Maybe the NCAA Tournament committee did JMU a favor.
Or better yet, perhaps the Dukes turned the committee's snub into basketball gold. We don't want to let those guys off the hook for leaving JMU out of the NCAAs (Middle Tennessee State? Texas? Really?) But let's be honest. Had the Dukes gotten a bid, they'd have been hard-pressed to survive the first weekend, or frankly, even the first game.
But by embracing their bid to the WNIT, the Dukes have been able to rattle off four victories, including a satisfying triumph over Virginia. They've benefited from a series of extra practices. And perhaps best of all, they've turned on a host of new fans to the charm of JMU women's hoops.
Sunday's 68-59 victory over Virginia drew 3,301, better than 1,000 more than the team's average attendance in 2012 and three times more than the gate (1,028) for the Dukes' WNIT first-round win over Davidson. Tickets are going even faster for tonight's WNIT semifinal against Syracuse, as reserved seats are already sold out.
This bandwagon effect the Dukes are experiencing is nothing new for successful WNIT teams. The first game, which comes at fans on short notice and is tinged with disappointment since supporters were hoping for a bid to the NCAAs, is often played before a meager crowd. But if the home teams win that game and gets on a roll, interest often picks up dramatically.
In 2007, Wyoming had 2,644 fans at their opening-round victory. As the Cowgirls piled up the victories, checking this team out became the thing to do throughout Laramie. The tournament went on to produce the four largest crowds in program history, topped off by the 15, 462 that attended the championship game.
Two years later, Kansas drew 1,981 for its first round game against Creighton. When the Jayhawks reached the final, a Big 12 record 16,113 turned out to see Kansas take on South Florida. And last year, Toledo's first-round victory over Delaware played out before 1,247 at Savage Arena. Four victories later, the Rockets sold out their championship game in advance, and a school-record 7,301 turned out to see the home team down USC for the crown.
Now it's the Dukes turn to experience the postseason homecourt atmosphere that can be generated when students and casual fans join the diehards in spurring their team to a postseason title.
So thanks, NCAA committee. This is turning out pretty well.
But hey, next year, get it right, OK?
NOTE: A Dukes victory - no easy feat against a Syracuse team that has won four straight WNIT teams games on the road - would boost them into Saturday's final. The JMU Convocation Center is unavailable this weekend, but according to Matthew Stoss of the Harrisonburg Daily News Record, JMU has submitted a bid to host the game at Eastern Mennonite University's Yoder Arena. By the way, Stoss does a great job of posting updates of JMU games via Twitter, so if you can't make it to the game - or even if you're there - follow him here.