For the first time since 2006, Georgia Southern will be playing postseason, national tournament basketball.
Sure, it's not quite the NCAA tournament that many were hoping for, but the Eagles' participation in the College Basketball Invitational is still a building block for what the program hopes will be better things to come.
Georgia Southern entered last week's Sun Belt Conference tournament as the No. 3 seed, but was bounced in its first game after running into a hot-shooting — and eventual tournament champion — Troy squad. That put to rest any hopes of making it into the field of the country's most prestigious tournament, but the Eagles will suit up once again Wednesday as they host Utah Valley.
“The postseason is about looking at the overall picture of your program,” Georgia Southern Athletic Director Tom Kleinlein said Monday. “We finished with our highest RPI (ratings percentage index) in a long time. We want to continue to build on that and we have the opportunity to continue that in a postseason tournament this year.”
The CBI is about to host its 10th annual tournament. The event is a distant third in the collegiate basketball landscape, behind the NCAA tournament and the longstanding NIT. The CBI takes plenty of jabs from basketball fans as a 'third-tier' tournament, but national prestige isn't what Georgia Southern is looking for as a participant.
Last season, the Eagles were one of the youngest teams in the nation as they dealt with losing six seniors and all starters from their 2014-15 squad. This winter and spring, the Eagles were still young, but showed improvement and competed well with a handful of teams that gained entry into the NCAA tournament.
Knowing that this year's squad will be back in full force next season, the Eagles are looking forward to any extra practice and postseason experience that they can build on.
“We made this decision early on,” Kleinlein said. “We knew that this was a young team that could benefit from any postseason experience it could get. We wanted to make sure that they would have an opportunity to play in that environment.”
But as nice as the extra playing time is, it comes with a very literal price tag.
In order to host Wednesday's game, Georgia Southern put up $35,000. The university can recoup as much of that fee as possible via ticket sales and other means, but the Eagles aren't concerned about making up the money spent as it is seen as an investment in the future of the program.
“This was something that (GS head coach Mark Byington) and I talked about before the season ever started,” Kleinlein said. “We made the decision that we wanted to be a part of the postseason, if possible. An extra 'pay game' (at Minnesota) gave us the opportunity to budget for the ability to play a home postseason game to help us moving forward.”
The Eagles (18-14) will take on the Wolverines (15-16) of Utah Valley on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Hanner Fieldhouse.
Kleinlein stated that a win might not lead to another (university financed) home game, but that he hopes that the team can gain as much experience as possible through practice and postseason games before shutting the door on the 2016-17 campaign.