McAlister Musings: Well, the season is underway

Previously: My preview of the season

Links of interest:

Chuck Driesell inks four players in the early signing period

The Citadel loses to VMI, 66-65

Bulldogs defeated by Air Force, 68-55

The Citadel wins its home opener over Toccoa Falls, 71-58

Bulldogs pull away in second half and beat Bob Jones University, 81-50

Four games are in the books, and the Bulldogs are 2-2. The Citadel’s two victories came at home against non-D1 competition, while its two losses were in neutral-site games versus D-1 squads.

- Against VMI, the Bulldogs controlled the pace. The result was a 60-possession contest, the fewest possessions in a game involving VMI since Duggar Baucom took over in Lexington as head coach.

The Citadel won that battle, but couldn’t win the contest. The Bulldogs led by 11 points with 4:41 remaining in the first half, but started the second half so poorly that VMI had a seven-point lead with ten minutes to play.

After a nice comeback, The Citadel played the last 2:02 like a team that didn’t know how to win, with two turnovers sandwiched around a VMI possession that featured four offensive rebounds by the Keydets. The three-pointer with 15 seconds remaining that won the game for VMI seemed inevitable.

Of 58 VMI field goal attempts, 29 (exactly half) were from beyond the arc. Conversely, The Citadel only attempted four three-point shots. That shooting philosophy was reflected in the free throw totals for the two teams (only four for the Keydets; twenty-two for the Bulldogs).

The Citadel did a lot of things right against VMI, but didn’t rebound well enough and couldn’t close the deal when the opportunity was there. Also, for the umpteenth time in the last season-plus, the Bulldogs gave up a halftime buzzer-beater (admittedly, on something of a circus shot by the Keydets’ Q.J. Peterson, but still).

- While the Bulldogs probably should have won the game against VMI, the next day’s matchup against Air Force was a different story. The Falcons were in control throughout most of the contest, leading by as many as 16 points midway through the second half.

The Citadel did keep the tempo in its (apparent) comfort zone, as the game against AFA was a 57-possession contest. The Bulldogs also won the turnover battle (18-11).

However, Air Force shot 56% from the floor, 45% from three-land, and outrebounded The Citadel 34-22. That included a less-than-stellar performance on the defensive glass by the Bulldogs, only corralling 9 rebounds from 21 missed AFA shots (the Falcons actually missed 22 total shots, but one resulted in a “dead ball” free throw rebound).

Also on the negative stat report: The Citadel was only 9-19 from the foul line against Air Force. That didn’t help.

- Individual numbers are basically meaningless after just two games (as are comparing team numbers). I did think it was interesting that through Sunday’s games, Ashton Moore ranked second in the nation in percentage of shots taken by a player for his team while that player is on the court.

Moore took 33 shots in the first two games of the season. His totals from the second two games don’t count towards that statistic (because they were versus non-D1 opponents), but for what it’s worth, he kept firing, with 37 combined shots in those two contests.

- I’m not going to get into much detail about the games against Toccoa Falls and Bob Jones University. Neither was exactly what Chuck Driesell or the fan base wanted, other than two victories.

I attended the Toccoa Falls matchup. The Citadel raced out to a 16-0 lead, and then proceeded to be outscored 58-55 over the last 34 minutes of the game.

That wasn’t what I thought I was going to see, given the recent history of the Eagles’ basketball program, which included a 141-39 loss to Western Carolina less than two years ago. Last season, Toccoa Falls lost to Georgia Southern by 54 points.

Driesell said during his postgame radio interview that Toccoa Falls was “much improved”, but he was still disappointed in his team’s play (as well he should have been). The Bulldogs were too sloppy on both ends of the floor and did not shoot particularly well, either (43%).

Toccoa Falls plays Presbyterian on November 25. It will be interesting to see if the Eagles are competitive in that game as well (last year, PC only beat Toccoa Falls by ten points).

The Citadel outscored Bob Jones University 40-16 in the second half, which was fine. It was the first half that was a bit disquieting, as the Bruins only trailed 41-34 at the break. In its previous game, BJU had lost 107-41 to USC-Upstate (the Spartans led by 32 at halftime in that contest).

The Bulldogs again did not shoot well from outside (6-19 from beyond the arc). The Citadel turned the ball over on more than 20% of its possessions, very poor when considering the competition.

Did The Citadel give up yet another buzzer-beating halftime shot to BJU? Yes, it did — this time on a layup, after a Bulldog turnover with six seconds remaining in the half. Unbelievable.

Next up for The Citadel is a game in Tallahassee against Florida State on Tuesday. The Seminoles lost on Sunday to Massachusetts to fall to 1-3 on the season; FSU has dropped three straight contests, having also lost to Northeastern and Providence after opening the season with a victory over Manhattan.

