The Ohio Wesleyan men’s basketball team received one of the 19 at-large bids to the NCAA tournament Monday.
The team will face St. Olaf in the first round on Friday in Whitewater, Wisconsin. If victorious, a matchup with the defending champions, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, is likely for Saturday.
Last week the Duke University vs. Syracuse University game recorded the largest on-campus crowd in college basketball history at 35,446.
The Ohio Wesleyan men’s basketball team has a 20-4 record and captured the NCAC crown after being picked to finish fourth in the pre-season poll. The team is ready to host the conference tournament at Branch Rickey Arena.
But sometimes home court advantage doesn’t mean a packed house of yelling and screaming fans. OWU has averaged just over 600 people in attendance this season at their games, not quite 35,446.
Students are involved in all aspects of the OWU campus, and with classwork on top of it, they often don’t make it to sporting events, despite free admission and conference championships.
“The students here have so much going on,” Athletic Director Roger Ingles said. “Wednesday nights are tough. Just the other night we had a speaker with about 200 people at it. Students have classes and a lot of responsibilities on weekdays.”
The student section in Branch Rickey Arena has the potential to make OWU’s court a very difficult place for opponents to play, and has in some cases.
“Some of the bigger games against Wooster or Wittenberg, we can put about 100 students in there and it doesn’t look like a lot, but it’s about 5 percent of the student body,” Ingles said. “That same 5 percent at Ohio State University is 3,000 people.”
He’s right. OSU’s enrollment is 57,466 and 5 percent is about 2,800. OWU’s enrollment is 1,850 and 5 percent is about 90.
It’s not just students that are busy. Some faculty members are consistently seen at sporting events throughout the year, but it is very rare to see a large number in attendance.
“Faculty have so much going on too, especially the ones that don’t live right in town. It’s hard for them to go home and then go through traffic to try to get back for the games,” Ingles said.
The Student Homecoming Organization (SHO) is in charge of promoting the games to the OWU community. They have created “Red Alert” games, which are usually reserved for rivalries, to attract more people.
“For every sport team we host a red alert game that we promote on social media and with flyers,” SHO Vice President Brittany Spicer said. “We also try to either have a tailgate or theme for at least a few games each year to try to bring out the community and get them more involved.”
With crucial games approaching, the team is getting ready to make a deep run into post-season play. They certainly have the potential based on their record and success this season. Large crowds and support among the OWU community would make this tournament journey that much more successful.
“We have worked really hard to put ourselves in this moment,” junior forward Joey Kinsley said. “We feed off the energy of our students and to pack Branch Rickey would be special.”