Croup’s Corner – Taking lumps, building a program

Written By Josh Croup, Sports Columnist

There were two conference basketball games in Pittsburgh last week that featured the road team dominating the home team in games with more than a few parallels. Both road squads were clearly on a different level compared to their hosts and left Pittsburgh with blowout wins.

One was Duke University and the other was Indiana University East.

IU East steamrolled Point Park last Tuesday in a 122-85 win for the third-ranked team in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). Duke, the No. 7 team in the NCAA, marched over Pitt last Wednesday en route to an 87-52 victory that featured a 50-24 lead at halftime.

Duke and IU East are obviously on opposite ends of the spectrum, but their two victories last week in Pittsburgh showed how far apart their programs are from their opponents in Pittsburgh.

Point Park men’s basketball program, like Pitt’s, is going through a rebuilding phase with new head coaches.

A struggle this year for Point Park that has plagued it in the past comes from the classroom. The Pioneers again enter a new semester with academic suspensions to major contributors. The same problem last year resulted in an 8-20 finish for the Pioneers.

Last year, however, Point Park was able to pull off one of its biggest upsets in program history against the then-No. 7 IU East Red Wolves.

Point Park knocked off the Red Wolves 79-76 at home last February. IU East did not lose another game until getting knocked out in the quarterfinals of the NAIA DII National Tournament to the eventual national championship runner-up Cornerstone.

That IU East team returned to Pittsburgh missing only one senior from last year’s team. The senior class came to Pittsburgh needing only eight more wins to reach 100 in their four-year career.

Point Park doesn’t have a senior that began his college career at the university.

IU East began last Tuesday with a practice at the Petersen Events Center, home of the Pitt Panthers. The next day in the same building, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski answered a question regarding Pitt head coach Kevin Stallings’ progress at the university.

“They are a building team,” Krzyzewski said. “You’re talking about building a program. That’s what (Stallings) is doing. Kevin is an outstanding coach. He knows how to build programs.”

Stallings, like Point Park head coach Gabe Bubon, faces the uphill battle of building a program while teams around him grow into powerhouses.

The rebuilding process for Point Park began this year with Bubon in his first official year as the full-time men’s basketball head coach. Bubon brought in a handful of junior college transfers to help the team this year and will add to the group next year with another young recruiting class.

His predecessor, Bob Rager, had a reputation in the country for his run-and-gun style offenses that posted triple digits every night and annually landed among the top scoring teams in the NAIA. That was the Point Park program. That was its brand. Now, Point Park has to build up its brand again under Bubon.

Building up the program again is going to have headaches like last week. The Pioneers essentially have seven bodies left for the rest of 2018 – assuming they stay healthy.

Their 4-12 overall record and 1-6 River States Conference record has made this year frustrating. Every successful program has had its lumps and sometimes learning how to accept defeat is part of learning how to win, even if the learning experience isn’t kind.