On Saturday, November 29, the Bulldogs are back at McAlister Field House to play Warren Wilson College, a school that Toccoa Falls defeated 66-62 last week.

The following Tuesday, The Citadel plays at College of Charleston. The Cougars are currently 2-3 and have a game at West Virginia before the matchup with the Bulldogs.

Navy comes to town on December 6 for a Saturday afternoon game that should be a lot of fun. The Midshipmen are currently 0-4, but will play four more games before making an appearance in McAlister Field House.

Odds and ends:

- The new video scoreboard is fantastic.

- There were about 250-300 cadets in attendance (I may be slightly underestimating the total) for the game against Toccoa Falls. They were fed at McAlister Field House (the mess hall being closed on Wednesday night).

For future games, I would like to see the cadets seated behind the scorer’s table as opposed to in the rafters.

- For first-time buyers, season tickets can be purchased for $75. Another promotion: at Saturday’s game, fans received a free t-shirt that will get them admitted to all Saturday home games for free.

I like both ideas. This strikes me as a good season in which to experiment and see what works and what doesn’t, in terms of promotion.

- The halftime entertainment for the Toccoa Falls game was a stepshow performance by students from Lower Richland High School. The crowd (particularly the cadets) thoroughly enjoyed it.

- I assume the pep band will make its debut for the Navy game. Its absence for the home opener was noticeable.

I took a few pictures. If you thought my football photos were bad, wait until you get a look at some of these turkeys…

Gobble Gobble!

 

 

 

 

McAlister Musings: Getting ready for The Citadel’s 2014-15 hoops season

Note: this season, I am again participating in a cross-blog/forum exercise known as “Scanning the SoCon”. As part of this, there will be a preview for each league school. I am writing the preview for The Citadel, which you can read below (it is being posted on ‘Mocs Mania!’ as well). Previews for the other conference schools can be found here: Link

  • The Citadel’s 2013-14 record: 7-26, 2-14 in the SoCon (last)
  • Chuck Driesell’s record at The Citadel (four seasons): 31-94 overall, 16-54  in the SoCon
  • Biggest positive from the 2013-14 campaign: the Bulldogs won three of their last four games, including a rare SoCon tournament victory
  • Negatives from 2013-14: a school-record 17-game losing streak, the nation’s fourth-worst defense, an offense that ranked in the bottom 60 nationally, and an incredible ability to give up buzzer-beating shots

It’s hard to identify the low point of The Citadel’s 2013-14 basketball season, a campaign in which the Bulldogs lost 17 games in a row, did not win a league game until February 24, failed to beat any team in the RPI top 300, and finished with no road victories.

Was it the loss to Division II West Alabama, a contest the Bulldogs trailed by 23 at halftime? That’s not a bad candidate, but I think I would vote for the 82-53 loss to Georgia Southern on January 30, a game in which the Bulldogs were at one point outscored 29-0 over 12 minutes of game action.

Some might argue the season nadir was Chuck Driesell’s comment that he needed “to coach up optimism” after an 18-point home setback to Western Carolina. The next game for the Bulldogs was the above-mentioned Georgia Southern debacle, so apparently coaching players in the art of being more hopeful is not a quick fix.

Let’s be honest: when it comes to optimism for The Citadel’s basketball program, it’s in short supply, at least for the fan base. It’s not just about last year, either.

The Bulldogs have had double-digit losing streaks in each of the last three seasons. The Citadel has won fewer than 23% of its conference games over the last four years, and it’s not like the SoCon is on the same level with the ACC.

I hope the players and coaches have a positive outlook for 2014-15. For longtime supporters, though, it’s probably going to be a “show me” kind of season.

Note: the statistics in the next two sections do not include the four games The Citadel played last season against non-D1 opponents. Unless otherwise stated, statistics are per kenpom.com.

I mentioned earlier that The Citadel had one of the country’s least-defensive defenses. The Bulldogs were 348th out of 351 Division I teams in adjusted defensive efficiency, ahead of only Maryland-Eastern Shore, Cornell, and Grambling State.

Those three squads combined to win 13 games. The team immediately above the Bulldogs in the defensive ratings, Presbyterian, won six games — but lost to The Citadel.

The Bulldogs did not force many turnovers (bottom 10 nationally in that category) and struggled mightily to keep opponents off the offensive boards (bottom 50 nationally). Opponents shot two-point shots against The Citadel at a 51.1% clip, significantly higher than the D-1 average (48.5%).

