The Division-III college basketball season began with the annual tip-off tournaments the week before Thanksgiving. There are tournaments held all over New England and across the U.S. They are on campuses, not in Madison Square Garden or in Maui or the Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico, where the big boys and girls play. Instead, schools travel all over New England or even the Northeast corridor to open their seasons.
I will make a disclaimer here: As a former assistant coach at Emerson College for the women’s team, I have a firsthand knowledge and feelings on why these tournaments are positive for those involved. Coaches feel free to agree or disagree, but I wanted to at least provide my credentials before you thought, “Oh, what does he know?”
Each school treats these weekend tournaments differently. Of course, they all want to win. But it just doesn’t always work out way. Sometimes, a team will travel to a tournament and play competition well above its skill level. The team might lose quite convincingly, but in the end, players learn what it takes to be a better program.
Another school may host a tournament and will invite lesser competition to look good in front of the home crowd. Hey, that’s fine — the host school can do whatever it wants at its tourney. On the other hand, a host team can invite solid competition and have the home-court advantage to get over the top.
Aside from wins and losses, these tournaments are a good measuring stick for coaching staffs to gauge where their teams are and how they are going to shape up. Most non-conference games are played early in the season, so teams learn a lot about themselves before conference play begins in January.
The tournaments also help build chemistry. We all saw what the preseason trip to Rome did for the Celtics when they won the title in 2008. D-III budgets don’t allow for trips to Rome, but a good weekend away is very beneficial.
That is the approach we took at Emerson. My first year there we played at Amherst. We learned very quickly why Amherst is always nationally ranked. However, the next day, we played a close game against Westfield State. Even though we fell short at the buzzer, the lessons we learned proved beneficial as we pulled out some close games that year and qualified for the conference tournament for the first time.
The next year, we traveled to Drew University in New Jersey to play Elmira and Manhattanville. We managed a split, but the unity and bonding was just as important. Since we had a few first-year and transfer students, it was good to get them acclimated to the program.
So whether a school plays in a tough tip-off tournament or a cupcake, what happens on the court extends beyond the win-loss columns. On the bus rides or practice floor, the experience can only help when March arrives.
Men’s and women’s games of the week
Women’s game: Emmanuel 78, No. 14 Brandeis 67
When I saw this, it totally reminded me of Duke vs. UNLV back in 1990 and 1991. UNLV crushed Duke 103-73 for the NCAA title in 1990. The following year, in the national semifinals, UNLV was there again, and undefeated, except Duke pulled out a 79-77 shocker this time.
Like Duke and UNLV, Emmanuel and Brandeis have top-notch, Hall of Fame-caliber coaches in Andy Yosinoff and Carol Simon, respectively. Entering the season, they have 939 wins combined (Yosinoff has 618, and Simon has 321). On Dec. 2, 2008, Brandeis embarrassed Emmanuel 94-52. On Tuesday night, at Emmanuel (where, by the way, the Saints lose at home as often as CC Sabathia misses a meal), the Saints got their revenge, winning 78-67. The win should put Emmanuel in the top 25, but we shall see. I have learned over the years it is tough for a team to crack the top 25.
Men’s game: Husson 89, St. Joseph’s (Maine) 84
Was this the best men’s game? Maybe not. But I am biased because I am a graduate of St. Joe’s (class of ’96). Now I am disappointed my Monks lost, especially to Husson, but it gives me the chance to relive a once-great rivalry. In the 1980s and 1990s, Husson-St. Joe’s was like Duke-UNC to us. We hated them, they hated us. It was a fun rivalry to be a part of. Some of the things the old student sections would say made the nuns turn red, but it’s what made the games so intense. Which brings me to …
I would love to see schools build rivalries and play for something like a trophy or a victory bell, much like they do in football. I think it would add to the experience if you knew every year you were playing a school for the so-and-so trophy.
Finally, coaches, SIDs, ADs, I welcome any news and notes you wish to pass along to help make this column go. Any milestones and noteworthy stories should be recognized, and what better place than here? This is for New England schools, so c’mon, help out. This is all for you.