Before the college basketball season officially begins, top teams across the country stage exhibitions against smaller schools, most of which come from Division II, III and NAIA.
To many, these are faceless opponents from unknown schools. But, for several local colleges, these games are an opportunity to play against name-brand programs.
Over the past week, the men's teams at California and IUP played Virginia Commonwealth and Michigan State, respectively, and the women's team at Gannon faced defending national champion Connecticut.
All three lost by lopsided scores.
The Vulcans and Crimson Hawks each lost by 38 points, while the Lady Knights were beaten by 66 -- but the games provided an invaluable experience for the players.
"To play in front of that crowd is just absolutely amazing," Gannon coach Jim Brunelli said
"Any time you can compete against the best in your field, I think that says a lot about your program."
Gannon's game was particularly meaningful for senior Kelley Sundberg, who attended high school less than a mile from Connecticut's famed Gampel Pavilion.
Brunelli, in his first season as the Lady Knights' coach, replaced Cleve Wright, who accepted a similar position at Miami of Ohio.
For a team that steps into the season with high expectations as the No. 2 team in Division II, it was a moment that drew praise from players and coaches.
"That's what we'll look to do -- we look to go against some of the best teams because that's going to make us better in the long run," Brunelli said.
California's game marked a reunion for Vulcans coach Bill Brown.
While at Kenyon, in Ohio, in the 1990s, Brown coached Rams coach Shaka Smart, who was then the Lords' point guard.
Smart later became an assistant at California and previously has credited Brown with his decision to get into coaching.
Though Brown's team did not fare well against his former pupil's team and its famed "HAVOC" defense, Brown and his players relished the opportunity.
"At times, it felt like Custer's Last Stand, but we really gained a lot from the experience," Brown said.
"After that experience, it brings your team together."
Kuntz earns honor
Faced with the difficult task Saturday of neutralizing Saint Francis' standout running back, Kyle Harbridge,, Duquesne's defense responded, led in large part by Christian Kuntz.
This linebacker and Chartiers Valley High School graduate had six tackles, three of which were for losses, and 1.5 sacks in the Dukes' 21-10 victory against the Red Flash. After a solid freshman season, Kuntz has enjoyed a excellent sophomore campaign. He leads the team in tackles (48), tackles for losses (14) and sacks (5.5).
For his performance against the Red Flash, he was selected as the Northeast Conference's co-defensive player of the week.
Poole big season continues
Saint Vincent's Chansler Poole, a senior on the cross-country team and a Penn-Trafford High School graduate, has enjoyed a dominant season.
And the dominance continued last week.
Poole won the individual title at the Presidents' Athletic Conference cross-country championship Saturday and also took home the conference's 2013 men's cross country MVP honors.
Led by Poole, the Bearcats captured their fourth consecutive men's cross-country team championship.
Craig Meyer: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG.