Moon Township, Pa. - Over the past week, the Robert Morris University Colonials have played in Indiana. And in Ohio. And in obscurity.
While the NCAA Tournament was played in, to name a few places, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Louisville and Nashville, the Colonials played their CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament games in Terre Haute, Ind., and Toledo, Ohio.
Those NCAA games attracted thousands of fans to arenas and were watched by millions on television. The Colonials' games drew hundreds of fans and were carried on local radio.
"I don't think about it,'' RMU coach Andrew Toole said. "I don't think our guys think about it. We're not used to playing in front of huge crowds or getting incredible media coverage. A lot of these guys play because they want to compete and they want to win, and that's what we're still trying to do - compete and win as many games as we can.''
The Colonials (26-10) will continue that quest Wednesday night at Fairfield (21-14) in a CIT quarterfinal game that matches teams that were this close to playing in the Big Dance. Robert Morris lost at LIU Brooklyn, 90-73, in the Northeast Conference Tournament championship game, while Fairfield lost to Loyola (Md.), 48-44, in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) tournament championship game.
Had Robert Morris and Fairfield won their conference championships, they'd have both been in the NCAA Tournament and might have participated in games last Friday - arguably the most tumultuous day in the history of the NCAA.
On a day and night in which two second-seeded teams lost to 15th seeds, the Colonials rode a bus across northern Ohio en route to Toledo. That ride plus practice and tape sessions meant the Colonials didn't get to watch NCAA history.
"Obviously it's a great event and it's one we'd love to be a part of,'' Toole said, "but our guys will have tons of years to be able to watch the NCAA Tournament. I think the most pressing thing is continuing our season and worrying about us continuing to play games. To be honest with you, I know that some of our guys don't watch the NCAA Tournament because they're not in it.
"They'll watch parts of it here and there, but I didn't watch the Selection Show. We had practice. You know, if our name's not being called and we still have an opportunity to continue our season and get better, well, let's do that. I didn't watch any of the games Thursday because we were preparing for Toledo. And that's kind of how we've approached it. As long as we're still playing obviously if we can watch bits and pieces of it, great, but if not we have more important things to worry about.''
Participating in the CIT gave the Colonials the chance to set a school record for most games played in a season (36) and it gives them the opportunity to set a school record for most wins in a season (27) and tie the NEC record for most wins in a season. Central Connecticut State finished 27-5 in 2001-02. LIU Brooklyn was 27-6 last season.
"It's cool that we have a chance to make history and get the most wins in Robert Morris history,'' junior guard Velton Jones said. "It's always a cool thing to be able to make history.''
"It won't offset the opportunity to go to the NCAA tournament,'' Toole said, "but tying the most wins in school history last Saturday, playing the most games in school history in a season Saturday, the opportunity for most wins in school history, tying the league record? There are some things out there that are nice that I think might not mean a whole lot now, but when you look back on your career as a player and you can say you were part of maybe the winningest team ever at Robert Morris University those are things that are nice to have next to your name.''
It's also kind of a neat thing to be the final NEC team playing this season.
Quinnipiac lost to Penn in the first round of the College Basketball Invitational, while LIU Brooklyn lost to Michigan State in the NCAA tournament.
"It's cool to be playing while everybody else in the league is at home or doing whatever they're doing,'' Jones said.
Among the reasons the Colonials accepted the invitation to the CIT was that it afforded them an opportunity to try to erase some of the sting of losing in the NEC championship game. Their wins at Indiana State and Toledo accomplished some of that.
"I don't know if you ever get over it,'' Toole said. "Obviously the way we've played in the last couple games (has been) more like the team I think we are. LIU (Brooklyn) had a big hand in us not playing very well. We're never going to get over it, but I think that it's maybe been softened a little bit by the performances we've put on since.''
The Colonials rallied from an 11-point second-half deficit in their 67-60 win at Indiana State (Missouri Valley Conference) March 13, then jumped all over Toledo (Mid-American Conference) at the outset and cruised to a 69-51 victory last Saturday.
"It shows that if we could have played the right way maybe we could have won that game (at LIU Brooklyn),'' Jones said. "But everything happens for a reason.''
The Colonials needed a little time in their game at Indiana State to comprehend fully that they were indeed still playing after the loss at LIU Brooklyn.
"The first half of that game I think people were still thinking about the championship game,'' Jones said.
The Colonials, though, woke up after Jones gave them a "pep'' talk during a timeout huddle.
Paraphrasing carefully here, Jones' point was this: "Fellas, Indiana State is not that good. I believe we can win this game.''
"I felt like we were getting embarrassed because we obviously were the better team,'' Jones said a few days later recalling his message. "After a while, I just got tired of it and just had to tell everybody, ‘This is getting out of hand. We need to just start playing.'''
Because the Colonials are still playing, Toole and his staff have paid careful attention to the players' academic needs. Last Sunday, players spent three hours with tutors.
On Tuesday, their departure for Fairfield was scheduled around the players' class schedules. And they will bus home immediately after the Fairfield game so they can attend their Thursday classes.
"(We) understand that part of the bargain of being able to continue to play is that we have to do a little bit extra catching up or getting ahead (academically),'' Toole said. "We're trying to be cognizant of only missing the time that's absolutely necessary to be missed.''
NOTES: Fairfield won its first two CIT games at home, beating Yale 68-56 and Manhattan 69-57 ... Fairfield will be the third team from the MAAC on RMU's schedule this season. The Colonials opened the season with an 83-57 win against Rider at the Charles L. Sewall Center, then won at St. Peter's, 69-52, four nights later ... Fairfield played Indiana State Nov. 27 in the Old Spice Classic in Orlando and lost 72-66 ... The Stags are led by 6'5" senior Rakim Sanders, who averages 16.7 points per game, and 6'5" sophomore Maurice Barrow (9.0 points per game) ... Brian Nash, who coached at Northeast Conference member St. Francis (N.Y.) from 2006-10, is an assistant coach at Fairfield ... The Stags probably will be without injured guard Sean Crawford, who hasn't played since March 5 ... Fairfield finished 12-6 in the MAAC, tying it with Manhattan for third place behind Iona (15-3) and Loyola (13-5) ... Fairfield head coach Sydney Johnson is in his first season with the Stags. He came to Fairfield from Princeton ... The Stags lead the MAAC in defense, allowing 61 points per game. Robert Morris leads the NEC in defense, permitting 63.4 points per game ... Attendance for the Colonials' games at Indiana State and Toledo was 2,113 and 1,321, respectively.