The opposition did not go to the foul line that often against the Bulldogs; indeed, The Citadel was actually in the top 100 in preventing free throw attempts. Of course, that could be a double-edged sword, as it arguably suggests a lack of defensive aggression.

For The Citadel to have any chance of success this season, the Bulldogs must get much better on defense. While the team obviously needs to force more turnovers, what I would most like to see is an improvement on the defensive glass.

That has been a constant problem for the past two seasons, and if it isn’t solved, the defense will continue to be well below average. The Citadel simply has to assert itself on the boards.

The Bulldogs were largely ineffective on offense. The numbers weren’t as bad in conference play, but they still weren’t good enough.

Rebounding was a negative (as it was defensively), and The Citadel also couldn’t get to the foul line. The Bulldogs were in the bottom 50 nationally in both offensive rebounding percentage and free throw rate.

The Citadel did improve its offensive turnover rate, which had been an enormous bugaboo over the previous two seasons. While its overall numbers merely suggest a modest step up in that department, the league statistics were actually solid, as the Bulldogs had the second-best offensive turnover rate in conference play.

As far as three-point shooting went, The Citadel was respectable from beyond the arc (its 37.2% shooting from 3-land was third-best in SoCon play). There was a decided lack of efficiency in and around the paint, however, as the Bulldogs’ overall 2-point shooting rate was only 45.1%.

All the above numbers are indicative of a lack of productivity from interior players, and that was in fact a major issue (if not the major issue) for The Citadel in 2013-14. Injuries decimated the frontcourt, leaving Driesell bereft of experienced big men (player attrition from previous seasons did not help). The freshmen tried hard, but they weren’t quite ready.

This year, there are four returning post players with significant experience. If they can stay healthy, the Bulldogs should improve their rebounding and defensive work in the paint.

Four players from last year’s team did not return.

- Nate Bowser, a 6’9″ forward/center, appeared in twelve games his freshman season for a total of 81 minutes. He only played in one contest after January 2. Bowser is no longer enrolled at The Citadel, and is currently a student at Oklahoma.

- After playing in 19 games during his freshman campaign, 6’3″ guard Raemond Robinson appeared in 26 games last season for the Bulldogs. He shot 35% from three-point range in 2013-14 while averaging 2.9 points per game. This summer, Robinson announced that he was transferring to Charleston Southern.

- Dylen Setzekorn graduated from The Citadel in May with two years of hoops eligibility remaining. Setzekorn, a 6’7″ guard/forward, played in 42 games for the Bulldogs over two seasons. He is now playing at North Georgia, where he is in graduate school.

- Matt Van Scyoc averaged 14.3 points per game for The Citadel in 2013-14, which led the team. The 6’6″ sophomore swingman transferred to Indiana State after the season.

Van Scyoc shot 43.5% from the field, 36.5% from beyond the arc, and 86% from the charity stripe. His offensive production will be sorely missed. Someone will have to replace his scoring punch — perhaps multiple someones.

The Citadel does have three seniors (and a redshirt junior) returning for this season, along with several other players who will be key contributors.

- Marshall Harris III is a 6’1″ pass-first senior point guard, with an assist rate of 29.8% and a 2-to-1 assist/turnover ratio last year. Harris had a 28.9% turnover rate, which was too high. He was also bothered by foot problems during the season.

His overall shooting percentages were decent, though in SoCon play he did not fare as well from beyond the arc. He wasn’t a volume shooter by any means, but Harris took his fair share of free throws, with the highest FT rate on the team.

- Ashton Moore was named to the ten-man preseason All-SoCon team by the league’s coaches. The 6’0″ senior averaged 14.1 points and 3.6 assists per game last season, both marks second-best on the team. He led the squad in minutes played.

Moore can be a streaky offensive player. He was excellent down the stretch for the Bulldogs last year, scoring 22+ points in five of the last seven games. That included a 35-point effort against Davidson (on just 19 shots) and outstanding performances versus Samford and UNC-Greensboro.

He only averaged 2.4 fouls per 40 minutes last season. That was actually a higher percentage of fouls than Moore had committed the previous year, when he had the sixth-fewest fouls per 40 minutes in the country.

- At 6’3″, sophomore Warren Sledge is a bigger guard than Harris and Moore, which could be helpful from a defensive perspective. Sledge was injured at the beginning of last season, but showed some promise when he started playing for the Bulldogs.

He needs to cut down on turnovers, and Sledge only averaged one steal every 77 minutes of play; he should do a little better than that. His assist rate was solid, and his shooting from beyond the arc, while limited, was good.

- Quinton Marshall is a 6’5″ guard/forward who is one of the better athletes in the SoCon, as Samford found out late in the year. To become a better offensive performer, the junior needs to limit his turnovers and improve his free throw shooting (only 52% last season).

He averaged just over five rebounds per 40 minutes of play. Ideally, Marshall would be more of a force on the boards.

Last season, The Citadel entered the season without P.J. Horgan or C.J. Bray. For the Bulldogs to be successful in 2014-15, both must be healthy and ready to play from the opening tip.

- Bray is a 6’7″ product of James Island High School. When not hampered by ankle or shoulder problems, the redshirt junior is a post player with an interesting skill set.

He has a nice touch from outside, and enough strength to hold his own in the paint (Bray was a fine high school football player).

As a freshman, Bray was a dependable presence on the defensive glass. That was three years and several injuries ago. If he can return to that form, it will be a big lift for the Bulldogs.

- Now a senior, Horgan was believed to be through with basketball after suffering a lower back injury. In fact, it was announced in October of 2013 that his career was over.

However, the 6’9″ forward/center returned to the team and by January of 2014, he was playing. It was a bit rough at times (in his first game, he fouled out after 15 minutes of action).

By February, he was healthy enough to log 35 minutes in a lopsided loss to Davidson. He had 10 points and 9 rebounds in a late-season victory over Georgia Southern.

With Horgan and Bray out of action (or not ready to contribute major minutes), the frontcourt was primarily left to two freshmen, Brian White and Tom Koopman. That wasn’t really fair to either one of them, but at least they got a lot of experience.

- White actually had an fine freshman campaign for The Citadel. He impressed many observers with his efficient play and made the SoCon’s all-freshman team.

He had the best eFG rate (53.6%) on the team, blocked a shot every now and then, and had a respectable turnover rate. White (now listed at 6’8″) can improve in some facets of his game; he had just one double-digit rebounding game against a Division I team, and had only ten assists all season.

Regardless, White was clearly a bright spot for the Bulldogs last year, and is expected to be even better in 2014-15.

- Koopman is a 6’8″ native of the Netherlands who was overwhelmed at times last year (according to Blue Ribbon, he also suffered significant weight loss during the campaign). He did show flashes of what he could become, though, including solid performances against Nebraska and (later in the season) Georgia Southern.

With more help in the frontcourt, and having completed his freshman year at The Citadel, there is a reasonable chance Koopman could be The Citadel’s most improved player this season.

Four freshmen join the Bulldogs this year.

- Jake Wright is a 6’4″ guard from Hopkins, Minnesota. He may be the freshman most ready to contribute for The Citadel, assuming he brings his shooting touch from high school to McAlister Field House.

Wright played at a high school that includes among its alums current NBA player Kris Humphries. Thus, there are only three degrees of separation between Wright and Kanye West.

- Brandon Thompson, like Wright, is also a shooting guard. One difference between the two: Thompson is only 5’11”.

Thompson is from Gaithersburg, Maryland. He played at Covenant Life School, a small private school that is a member of the Potomac Valley Athletic Conference, and averaged 18.3 points per game his senior season.

- Tim Broom is also a guard, but he is more of a lead guard than a pure shooter. The 6’2″ Jacksonville native was a high school football safety, too.

Some of the adjectives used to describe Broom in print include “rugged” and “sturdily built”. If that translates into being a quality defender, he could see action early and often.

- Nadi Beceri is a 6’7″ post player who went to Bergen Catholic High School in Maywood, New Jersey. He could get some minutes in the frontcourt rotation, with the amount possibly dependent on how much Horgan and Bray are able to play.

Chuck Driesell called Beceri “a blue-collar player” who is “not afraid to mix it up”.

The Citadel’s non-conference slate includes games against three power conference schools, as the Bulldogs will face Florida State, Virginia Tech, and Michigan State (all on the road). The Bulldogs also play at College of Charleston.

As has been the case for the past three seasons, The Citadel will compete in the All-Military Classic, which is being held this year in West Point, New York. The Bulldogs open that tournament against VMI (which will be a non-conference game) and play either Air Force or Army the next day.

At home, The Citadel plays Navy and Bethune-Cookman, along with three non-Division I schools — Toccoa Falls, Bob Jones University, and Warren Wilson College.

Last year, the Bulldogs played four non-D1 squads, so three is a minor improvement. Ideally, the military college would not play more than two, but filling out a home schedule can be difficult for a low-major.

The conference as a whole has 20 scheduled matchups with non-Division I schools, which is down from last season’s 32. It’s not an exact comparison, of course, due to the turnover in SoCon schools over the past year.

Incidentally, The Citadel eschewed exhibition games this year in favor of two so-called “secret scrimmages” against Stetson and North Florida.

