you have not experienced it. The new Michael Buble CDs got their first of many uses this season. What a voice!
I went back home for Christmas break, and had the first of my 13 day breaks from going to games. When I did get on the road again it was a trip up I-95 to Newark Delaware to see my first game in the first state, and cover the route one rivalry for Happening Hoops.
This was a game I did not expect to be as close as it was, but it was actually one of the best games I saw all season as Delaware State pulled out a close game against their rivals at the Bob Carpenter Center.
The last game of 2018 was my only one of the season in DC. Another rivalry was on the docket as I saw the American Eagles out of the patriot league take on the host George Washington Colonials out of the A10. Despite overly expensive tickets for the quality of basketball the Charles E Smith Center was still a cool venue. I enjoyed the Washington skyline on the court, and the flags of the different countries hanging in front of the student section. It is representative of a very international men’s basketball program at a very international school. My last game on the east coast during winter break came on January 3rd as I got up to Reitz Arena in Baltimore. I’ve been going to at least one Loyola Greyhounds game at Reitz Arena every season (except one) since I was in 6th grade in the 2009-10 season. Most seasons I would go to two to four games with my family, but since I’ve gone off to college in Indiana I am usually only able to get to one hounds game over breaks. This year my Mom and brother Alec accompanied me to the Loyola vs. Holy Cross game. Despite Loyola losing the game it was still good to be back on the evergreen campus. We saw Andrew Kostecka put on a show as he finished this year as one of the leading scorers in all of division 1. I also got to catch up and chat with Jim Chivers who is the color commentator for Loyola.
Back in the Midwest Valpo started MVC play. My first game was the day I flew back when I saw the crusaders beat the eventual Missouri Valley Conference champions Bradley. A quick hop skip and a jump over to Chicago State to see one of the two new division one teams Cal Baptist play (and win their first WAC road game) at the Jones Convocation Center occurred before coming back to see Valpo beat Northern Iowa at the ARC, and get a replica Victory Bell during a giveaway.
The next game was one of the best ones I attended all season. Normally an average Tuesday night MAC game would not spark so much excitement, however, this was no ordinary Tuesday night MAC game because it featured the number 14 ranked team in the country the Buffalo Bulls at Northern Illinois. I was scheduled to cover Buffalo at Western Michigan a week earlier, but I ended up getting sick and was unable to make the trip, so that made this game all the more special. However, I was worried I almost wasn’t going to be able to make this trip either. The day of the game a bad ice storm west of Chicago had moved into the DeKalb area which made conditions hazardous to travel. I probably would not have gone if I had been able to see ranked Buffalo the week before in Kalamazoo. However, I did not have that chance, and this turned out to actually be the last chance of the season to see ranked Buffalo, so I (cautiously) braved the storm (yes I was careful Mom). It seemed like on most road trips this season I heard the song “Happier” by Marshmellow (when not playing a CD from my big booklet, if you’ve dirven with me you know what I’m talking about) at least once if not multiple times on the radio station. It actually didn’t really feel like a roadtrip this year unless during my drive to or from a game I hear that song at least once. I mention that because I think the song came on at least five times during the NIU trip. Anyways back to the game this was the first time NIU had hosted a ranked team in a decade. NBA scouts from the Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawks were scheduled to be in attendance given the name plates right next to me on press row, but they probably were unable to make it because of the weather. The same was fantastic Buffalo on paper was the more tallented and better coached team. They run out a lineup of 6 phenominal 4 year seniors which unfortuently in this day and age of college basketball is extremely rare. Everybody would just assume #14 Buffalo should win this game against an inferior MAC opponent on a Tuesday night in late January, but thats why the play the games. NIU was not rattled by the number beside Buffalo’s name or the 17-1 record they sported; they came out and danced with them punch for punch. NIU took at 38-32 lead into halftime after trailing early, and there was that sense of excitment in the building that happens at a sporting even when something incredible is in the process of happening like a no-hitter in baseball. There was a murmur amoung the crowd and those of us on press row of “oh my goodness can this actually happen?” “Can NIU beat mighty Buffalo?” When the huskies blitzed the bulls out of the break and extended the lead to 10 I remember I literally had to close my jaw that was hanging wide open with the feeling of: is NIU really up double digits on a top 15 team in the country in the second half right now? The game ended up getting close down the stretch, but NIU squeaked out a 77-75 win. There was actually a preumptive court storming because the game was thought to be over, but an additional 0.6 seconds was put back on only to have a full court Buffalo pass intercepted, and the court stormed again and this time for real.
This was the second court storming I have ever seen in person the other being my freshman year when Valpo beat number 21 Rhode Island at the ARC, and I led the charge onto the floor. There was no doubt that this game was the biggest college basketball game in the country that night. It was just surprising that the biggest game in the country was in DeKalb Illinois. Regardless it felt so cool to be there in person! This is a game I’ll remember for a long time. The drive back home in the ice storm which had worsened was very difficult visibility was virtually non exhistance, but I made it back safely. Shoutout to Khobi Price who was a super nice student journalist at NIU who along with SID Jeremy Reid, and some of the other media members made me feel very welcomed in DeKalb. Because of all the friendly people I want to try to get back there next year, but I also know it would be a little bit of a letdown if I do return because neither the game nor environment will be anything like this one.
Well all of that makes the Drake at Valpo game the next weekend seem rather anticlimactic, but someone has to follow up the candidate for game of the year. Drake came to the ARC. It was a great crowd full student section. I yelled at Drake center Nick McGlynn to stop smacking our chairs which he apparently does before every game. Not much else to say about that one. We also welcomed Missouri State to Valpo 72 hours later for the first time the bears came to town with students in session since I’ve been a student. This game was memorable because it was when we had the bone-chilling cold snap with temperatures as low as -30 and wind chill down to -52 the very next day, so the university stayed open on Tuesday (even though they really should not have) to play the Missouri State game which of course went to Overtime. I was yelling at the Missouri State players to miss some shots because we all have to get out of here the University is closed and they will be turning off the lights. Well they did not listen to me, and instead made some shots and won in overtime. The next day I decided to not be stupid and despite wanting to go to South Dakota at Fort Wayne at the Gates Center which was still somehow being played I ultimately decided even though an ice storm the week before was not to dangerous -50 degrees was, so I stayed inside. It was frustrating though because the 2018 National Championship trophy ended up being at the game that day, and it seems like I am always just barely missing that thing. As an aside I wish they made a more public announcement of which games the trophy will be at because I have narrowly missed it o multiple occasions.
Going into my February 3rd roadtrip I had seen at least one game at all sixteen division one schools within 150 miles of Valparaiso University except two. Well that day I knocked off one of the remaining two. In close to three years I still had not been to UIC which is only slightly over an hour from Valpo. The main reason for this is because they charge way too much in my opinion. It is $20 per ticket before fees and before parking for middling level horizon league basketball. Mid major basketball is on average $10. I was looking at the schedules and saw the best team in the Horizon and last years league champs the Northern Kentucky Norse were rolling through Chicago on Super Bowl Sunday for a matinee, so I decided to bite the pricey bullet, and cross Credit Union 1 Arena off my list. This game is the posterchild for the phrase come to a college basketball game and you might seen something you’ve never seen before. I saw a band member get ejected by a ref. For what you may ask? Banging a giant megaphone on the concrete steps causing a loud and distinctive noise. It was loud and distracting, but isn’t that the point of bands and student sections. I don’t think he should have been tossed, but hey thanks to the ejection I saw something I’ve never witnessed before. Credit Union 1 Arena (formerly the UIC Pavilion) is a unique venue. It had the feeling of a giant ballroom converted to a college basketball arena much like I’ve seen on TV in the Battle for Atlantis, and how I anticipated that venue would be like because the ceiling was low, and there was a carpet like floor surrounding the court.
