Buzz of the Crowd: Invitationals tells team a lot about themselves

State Hornet Staff

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I blame my dad for the amount of college basketball I have watched in my life, but each year I see the same trend. The teams that start and finish the season strong make the headlines come March.

While the majority of people pay attention to college basketball in the spring during the NCAA Tournament, smaller invitational tournaments in November really show what teams are capable of early in the season.

These tournaments invite four to eight teams to games held during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Although the arenas might not be packed because everyone is at home eating turkey, the teams get national attention because ESPN’s family of networks broadcast every game.

Invitational tournaments help seasons no matter the size of the basketball program. Smaller schools, like the University of the Pacific, gain much needed experience playing teams outside their conference. This past weekend, Pacific was invited to the Direct TV Classic in Anaheim and upset both Xavier and Saint Mary’s to advance to the finals.

While smaller schools look to make a name for themselves, the pressure for bigger programs to do well in these tournaments puts them under a microscope. Saint Mary’s loss to Pacific will be taken into consideration in its chances of making the NCAA Tournament.

But not all teams get a chance to play in a tournament. Sacramento State’s men’s basketball program has to make its name without playing on a nationally televised stage. This makes getting recognized more difficult.

This season, the Hornets are off to one of their best starts in school history, but as their record improves, each game is more important than the last. For teams who are nationally ranked and play a tough conference schedule, a loss or two in the beginning is no big deal. Sac State does not have that luxury.

Everyone was thrilled when the Hornets took the road and defeated the University of Utah. However, as great as their win was, their one loss this season was just as impactful. You don’t think the tournament selection committee looks hard at a loss to a rival school?

I understand that the Big Sky Conference will only get one team into the NCAA Tournament, but what if Sac State finishes with an amazing season that could put them on the bubble or a chance at the NIT?

Smaller schools have it hard. They struggle at recruiting, never invited to a tournament to start the year and smaller conferences get overlooked, but every win is important.

Whether playing a Division II school or a Big Sky opponent, Sac State needs to play with a “win or go home” mentality because, let’s face it, the Hornets will not get any help from anyone aside from themselves.

Ryan Kuhn can be reached on Twitter @rskuhn