The Citadel was picked to finish last in the SoCon by the league media vote and next-to-last by the coaches. NBC Sports also predicted the Bulldogs will finish next-to-last, as did The Sports Network, while SB Nation thinks The Citadel will be the worst team in the league.

Considering the team’s record last season, and the fact the Bulldogs lost their leading scorer from that squad, those are understandable placements.

In all honesty, I would have ranked the Bulldogs a little higher. Blue Ribbon had The Citadel in seventh, and I think that’s about right in terms of a preseason projection. There are other schools in the league that had many more personnel defections (hello, Samford) and weren’t exactly dominating on the hardwood in the first place.

It appears that The Citadel’s new director of athletics, Jim Senter, is interested in improving the gameday atmosphere at McAlister Field House, and is taking steps along those lines. Such action is most welcome, as it is long overdue.

I generally do not make predictions about how a season will turn out. I won’t this time, either. However, I do have expectations.

For this season to be considered a success, the team must finish with an overall winning record, and a winning record in conference play. Nothing less will be acceptable.

That may seem unrealistic for a program that has lost 94 games in the last four seasons, never winning more than ten games during any of those years. It doesn’t matter.

This is Chuck Driesell’s fifth year as the head basketball coach of The Citadel, and it’s time to see some positive results. Otherwise, the school should (and likely will) move in a different direction.

I’m ready for the season to start. I’m also ready to celebrate a bunch of victories.

Why the CAA and Big Sky champs should always be in an NCAA tournament play-in game, regardless of record

This is just a brief companion post to my longer discussion about the NCAA Tournament’s play-in games (also known as PIGs). In that post, I referenced a quote  from the Albany Times-Union made by Peter Hooley, a player for Albany. Here it is again:

“If you play well enough to win your league,you shouldn’t have to play a play-in game.”

Hooley is correct, but you might be surprised to know that not every small- or mid-major conference shares his point of view. At least, not every league commissioner agrees with him.

In a story from USA Today, both CAA commissioner Tom Yeager and Big Sky chief Dennis Farrell both suggested they would actually prefer that their respective league champions be sent to Dayton for a play-in game in a certain situation:

“We joke about it in the conference offices, but if you’re going to have a 16 seed, let’s go to Dayton,” Colonial Athletic Association commissioner Tom Yeager said. “Play someone that’s relatively similar to you with the opportunity to pick up another basketball unit, and then you walk into the lion’s den with the No. 1 seed.

“Last year, James Madison was able to win and then line up with Indiana. I’d rather take that route than line up with Indiana or another No. 1 seed right out of the box. That’d be my preference. It’s a winnable game, and the unit is worth, over six years, about $1.5 million dollars.”…

…”When the whole concept of the play-in games first came up, as a conference commissioner I wasn’t very excited about the prospect of having a team playing in those games,” says longtime Big West commissioner Dennis Farrell, who expects to be in Dayton to cheer on Cal Poly. “But in all honesty, when they put the financial reward on winning that game, it certainly changed my viewpoint about it. If you’re going to be a 16 seed, you might as well have a chance to pick up a victory in the tournament.

It’s possible neither man has ever asked the players and fans of affected teams about the difference between being a “regular” 16 seed and one sent to a play-in game. I guess it’s also possible neither one cares that much about the opinions of the athletes and supporters. That might seem harsh, but I’m not sure how else to interpret those comments, particularly Yeager’s.

Coastal Carolina got a 16 seed and was matched up against Virginia. Was it a difficult matchup for the Chanticleers? Of course it was (although CCU actually led the game at halftime).  Regardless, Coastal Carolina’s players and fans received the benefit of the complete NCAA Tournament experience in a way that the AQs relegated to the play-in games did not.

I know that if my school somehow ever won its league, I would be bitterly disappointed (if not very angry) if it were put in a play-in game. The difference between the play-in games and being part of the real tourney — because make no mistake, the PIGs are not part of the real tourney — is enormous.

In my opinion, if SoCon commissioner John Iamarino ever suggested that he would not mind seeing his league champion in a play-in game, it would be a sign that the SoCon needed a new commissioner.

Basically, I’m writing about this because I was struck at how open these two commissioners were about this topic and their viewpoints on it.  After all, the extra cash on the table is basically “hush money” for smaller leagues, so as to reduce the amount of complaining about automatic qualifiers having to go to the PIGs.

Yeager and Farrell aren’t the only commissioners who feel this way (the article also quotes MEAC commissioner Dennis Thomas), but they are the two who are quoted as preferring the play-in game to being a “regular” 16 seed. That leads me to make a simple suggestion.

Every year, the CAA and Big Sky champions should automatically be sent to Dayton for a play-in game, regardless of their record. That way, those two leagues have the opportunity to pick up the additional “basketball unit” they seem to want.

So next year, if William & Mary were to win 20+ games and finally claim a league tourney title, instead of being part of the regular NCAA Tournament, the Tribe would go to Dayton and participate in a play-in game. That would naturally be unfair to its players (including the redoubtable Marcus Thornton) and longtime fans, who have always dreamed of playing in the NCAAs.

However, the CAA would have a chance of making a little more money. That’s the bottom line, isn’t it?

A rancid PIG: the NCAA basketball tournament’s biggest flaw

Last week, Gregg Doyel of CBS Sports.com wrote an excellent column about the worst aspect of the NCAA Tournament, the play-in games. Oh, the NCAA doesn’t want you to call them the play-in games, but Doyel disposed of that nonsense with ease:

The NCAA prefers that we don’t call what happened Tuesday night a play-in game, and I prefer you don’t call me bald. It’s possible I am bald, but do me the courtesy of not noticing.

Even Albany’s coach and players have been calling this thing a play-in game since Sunday night, when they gathered to watch the selection show and watched their name come up for … this. The team wasn’t clapping or hooting. The team was stunned, and trying to recover.

Doyel writes about all of the many things that make PIGs so abominable, including this key point:

And understand this: Mount St. Mary’s got screwed out of the NCAA Tournament experience — the NCAA Tournament — it earned by winning the NEC tournament. Used to be, every school in America started the season with the same premise, and promise: Win your conference tournament, and you’re in The Dance. Even the smallest of the small schools were guaranteed a spot in the field if they won their league.

It should be noted that Albany, despite beating Mt. St. Mary’s in their play-in matchup, also missed out on an essential part of the tournament experience. Normally, it would have been part of the bracket discussion until Thursday or Friday, with its fans filling out their brackets with glee, and pundits weighing in on the Great Danes’ chances to pull off a miracle upset…but no, Albany didn’t get to enjoy any of that. Instead it was shunted off to Dayton for a game against another small school.

The ideal solution would be to eliminate the play-in games and revert back to the 64-team model for the tournament, but that’s not happening. Since there is no chance of the NCAA getting rid of the PIGs, then, the next-best thing to do would be to make all four of the games matchups between at-large teams. Right now, only two of them are.

I want to illustrate how unfair that really is by breaking down the teams (and leagues) that have participated in the last four NCAA tournaments (2011-14) into categories.

What follows is based on league affiliation beginning in 2014-15. In other words, Rutgers is considered a Big 10 member, and Louisville is representing the ACC. Tulsa is part of the AAC, as are Tulane and East Carolina. Davidson is in the Atlantic 10. Middle Tennessee State and Western Kentucky are part of C-USA, etc.

To further clarify, another example. Pacific is now a member of the WCC, but it earned a 2013 NCAA bid as a member of the Big West. For the purposes of this exercise, though, the Tigers are considered to be a WCC school that has been in the tournament at least once over the last four years (because that is in fact the case). There are several other schools that received bids in one league over the last four years before moving to another (like Butler and UTSA).

I decided to organize things that way to avoid mass confusion, though it is practically impossible to completely avoid confusion with all the recent conference realignment. If I made a mistake or two along the way, I apologize in advance.

Okay, now for some statistics:

The “power conferences”

There are 65 schools that play in the P5 leagues (ACC, Big 10, Big XII, SEC, Pac-12). Forty-eight of the 65 have made at least one appearance in the NCAA tournament over the past four years. That’s 74% of all power-conference schools.

Of the seventeen that haven’t, only six haven’t made the tourney over the past seven years: South Carolina (last made the NCAAs in 2004), Auburn (2003), TCU (1998), Rutgers (1991), Oregon State (1991), and Northwestern, well-known as the only power-conference school to have never made the NCAA tournament.

Multi-bid regulars

The next grouping is made up of leagues that almost always will have two or three teams (sometimes more) make the tournament. The four conferences in this category are the AAC, MWC, Big East, and Atlantic 10. Obviously, two of these leagues are basically new (the AAC and the nuBig East), but quite a few of the teams in those conferences have consistently received NCAA bids.

There are 46 schools in these four leagues, and 30 of them (65%) have participated in at least one NCAA tournament over the past four years.

The occasional at-large recipients

There are three leagues that in a given year might wind up with multiple bids, but also might not. They are the MVC, WCC, and C-USA.

Of the 34 schools that will be in those three conferences as of 2014-15, only twelve received an NCAA berth in the last four years. That’s 35% of the group.

