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CIT could be ETSU's consolation

March 5th, 2014 6:38 pm by Joe Avento

CIT could be ETSU's consolation

The ultimate goal remains the NCAA tournament, but if East Tennessee State's basketball team doesn't win the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament, its season might not be finished.

ETSU officials have had some preliminary discussions with organizers of the Postseason Tournament.

That means the Bucs might have an ace in the hole for postseason play no matter the outcome of their A-Sun semifinal tonight at Florida Gulf Coast or a subsequent championship game.

The CIT is a 32-team tournament, mostly for mid-majors not playing in the NCAA tournament or NIT, and ETSU is familiar with the event.

The Bucs made the semifinals of the CIT in 2011 after home wins against Furman and Ohio University. They eventually lost to Iona in an 83-80 overtime semifinal thriller at home.

Should they get a CIT bid, the Bucs' games likely wouldn't be at home this time around because of the cost. The CIT charges host schools $36,000 for each home game, up $4,500 from 2011. That pays traveling expenses for visiting teams, officials and other tournament expenses.

In fact, there's a decent chance that Tuesday night's double-overtime victory against Lipscomb was the last game the Bucs will have played at MSHA Athletic Center, known for years as the Minidome. It's no secret that ETSU wants to move its games next season to the more basketball-friendly Freedom Hall Civic Center.

With the Dome in need of roof repairs, ETSU Athletic Director Richard Sander said in a recent interview there is a slight chance that the facility might not be available for the start of next season.

"The plan is it should be ready for basketball season, but we're not absolutely sure," Sander said. "It might not be. That has made us look seriously at Freedom Hall because there's a fair possibility the Dome might not be available."

The three-game Freedom Hall experiment this season served two purposes. It showed how much more fun a basketball game can be in a real arena, even if it needs some work. And it highlighted the shortcomings of the city-owned civic center in plenty of time to do something about them before the next season.

The Bucs won all three games at Freedom Hall, but one in particular stands out. When they beat Stephen F. Austin back on Nov 23, it appeared on the surface to be a nice victory over a solid team.

Now, it's becoming more and more impressive with each passing day. The Lumberjacks left Johnson City with a 3-2 record and they haven't lost since, rolling off 24 consecutive victories. Only undefeated Wichita State has a longer streak.

Stephen F. Austin is 27-2 with two games left before the Southland Conference tournament.

The CIT begins March 18 and the championship game is set for April 3.

Of course, the 18-14 Bucs aren't even looking that far ahead quite yet. They are two victories away from an A-Sun championship and an automatic NCAA tournament berth. Those two games would likely be against the best two teams in the league. But after Tuesday night's comeback from a 16-point deficit in the second half against Lipscomb, they would seem to have a puncher's chance.

The ultimate goal remains the NCAA tournament, but coming off a disastrous 10-22 record last season, it's nice for the Bucs to be in the mix for any postseason tournament.

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