For the second consecutive season, the men’s basketball team is making a serious run at the Division III national championship. Unfortunately, spring break coincides with the Yellowjackets’ journey through the brackets, just as it did during their final four trip last season. A large majority of the student body is expected to be relaxing in warmer pastures when UR takes the floor at 8 p.m. on Saturday night versus the winner of tonight’s Western Connecticut State-Clark matchup.
UR knew that the post-season tournament conflicted with spring break as soon as the schedule came out at the beginning of the season. “We ran into a similar problem last season as our quarterfinal game at Brockport was held at the beginning of spring break,” UR coach Mike Neer said. “I felt that some of the students did a great job delaying their trips by a day in order to support us and then many of them stopped off in Salem [the site of the Final Four] to watch us after their breaks ended in Florida.”
The Yellowjackets are riding a nine-game winning streak, which included a thrilling overtime victory against previously undefeated and top-ranked Washington University in St. Louis 83-82 on Feb. 23. The victory ended the Bears’ 43 game regular season winning streak, their 26 game UAA undefeated streak sending the last unbeaten team in NCAA basketball to defeat. The victory was so important that ESPN made brief mention of it on Sportscenter the next day.
Neer realizes that many students have scheduled exotic vacations to various hotspots around the South for months, so he will not be disappointed by a smaller than usual turnout. “We are hot right now,” Neer said in reference to his team’s winning streak, “but we are not that sunny.”
UR’s coach also felt that the NCAA was in no way at fault for scheduling the opening of the tournament during spring break. “At this time of the year, various schools around the nation will have break during a four to five week period,” Neer said. “Several schools participating in the tournament will be on break when they have a home game no matter how the committee schedules it.”
The university is making a concerted effort to draw as many fans as possible to Saturday night’s contest, despite the start of break. The Student Activities Office is holding a free pizza party from 5-7 p.m. on Saturday night at the Hirst Lounge in Wilson Commons. The party will be held in between the women’s opening NCAA game at 3 p.m. and the men’s opener at 8 p.m. “We expect to be hosting around 50 alumni,” Dean of Students Jody Asbury said. “Hopefully we will attract around 100 students as well.”
The Yellowjackets will be looking to slow down two explosive squads that each average over 80 points a game. Western Connecticut State has scored 90 points or more in 10 out of 27 games this season. Clark has equaled that mark eight times.
The frenetic styles of the two possible opponents don’t faze Neer, however. “Wash. U is one of the most explosive teams in the country and averages nearly 85 points per game. “We’ve held them under that mark both times we’ve played them and each contest went into overtime,” he added. UR boasts one of the toughest defenses in the nation, allowing a mere 57 points per game. “They will probably press us from the beginning, but we will try to wear them out with our physical play, our tough screens and our deliberate passing.”
Asbury wants the fans to provide a boisterous atmosphere, although many students will be elsewhere. “We are trying to get yellow noise sticks for the fans and several other surprises that will get them involved in the game,” she said. Asbury also encouraged students to reserve a spot at the pizza party so the Student Activities Office can order enough food to accommodate the fans.
Although Neer is disappointed that many of the students will probably miss UR’s last home game of the season, he was pleased with one aspect of the scheduling for this year’s tournament.
“Last year the Final Four was played during break and although I was pleased with the turnout last year, I think the fan support can be much better if we make a return trip this season,” the coach remarked.
If you are planning on staying for the game, please contact Jennifer Linton at x3-588 or e-mail her at email@example.com. Unlike the games in the regular season, admission for UR’s post-season games will not be free. Tickets for Saturday’s contest will be $5 for faculty, students and the general public.
Rybaltowski can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.