It is also weird because the stands are way back from the court, but the first four rows in all of the sections have tarps over them adding to the feeling of being even further from the court. While none of these were particularly my cup of tea I respect it because perhaps the thing I love most about college basketball is no two of the 353 division one areas that are the same, so running into unique ones is always fun. I realized quickly the ticket I purchesed was in the out of town UIC player family section. That was okay because I had fun talking with the family of one of the UIC players from Ireland who were there for the weekend as well as the siter of a player from Las Vegas. We all cheered when I saw the second thing I had never seen before at a college basketball game happen. A NKU shot attempt to win the game got stuck inbetween the rim and the backboard to end the game.
As I mentioned earlier I was unable to get over to Fort Wayne for the South Dakota game, but I knew I wanted to see John Konchar the player who has been re-writing the Fort Wayne record books, and could be in the NBA next year play one more time. In this trip the themes of unusual areas, and seeing something you’ve never seen before at a game both continued. I had seen a game at Fort Wayne the year before when Chase, JN, and I went over to see Mike Daum and SDSU play the mastodons, but that was in Fort Wayne’s on campus Hilliard Gates Sport Center. I had never been to the Allen County War Memorial where they play their home games when able. Half of the time the venue is taken for concerts, ice hockey, or the NBA G-Leagues Fort Wayne Mad Ants, but I knew I would get a chance to see the venue at some point before I graduated Valpo because Fort Wayne splits about half of their home games at each venue. The Coliseum has a towering set of stands on each sideline, but virtually no seats along the baseline because they are covered by enormous 3+ story floor to ceiling curtains. It is similar to Assembly Hall to an extent, but still an unusual setup that is hard to describe just in words, so I hope you can get a better sense with the picture below.
The game I came to the Summit City for was a Thursday night Summit League tilt with the upper middle of the pack Mastodons and lowly Western Illinois Leathernecks. As I’ve talked about on my radio show before I love the fact that two teams close to Valpo (Chicago State and Fort Wayne) are in leagues that are so geographically spread out. For both conferences the two schools are the eastern most edge of the footprint, and nobody else is even close, so this means teams from far west that I would normally not get the chance to see play live otherwise are coming to Chicago and Fort Wayne regularly. Thanks to this I’ve been able to see teams like Grand Canyon, Utah Valley, North Dakota State, South Dakota State, California Baptist, and UTRGV play. I love me some WAC and Summit Basketball!
Back to this game though. As mentioned the earlier theme of seeing history took place this night as well. Brandon Gilbeck of Western Illinois recorded the first triple double featuring blocks as one of the three statistical categories since 2006. His stat line was 10 points, 16 rebounds, and 10 blocks. During the game it felt like he was grabbing a ton of rebounds and blocking an unusually large amount of shots, so it was cool to see after a rainy drive back across northern Indiana that the triple double did indeed happen, and I witnessed history.
The next game was a big one. Not only was Loyola Chicago defending MVC Champion, and final four participant from last year coming to the ARC for a game on ESPNU, but it was also my 100th game featuring two division one teams squaring off against each other. There was a tremendous buzz in the arena. It was the first sellout we had in my time there, and despite Valpo going cold at the end and losing a close one, and all of the obnoxious rival Loyola Chicago fans it was still a great atmosphere and great game. Afterwards I got a chance to briefly catch up with Porter Moser the head coach of the Ramblers who is a friend of Happening Hoops.
Porter came on the Happening Hoops Radio Show last season weeks before he led the ramblers to the 2018 Final Four. Porter is one of the nicest coaches in the business, so anytime we meet at a game we always catch up. After going to another Valpo game against Indiana State at the ARC I had an opportunity to visit the last remaining school within 150 miles of Valpo I had not yet seen a game at, UW Milwaukee. I was covering my last regular season game of the year. In this game the visiting Detroit Mercy Titans were one of the few Horizon League teams I did not get a chance to see play my freshman year when we were in the Horizon League, so it was good to see them now. They have a freshman Antoine Davis who was one of the best freshman scorers in division one. He was about a dozen 3 pointers shy of breaking the freshman record for most three pointers scored in a single season set by Steph Curry. He did not reach the milestone in this game, but it was still fun to cover. Milwaukee’s arena was not anything to write home about in my opinion it was far too large for the Horizon League it seats 10,000, but there were not more than 2,000-3,000 people there. The nachos which were recomended to me though where fantastic. It also felt cool to check off visiting every arena within 150 miles of my school, all 16 of them in three years. The 16 schools are (in the chronological order I visited them over the past three years): Valpo, DePaul, Loyola Chicago, Northwestern, Purdue, Illinois, Chicago State, IUPUI, Notre Dame, Western Michigan, Marquette, Butler, Fort Wayne, Northern Illinois, UIC, UW-Milwaukee).
