OSHKOSH, Wis. -- While Marquette was taking on DePaul for the second time in less than two weeks and Wisconsin attempted to snap its two game losing streak, two teams battled to the lead in one of the nation's toughest conferences.
Barring a run to the National Championship, UW-Stevens Point and UW-Oshkosh will garner few -- if any headlines -- around here, but their showdown Wednesday night at the Kolf Sports Center was banner-worthy for the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
The WIAC calls itself the Conference of Champions with good reason, the league has produced 74 NCAA Division III National Champions including the last three basketball champs in Point.
While it may not ever have the glamour of the Big East or the tradition of the Big Ten, the WIAC provides one of the most exciting products in college basketball. From top to bottom (with the possible exception of Superior), the league is considered to be one of the most competitive in the country, regardless of division.
Never mind the outcome of the game (although, Oshkosh alums will point out that the Titans dominated in a 74-62 victory). The outcome wasn't quite as important as the game itself.
The best part about watching the game was knowing that the players involved had no alterior motives. Oshkosh's Jim Capelle wasn't trying to showcase his game for NBA scouts, nor was seven-footer Kerry Gibson doing a dance after each of his six blocked shots.
These guys -- with rare, rare, rare exception (Devean George of the Lakers is the only D3 player to be drafted in recent memory) -- will not be playing for money when their careers are done. They simply play, and please pardon the beaten-to-death cliché, for the love of the game.
Even high school ball, at least at some of the bigger schools, have a sense of impurity. You know that there are plenty of players putting on a show to impress whatever coach or recruiter has come to take in the game. It's all a circus.
It's fun to watch a group of guys who come in as freshman, buy into a system, stay four years and see what happens. It's fun to watch guys exercise the fundamentals in a game. And it's even more fun to watch a group of players interact with fans, especially kids, after a game.
There's no training table, so scholarships. These guys have to go to class and hold down some sort of job. Basketball is back to being something fun on the side; a way to quell that competitive nature inside.
Some guys do move on. Take, for example, Bo Ryan and his four NCAA Championships as Platteville's head coach. His point guard, Rob Jeter, has moved on to the big stage as well. Both of them are having unprecedented success now using the same style they used way down in the "lowly" ranks of D3 ball.
The arenas are small and quaint. Some of them have a great deal of charm to it. The Quandt Fieldhouse in Stevens Point is one of the loudest venues around, and is a sight to see when it's packed with purple-clad crazies. Zorn Arena in Eau Claire is an old-school gym. Fans are right on top of the court and become a major factor in many games.
Let the big boys have the fame and the attention. UWM can keep playing the "nobody respects us" card. Let Tom Crean do his best to dominate every headline and newscast in town, and Bo Ryan is more than welcome to tell his jokes to the local press.
But do yourself a favor, and take the short ride to a place like Oshkosh, Whitewater, or even Zorn Arena up in Eau Claire. Bring the kids and let them see what college basketball was meant to be.