COLUMN: Weekend tournaments provide preview of NCAA tournament schedule

Zane Clodfelter


Rodney Watson and the Southern Indiana men’s basketball team will play a diverse group of opponents in the non-conference slate, before beginning its quest for yet another Great Lakes Valley Conference (GLVC) title when the conference campaign begins Jan. 3 at Rockhurst.

The diverse schedule is evident, just by looking at Eagles’s upcoming tournament this weekend in Louisville, Ky., when USI will take part in the Fern Valley Hotel Classic on the campus of Bellarmine University.

Like the Bill Joergens Memorial Classic that occurs over Thanksgiving break on campus, this upcoming classic will give the Eagles an opportunity to prepare for things that await them down the road. The destination you ask, the NCAA tournament.

While all of the opponents USI will face in the pre-conference may not be NCAA tournament-caliber teams, the scheduling that comes with participating in weekend tournaments gives the Eagles a glimpse of challenges that face a team who qualifies for the annual NCAA tournament.

During GLVC play, USI will play two opponents within three days on several different occasions, with a day off in between games. The weekend tournaments have games on back-to-back days, the closest thing to the NCAA tournament that USI can replicate during the regular season. NCAA Midwest Regional action forces a team to win three games in as many days to advance to the Elite Eight, so tournaments like the one this weekend can give the Eagles a look at how their conditioning and recovery stacks up along with helping to point out what they need to improve on.

While the Eagles’s first opponent in Louisville on Friday is an Ohio Valley team that comes into the classic with a dismal 1-9 record, their opponent the following day will provide a stern test for Watson and his team.

The Eagles will play Virginia Union on Saturday, and they come in with a history comparable, if not better than the accomplishments that USI can boast in men’s basketball. Virginia Union has a rich history, including three NCAA Division II national championships, along with producing talented players to go along with it, including former Detroit Pistons star Ben Wallace.

In addition to testing their own recovery time and trying to establish the same intensity as the game before, USI will have to do it against a team that they could very well see in March on the road to the Elite Eight, which happens to be in Evansville at the Ford Center this season.

Playing a schedule with multiple off-days and weak opponents can be beneficial for the Eagles’s overall record, but it doesn’t help in preparation for the month that matters most of all: March.

The Eagles have dealt with a tough schedule, and despite a few rough stretches during games, have remained unbeaten while gaining valuable experience that will improve the Eagles’s chances come March. Saturday’s game against Virginia Union will be no exception.

After all, preparation for the NCAA tournament doesn’t begin once the GLVC tournament ends, it begins the moment the season tips off.