I attended the annual Grand Canyon at Chicago State game which I have gone to every single year of college. This year turned out to be a blowout, but it was still a good time regardless. I caught up with Julio who is the play by play broadcaster for Chicago State. The next game we said goodbye to an icon; VU Rex (senior meteorology major Katie Nickolaou) who I have had the privladge of roming the baseline with at Valpo home games for the past three years anounced it was her final home game. Luckily we were able to send her out with a win against SIU, but games next year will not be the same without the giant inflatable T-Rex.
On Tuesday February 26th I embarked on the longest roadtrip I had ever done for a college basketball game in one day there and back. Virtually all of my roadtrips for college basketball games are made in one day, with the lone exception being the Nashville trip with Koty at the beginning of the season. This is because I am a full time college student who does not have the time, but mainly funds to take off multiple days and go on long roadtrips to destination college basketball arenas (as amazing as that sounds). Therefore, all of my trips are made to a place and back in one day waking up and going to sleep in my own bed. For this reason most of my trips are no longer than about 150 miles or 2 and a half hours one way because I double it coming back. Now I have had exceptions to go to places like Michigan or Indiana, but never for just an ordinary run of the mill game or arena until this trip. I decided after my classes were done at about noon to hop in the car and drive from northwest Indiana nearly three and a half hours plus a time change to northwest Ohio to see an average MAC game (unlike the Buffalo NIU one) of Miami Ohio at Bowling Green. Why I did this? I do not really know to be honest. I wanted to see a game in Ohio at some point because it is a surrounding state, and I had seen a game in every other surrounding state, so I felt the need to not leave one metaphorically hanging, but also it was a chance to see a new arena, and I always love the oppertunity to see a new arena. Either way you know you have driven a long way on a weeknight when you are technically in the Chicagoland area, and you start seeing signs for Cleveland close to your destination.
The game itself was not bad. Miami took it to Bowling Green who at the time had an outside shot of getting an NCAA at large bid. The game was a physical college basketball game, and the Stroh Center is a nice place to watch a college basketball game. Additionally, I had a neat little geographic and college basketball scheduling quirk. I saw a game at two different towns named Bowling Green, Bowling Green Kentucky and Bowling Green Ohio in the same season!
I made one last trip to Chicago State that Thursday after deciding between Chicago State vs. UTRGV and Fort Wayne vs. North Dakota I settled on the WAC game. I was a bit uneasy with my decision because last time I had a two game choice involving a game at Fort Wayne and another school I chose the game at Western Michigan, and future NBA player Mike Daum went for 51 points and 15 rebounds in Fort Wayne. However, this time my decision was reaffirmed as I saw a good game in the Windy City between the Vaqueros and Cougars. I was pulling hard for Chicago State to get its first conference win of the year, but it just wasn’t meant to be that night as they lost a close one.
Afterwards I made sure to stop by and say Hi to Lance Irvin head coach of Chicago State who is a friend of mine, and he introduced me to Texas Rio Grand Valley’s coach Lew Hill, and told him to check out my website HappeningHoops.com which was cool. Lance was also super nice and just gave me some gear for supporting and covering the cougars over the year which I am very appreciative of. I make sure to rep the cougars proudly and often!
I stayed in town an extra day to see Valpo lose to last place Evansville which turned out to be the last time I saw a bunch of the crusaders in the brown and gold thanks to graduations and transfers. My last regular season game is one that even surprises me I went to. Back home over spring break I had the car available one night, so I had a choice of options for a few games. None were really knocking my socks off, so I decided to be adventurous and head over to the eastern shore to Princess Anne Maryland to watch Delaware State at University of Maryland Eastern Shore. This was the second time I saw Delaware State play, and coincidentally both times it was against both of their rivals, Delaware and UMES.
