The College Insider.com Postseason Tournament (CIT) is just another of college basketball's postseason alphabet tournaments -- see also the NIT and the CBI. But the Rice Owls are playing in the CIT, and it's the first time the team's made a men's postseason basketball tournament since 2005.
It's just a shame that none of the so-called Rice fan base seems to give a damn. Then again, seeing what the turnout was like for basketball most of this season, it appears that Rice fans don't really seem to give a damn about basketball at all.
The Owls defeated the Drake Bulldogs 74-68 at Tudor Fieldhouse on Saturday to improve their season record to 19-15 and to advance to the semifinals against Oakland, in Oakland, Michigan, tomorrow night. The Owls led for most of the game, shutting down the Drake offense and holding the Bulldogs to a 38.9-shooting percentage. But only 731 Rice supporters cared enough to actually attend the game.
Despite controlling most of the game, the Owls trailed at the half 35-32 after letting Drake go on a 8-0 run to end the half. The Owls took control again in the second half, leading by as much as 10 points with six minutes left in the game. Drake made one last push, getting to within four points with 1:11 left in the game, but the Owls easily controlled things from there and put the game out of reach.
"This was a win that our program needed to be able to go out and get," Rice head coach Ben Braun said. "Nobody was going to give it to us. Drake is a fine team and well coached. I was really proud of our guys. We had to go out and earn this victory."
The Rice fans may not have cared about the game because it's only one of those games in an alphabet tournament which ultimately means nothing this season. But those watching got something more out of the game than just watching this season come to a close, they got a glimpse of what appears to be, for the Owls, a bright future.
Braun went with four freshmen (Dylan Ennis, Ahmad Ibrahim, Julian DeBose, and Jarrelle Reischel) on the court during a key point of the first half when many of the team's upperclassmen were anchored to the bench with foul problems, and those four made for some fun basketball watching. There was speed, crisp passing, good shooting, and some outstanding defense.
Braun's often started three of the freshmen in one combination or another this season, but this was the first time this season he'd gone with all four on the court at the same time -- something he didn't realize until the post-game press conference. Those four, coupled with the return of Arsalan Kazemi, Omar Oraby, Tamir Jackson bodes well for the Owls next season.
And the best part was that that combination on the court appeared to be having a blast playing with each other. It was fun to watch.
"I think when you play with confidence and you are having fun on the court you are playing your best," Ennis said. "I think our whole team has confidence in each other."
So while the Owls still have at least one game to play this season, the future is where the focus appears to be brightest. Of course, that leads to the question of whether anyone, outside of the Rice coaches and players, really cares.
Attendance is non-existent. There's no real discussion among what fans there are of Rice athletics about the squad. And the team's playing in a conference that will soon be losing one of the biggest programs in college basketball (Memphis) and which will see the quality of all-around conference play probably drop another notch.
The players and staff still care, and they've got at least one more game to go this season. It just might be a game in an alphabet tournament competing for attention against the bigger, badder, better NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, but don't tell that to the Owls. A win puts them in the semi-finals, another win puts them in the finals, another win gives them the championship.
And when's the last time that the Owls basketball team could call themselves the champions of anything?
MISCELLANEOUS NOTES: Senior guard Connor Frizzelle was unavailable to the Owls due to a family commitment. He should be available for tomorrow night's game against Oakland....And Oakland, for the unfamiliar, is located in suburban Detroit. They were a NCAA Tournament team last season....The Owls had eight players get double-digit minutes in the game, and four players finished with double-digit point totals, led by Ennis who finished with 17 points (he also had six rebounds and six assists).