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December 04. 2012 11:57PM

Jim Fennell: The basketball is still good in the Northeast-10


 
MANCHESTER -- The good ol' days of Division II basketball aren't coming back.

We will likely never again see little kids hanging around the court at Southern New Hampshire University to get autographs after a game. Or the Penmen constantly being the lead story on the nightly local news and dominating these sports pages.

Remember when you had to get to the gym by halftime of the women's game to get a good seat for the men's game? Yeah? Well, then, you're showing your age because those days came and went long ago.

The scene at Tuesday's NE-10 doubleheader between the SNHU and Stonehill College was fairly typical nowadays for what once was among the most popular small college programs in New England.

There were more parents than students for the women's game and you could almost count on two hands the number of people from around town who were just there as basketball fans. It wasn't much different for the men's game. The place wasn't even half-filled.

They had fewer than 500 for last week's game against Bentley, one of traditional powers in the region, and a similar crowd Tuesday night to watch them play a Stonehill team ranked nationally in Division II. There were a few little kids and not many students from the college. So much for school spirit.

Heck, there wasn't even close to 1,000 people across town when the Penmen played St. Anselm last month. It used to be that a St. Anselm-SNHU game could be played in a snowstorm, with no electricity, outdoors on Christmas day and the place would still be banged out.

OK, so the good ol' days are gone. The buzz is killed, but the basketball remains and I'm here to tell you that it's pretty good.

Franklin Pierce was the preseason pick to win the conference and was ranked seventh nationally before St. Anselm beat the Ravens on Saturday.

The Hawks, figured to be in a bit of rebuilding mode this year, are better than expected. Maybe way better than we thought. We knew sophomore guard Roy Mabrey was good, but freshman Mike McCahey and sophomore transfer Chris Santo are giving the Hawks a formidable trio of scorers.

The Ravens re-emerged last year and, even after their loss to the Hawks, may still be the team to beat in the NE-10. They are deep and talented.

And the Penmen may end up being as good as any of them when Manchester's own David Madol gets into the swing of things. The red-shirt freshman could be among the five most talented players in the conference.

The talent level will never be as good as the good ol' days. More Division I teams have sprung up since then and recruiting has become more competitive. But we're not far from seeing the days when all three teams are among the best in the region. It may be this year.

The Penmen and Hawks are both young. They're both talented. The Penmen even have two starters from city schools (Madol, who went to Trinity and Memorial, and Mike Stys out of Central). The future looks bright. Both teams are on the rise.

They need to be.

Competition for entertainment dollars has increased over the years. Since the glory days of college basketball in New Hampshire, four professional teams have come into Manchester (two have since gone). People discovered the Internet and Xbox. Texting has become the main form of communication for some people. Attention spans have grown smaller.

If you want people to take notice, you better do something special.

Make no mistake, success at a regional and national level played a big role in making college basketball popular in this town. It isn't enough for SNHU and St. Anselm to be rivals. Not good enough if both teams are just good. They have to be really good, contending for conference titles, locks to the go the NCAA tournament.

That was the formula the last time college basketball owned this town and that's the only way it has a shot to grab back the headlines. It's not there yet, but it's certainly worth watching.

Good seats still available.

- - - - - - - -


Jim Fennell may be reached at jfennell@unionleader.com.

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