This is one of those games and arenas I’m glad I did it once and saw it, but if I had to take a guess there is a good chance I won’t be seeing another game at UMES. Its not that UMES is awful it just not really worth it unless you either A live on the eastern shore where there is very limited division one basketball, or B you are chasing seeing every college basketball team and/or arena. Princess Anne is so remote and isolated. I live in between Baltimore and D.C., and it was a two and a half hour drive over the Bay Bridge and down the Delmarva peninsula to get there. Then once you get there you feel like you are so removed from the rest of the world it is erie in a way. The gym is unique with the setup of it being in the middle of an indoor track with just bleachers on the sidelines, and I appreciate uniqueness. However, overall the building is quite old, and UMES’ program has virtually no history. I also did not realize it until I was there and someone on twitter pointed it out, but the matchup I was seeing between Delaware State and UMES was literally the worst statistical matchup I could possibly see as the teams were ranked second to last and last in the KenPom ratings at the time of the game. I don’t want to spend all of my time bashing on UMES. I had been told MEAC bands are great to listen to, and Eastern Shore’s band did not disappoint.
These last games were a bonus I went into the season always knowing that if teams near my geographical area do not host NIT, CBI, or CIT games I am likley done going to games for the season. Given my predicting skills with the CBI/CIT bracketology, and looking at NIT bracketology I knew there was a chance, so that is why I was over the moon when the NIT and CBI brackets were released, and I saw that both DePaul and Indiana were hosting postseason games. However, I never in my wildest dreams could have predicted what the next three weeks of college basketball had in store for me. Mid March through early April 2019 was the most fun period of time I have ever experianced with the sport of college basketball.
It started off on March 20th went I went to DePaul’s on campus arena McGrath Phillips Arena for the first round of the 2019 Roman CBI Tournament. I walked in the door wide eyed with excitment. I had been to a CBI game once before in 2017 when my Loyola Greyhounds won at George Mason in the first round, and while that was very cool in its own right having my team beat a 20 win A-10 team who has made a final four in its history on the road in a postseason tournament; even I’ll admit George Mason probably was experiencing what I call the NIT 1 Seed syndrome where you are disappointed that you are in the lower level postseason tournament you ended up in. Now this CBI was different because not only was it featuring a local high major team from the Big East Conference, but I was also covering the game for my media brand. I quickly found my seat on press row courtside near centercourt. I ran into Greg Greenwell the SID for DePaul early on, and before I could get a word out he said “Look its Mr. CBI!”.
I chuckled; it was cool to see my hard work on the CBI/CIT bracketology getting recognized by those associated with the programs in the tournament. I went into this game in the back of my mind hoping DePaul wins because I would like to keep seeing postseason games here, but at the same time I was okay if they did lose to CMU in the first round because at least I got to be here and experiance and enjoy a postseason game. I felt like it was a toss up going into the game who won because CMU had 23 wins, and played in a good MAC this year, but DePaul’s 15-15 record was deceptive compared to CMU because they faced teams like Marquette and Villanova twice a year, and the game was also in Chicago. After a slow start in which DePaul was down 12 early they came back and won by double digits. DePaul bench sensation Pantelis Xidias even got in the game at the end. I met one of my followers Dave Torrez a DePaul fan at the game, and it was cool to see how him and other DePaul fans had excitement for the first time in a while in making the postseason, and having the opportunity to make a run at a championship.
I was back at McGrath Phillips for round two when DePaul beat Longwood. Max Strus scored 38 points, and managed to come away with a narrow victory.
