By Charlie Chitwood,
Now that college basketball is nearing the midway point of conference schedules, the TV cameras begin focusing on the key “atmosphere” games – intense sectional rivalries played out before raucous crowds in some special House of Basketball.
Any game at Utah State’s Smith Spectrum is always a treat, what with the entire 10,000 or so Aggies singing (and acting out) “Show Me A Scotsman” 2-3 times a game. Duke’s “Cameron Crazies” are well known enough as are some famous student sections at Kansas and Kentucky.
Week-in and week-out, the crowds at smaller-college basketball programs ebb and flow unless a) the program’s kicking kiesters and/ or b) a key rival’s in town, making fan participation a must for the big game. They’re all relative to their level of play, somewhat akin to high school basketball when the two best teams in a particular district (a la Jefferson versus Tatum) get together.
So where do you find “atmosphere” games around here when we’re not surrounded by Major State U.? Within two hours of Jefferson, there’s every level of affiliated college basketball to be found. Closest of all are the two programs in Marshall. Wiley College is currently ranked 13th nationally in the NAIA ranks.
Alumni Gym has seen some of the key games already this year, but the Tigers wrap up the Red River Athletic Conference schedule with back-to-back rivalry games against Paul Quinn College and Texas College on Feb. 15-16.
The Wildcats are 15-3 at the moment and have two huge road tests this week in Louisiana – tonight in The Dock at LSU-Shreveport (receiving votes in the national poll) and Saturday at top-ranked LSU-Alexandria. Wiley’s in second place, a game back of LSU-A, entering this week’s games.
Across town, the East Texas Baptist U. are hovering around .500 with an 8-9 mark overall but they’re still a threat in the NCAA-Division III American Southwest Conference. Ornelas Gym is one of the nicest around – big-game crowds turn the pit-style venue into a “House of Blues” for opposing teams, especially if their name is LeTourneau or UT-Tyler. The Tigers have already had LeTourneau’s Yellowjackets at home and lost 85-84, but there’s yet a trip to LeT’s Solheim Arena in Longview coming up February 12.
All those engineering students can get pretty creative at Solheim, by the way. The next atmosphere” game at Ornelas takes place Feb. 2 when UT-Tyler’s Patriots come calling – it’ll be UT-T’s last-ever visit to Ornelas for a conference game as the Patriots will starting transitioning into the NCAA Division-II ranks and the Lone Star Conference next year.
Want to see the big boys in action? Well, we talked about “The Sawmill” down in Nacogdoches, where the SFA Lumberjacks recently entertained Alabama. While having an SEC team in your house is a special occasion, the ‘Jacks crowd loves to Axe ‘Em even louder when Northwestern State comes over from Natchitoches, LA or Sam Houston State visits from Huntsville.
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