Afterwards I interviewed Longwood coach Griff Aldrich about his team’s first division one postseason appearance and win, and the direction of the program. He has the program going in the right direction down in Farmville. During this game myself and the guys at WeAreDePaul.com were keeping a close eye on the rest of the CBI action as West Virginia surprisingly lost at home to Costal Carolina. I was disapointed because I would have liked to see West Virginia and Bob Huggins in probably the finals assuming both teams would have made it that far. However, This did now mean that DePaul had the inside track to likely having home court advantage in the finals if they could get there.
The quartefinals game against Longwood was on Monday, and I was back at McGrath Phillips 48 hours later on Wednesday, but on the inbetween day I steped away from the CBI to take in some different postseason action. This time of the NIT variety. I was unable to go to either of the first two rounds, but with Indiana hosting its last NIT game regardless of a win or loss I knew this was my last chance this year, and who knows maybe even all of college to catch and NIT game live. Therefore, I made the 400 mile roundtrip down to Bloomington to see Wichita State at Indiana in the NIT quarterfinals. I was joined by my friend Koty Geyer whose house I stayed at for our Nashville and Kentucky trip back in November on the opening weekend of the season. We had been to the historic Assembly Hall once before, but it was to see Howard on a Sunday night (for the first win of the Archie Miller era), so we still had experienced the bucket list arena, but needless to say Assembly Hall for an NIT quarterfinal game against Wichita State is a little bit different of an atmosphere than Howard on a Sunday night.
The seating was general admission, so we were able to get a seat towards the top of the lower deck. Last time we sat in the upper deck, so this time it was a much different feel. It is always special to watch a game at a place like Assembly Hall, and this time was no different. When Indiana is going on runs it is one of the loudest college basketball arenas I have been in. There were flashes of that in this game, but Wichita State won this one to move on to the NIT Final Four at Madison Square Garden. Afterwards we were walking down towards the court, and saw they were letting people on the court.
I got so excited I was going to get to go on the Assembly Hall court after an NIT game. It was so cool to experiance the building from an on floor level perspective. I walked around and took pictures with all of the NIT signage while grinning ear to ear. Finally on our way out I had been trying to meet up with a friend of mine Mark Adams who is an analyst for ESPN and former coach who was at the game with his son Robby all night, but we were unable to connect until on our way out Koty spotted him. Mark was nice enough to be the first guest on my radio show freshman year when I was just starting out, and then this year took the time to do an interview for my website on his scheduling reform.
Despite interviewing him twice, and being at the same game prior to this twice before I had not met him in person until tonight. We talked for some time afterwards about Wichita State, Valpo, the Valley, and mid major scheduling.
As I mentioned I was back at DePaul 48 hours after their quartefinal win over Longwood and 24 hours after the NIT game in Bloomington. This semifinal matchup brought the chantecleirs of Costal Carolina to Chicago with the winner getting a spot in the CBI finals. This game out of all of them was probably the least memorable. I felt like there was actually a decent chance Costal would win the game; afterall on Monday they just went into Morgantown and put up 109 in a win against West Virginia. Despite that performance DePaul was able to win the game. A shoutout needs to be given to whoever is in charge of the pregame meal in the media room at DePaul. Not only did it help me save mealplan money the five times I went, but the food was fantastic! Twice they had Lou Malnati’s Chicago Deep Dish Pizza. I had not tried authentic Chicago Deep Dish Pizza until this CBI run, but even the meals that were not that were delicious pastas and chicken. I joked in one of the earlier games they treat you very well in the Big East, but its true they do.
South Florida beat Loyola Marymount in the other semifinal, so game one of the CBI finals was down in Tampa. This was the only DePaul CBI game I did not go to. South Florida came away with a narrow win, so that meant when the series shifted to Chicago for game two on Wednesday April 3rd, yes I said April, DePaul had to win to force a winner take all game 3. This was the best game of the CBI run interms of crowd energy. The place was packed, ESPNU was covering the game, and it had that championship feel. They had me sitting further down the sideline for this one. I was paralell to the USF bench, and situated next to Kevin Sweeny as we had some conversation back and forth about metchups and other things college basketball.
Eli Cain ended up getting hurt in this game dislocating his elbow and breaking his wrist, and was unable to return for the rest of the tournament. This combined with DePaul’s lack of depth, and other injuries did not stop them from winning game 2 in overtime.
On my way into game three it was a little bit of an odd feeling because in game number 38 of the season I knew regardless of whether DePaul won or lost the championship this was the end of my season. Just like other games in the tournament it felt weird to not bring a winter coat to a college basketball game, or be able to drive up lakeshore drive with the windows down and sunroof open because it is so warm outside. When I was driving into Chicago I even saw the lights on, and a game being played at Guarantee Rate Field home of the Chicago White Soxs which you almost never see happen because college basketball season and baseball season don’t really overlap except for the beginning of April, and it was April 5th. It was cool to be going to the 4th to last college basketball game of the season. The only other games to be played were at the final four in Minneapolis. Before game 3 I had a good conversation with Roy Philpot who has called the CBI finals the past three years for ESPNU. He said he has seen my work, and enjoys the coverage of the tournament I do. We talked about the CBI, and career paths in sports journalism and broadcasting while enjoying Lou Malnati’s pizza for the last time in this three weeks. When tipoff rolled around the fatigue of playing almost all of the minuets in the 6 game tournament run for DePaul’s star players like Max Strus, Paul Reed, and Femi Olujobi eventually caught up with the Blue Demons and it was too much to overcome as South Florida led wire to wire.
After the game I got to see a team hoist a postseason trophy, and cut down the net which was cool. The ceremony did not last longer then ten minuets total, and it was in front of a mostly empty gym as DePaul fans had filed out of the gym quickly after buzzer sounded.
After the brief ceremony USF piled into the bus, and it was the last of us media members and the maintenance crew left in a mostly empty gym. It was a weird feeling knowing that the season was over, and as soon as I got in the car, and drove back to Valpo there would be no more college basketball road trips till late October or early November. I was very grateful that I got to experience this extra bonus almost month of going to college basketball games at Indiana and DePaul.
The CBI run as I described earlier was perhaps the most fun time I’ve ever had related to college basketball. Those three weeks were an absolute blast getting to see a postseason run like that is great. I want to give a special thanks to Greg Greenwell SID for DePaul for allowing me the opportunity to cover the five home games. The few games I did last year, and the handful this year I always felt a little out of place on press row covering games to be honest. Especially big games like the second ever one I covered last year of Providence at DePaul, or Georgetown at Butler, or the Big Ten ACC Challenge game of Georgia Tech at Northwestern, or Number 19 Michigan’s exhibition because Happening Hoops is just something I do on the side mainly evenings and weekends because I genuinely love college basketball, but its not like I am a journalism student, or envision doing this full time as a job. Therefore whenever I would go into these Big Ten or Big East media rooms, or be in my place to cover games it always felt a bit odd to me because everyone there is either clearly in their well established career working for the city newspaper or station, or a sports broadcasting, or journalism student at these big schools wanting to be where the professionals are some day. Then there is me a geography major just here because I enjoy covering college basketball on the side, and I’m cool with that because I don’t have a desire to follow the same path of doing the standard reporting, and being on the beat etc. Although, it did make me feel a bit out of place in the media rooms being the only one who wasn’t like that. However, covering this CBI run at DePaul changed my feelings in the media room or along press row. I gained a ton of confidence because I was coming in game after game to cover a Big East team’s postseason run in a major media market (Chicago is the third largest city in the country)! I got to know all the regulars at DePaul, and formed bonds with them.
People came to me for my thoughts on who future opponents could be as they advanced in rounds, or for general questions about the CBI and structure because over the past couple of years I have been able to carve out a niche as an expert in the field of these “lower tier” postseason tournaments like the CBI. By the finals I felt like I did belong in the journalism group. So I just wanted to thank Greg because without him approving my credentials none of this journalism growth would have been possible.
He invited me back next season, and said whenever you want to cover another game just let me know. I’ll definitely have to return to DePaul next season because I have to keep in touch with collogues I met there, and cover some more Big East basketball.
So in conclusion 8,000 words later that is pretty much my season. I had a blast recounting all the memories, and I hope you enjoyed reading too!