For the record, those twelve schools: Wichita State, Indiana State, Gonzaga, BYU, St. Mary’s, Pacific, UAB, Middle Tennessee State, Southern Mississippi, UTSA, Old Dominion, and Western Kentucky.

AQ-only

In the remaining 20 conferences in Division I, 54 different schools (out of 205) have made the NCAAs over the past four seasons. That’s 26% of the schools (and doesn’t count poor NJIT, the lone independent).

All 54 of those schools appeared in the field as automatic qualifiers.

Note: there were a few at-large bids out of the 20 leagues over the last four years (including teams in the Sun Belt and the CAA), but none of the schools that got at-large bids in those conferences will still be in those leagues as of 2014-15.

When you see just how difficult it is for a school in a mid- or low-major conference to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, it further underlines just how ridiculous it is that at least four such schools every year are placed in a PIG. These schools all did what was necessary to make the NCAA tournament: win their respective leagues.

From the Albany Times-Union:

UAlbany shouldn’t have to beat Mount St. Mary’s for the chance to play No. 1 overall seed Florida on Thursday in Orlando. The Danes already earned that right.

“If you play well enough to win your league,” Danes guard Peter Hooley said, “you shouldn’t have to play a play-in game.”

Hooley is absolutely correct.

I am also a bit perplexed the folks at CBS headquarters haven’t suggested to the NCAA that having an all at-large “First Four” is preferable. I would presume having larger-conference schools face off against each other might provide slightly better ratings than TruTV got for Cal Poly-Texas Southern. Don’t they want more people to see those promos for Impractical Jokers?

Hmm, maybe they don’t…

My fear is that the NCAA is more likely to go the other way, and make all four PIGs auto-qualifier affairs (which might be okay with certain league commissioners). The play-in phenomenon is not limited to basketball, either; there is apparently now a movement to introduce it to college baseball, in what seems to be a transparent attempt to marginalize smaller conferences in that sport.

Sometimes I get the impression that the people who run the NCAA Tournament don’t understand what it is that’s great about the NCAA Tournament. Never do I feel that way more than when I see the PIG matchups.

I’m not the only person who feels that way, either.

Big Dance victory droughts: major-conference schools that haven’t won an NCAA tournament game in at least ten years — the 2014 edition

Last year, I wrote about the BCS schools that haven’t won an NCAA tournament game in at least ten years. Thirteen schools fit that description, unfortunately for them. Two things subsequently happened:

1) One of the thirteen, Mississippi, won its first NCAA tournament game since 2001. The Rebels beat Wisconsin in the round of 64 before losing to La Salle.

2) The Big East split into two leagues, the “new Big East” and the American Athletic Conference.

The latter event is leading to a slight change for this year’s post. What, precisely, is a “major conference” in college basketball? Does the Big East count? What about the AAC? And if they do, then perhaps shouldn’t the MWC as well? Does the Atlantic-10 have a case?

For this year, I’ve decided to consider seven leagues as “major conferences”: AAC, ACC, Big 10, Big XII, Big East, SEC, and Pac-12.

For the record, here are the 13 schools in the A-10 and MWC that have not won an NCAA tournament game since at least 2004 (a few of them have never won a tourney game at all): Duquesne, Fordham, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, St. Bonaventure, St. Joseph’s, Air Force, Boise State, Fresno State, San Jose State, Utah State, and Wyoming.

The following 17 major-conference schools have not won an NCAA tournament game since at least 2004:

- Northwestern (no tournament appearances): NU is the cause célèbre of schools to have never played in the NCAA tournament, because it is the only major-conference school to have never competed in the event. You can read about Northwestern and all the other schools that have never made the Big Dance here: Link

At 13-18 this season (6-12 in conference play), the Wildcats would have to win the Big 10 tourney to make the NCAAs for the first time. That would mean winning four games in four days, against Iowa, Michigan State, probably Wisconsin, and possibly Michigan.

No, that’s not happening.

- Nebraska (no NCAA victories): The Cornhuskers are winless in six trips to the Big Dance, and haven’t made the NCAAs at all since 1998.

That “haven’t made the NCAAs” bit is probably going to change this year, though, as Nebraska appears a decent bet to get an at-large bid. Whether it can finally win a game in the tournament is another matter, of course. It should get the opportunity, though.

- UCF (no NCAA victories): The Knights’ football team won a BCS bowl game this past season, but in four trips to the NCAA Basketball Tournament, UCF is 0-fer. All four of those appearances came as a member of the Atlantic Sun.

This year, UCF is 12-17 overall, 4-14 in the AAC, and waiting for football season.

- South Carolina (last won an NCAA game in 1973): It has been more than 40 years since the Gamecocks advanced in the NCAAs. South Carolina’s last victory was actually in a regional consolation game. Its losing streak in NCAA play began with a loss to Furman.

The Gamecocks would have to win five SEC tournament games in five days to earn a trip to the NCAAs this year, which is about as likely as Frank Martin controlling his emotions on the sidelines.

- Houston (last won an NCAA game in 1984): That’s right, the Cougars haven’t won an NCAA tourney game since the days of Phi Slama Jama. That may seem hard to believe, but Houston has only made one trip to the NCAAs since 1992.

In order to return to the grand stage for the first time since 2010, the Cougars would have to win the AAC tourney, a dicey proposition at best. Houston is the 6 seed in a league tournament with five very good teams. Beating three of them in three days is probably not realistic.

- Oregon State (last won an NCAA game in 1982): The Beavers haven’t made the NCAA tournament since 1991, the longest such drought for a BCS school outside of Northwestern, and haven’t won a game in the tourney since 1982, when OSU lost to Georgetown in the West Regional final. The program has two appearances in the Final Four, so it’s not like Oregon State is bereft of hoops tradition.

Only a Pac-12 tourney title will be enough to get Oregon State back to the NCAAs. Raise your hand if you think President Obama’s favorite Pac-12 team can win four games in four days, with the first two coming against Oregon and UCLA. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

- Rutgers (last won an NCAA game in 1983): The last time RU won a tourney game was in 1983, when the Scarlet Knights were in the Atlantic-10. Rutgers has since moved from the A-10 to the Big East to the AAC, and, beginning next season, the Big 10.

In 1976, Rutgers made the Final Four as a member of the ECAC Metro conference. That league was probably a bit easier to navigate than this year’s AAC, in which Rutgers went 5-13 in conference action (11-20 overall). There will be at least one more year on this list for the Scarlet Knights (if not more).

- TCU (last won an NCAA game in 1987): TCU hasn’t made the NCAAs since 1997, when it was in the WAC. TCU’s last victory in the tournament came in 1987, as an SWC team.

This year, as a member of the Big XII, the Horned Frogs were the only program in Division I to go winless in conference play. I wouldn’t put any money on a league tournament run.

- SMU (last won an NCAA game in 1988): The Mustangs’ last win in the Big Dance was an 83-75 victory over Digger Phelps and Notre Dame. SMU was a member of the SWC at the time, as it was for all ten of its appearances in the NCAAs.

Under the tutelage of the remarkable Larry Brown, the Mustangs are poised to return to the NCAA Tournament this year for the first time since 1993, this time as a member of the AAC.

- Providence (last won an NCAA game in 1997): Two notable coaches (Dave Gavitt and Rick Pitino) each led the Friars to the Final Four (in 1973 and 1987, respectively). Providence hasn’t won a game in the NCAAs since losing a regional final to Arizona in 1997, however, and hasn’t made an NCAA appearance at all since 2004.

This year the Friars are a “bubble” team. To make the NCAAs, Providence probably needs to win at least one Big East tournament game. As it happens, the Friars’ first-round opponent is another bubbler…the next team on this list.

- St. John’s (last won an NCAA game in 2000): SJU has only played in two NCAA tournaments since 2000, testimony to the modern struggles of this tradition-rich program (two Final Fours, four Elite Eights).

To have any shot at returning to the NCAAs this season, Steve Lavin’s Red Storm must beat Providence on Thursday (and likely needs to win the following day as well, a potential matchup against Villanova).

- Iowa (last won an NCAA game in 2001): Iowa is another school that has a fine basketball history. The Hawkeyes played in the 1956 NCAA title game, one of three times Iowa has made the Final Four. Since 2001, however, it has only made the NCAAs twice, losing in the first round on both occasions (the latter appearance as a 3-seed, in a gut-wrenching loss to Northwestern State).

The Hawkeyes should be returning to the NCAAs again this year, barring a lot of conference tourney upsets across the country. Fran McCaffery’s squad will get a chance to dance.

- Penn State (last won an NCAA game in 2001): The Nittany Lions got to the Sweet 16 in 2001, upsetting North Carolina in the second round to get there. PSU has only made one tourney trip since (2011).

Barring a spectacular run through the Big 10 tournament, Penn State (15-16 overall, 6-12 Big 10) will have to wait at least one more season to return to the NCAAs.

- Georgia (last won an NCAA game in 2002): UGA has only made two NCAAs since 2002. In 1983, Hugh Durham’s Bulldogs made it all the way to the Final Four before losing to eventual champ North Carolina State. That 1983 appearance was actually UGA’s first trip to the NCAAs in school history.

Despite a 12-6 conference record, Georgia will have to win the SEC tourney in order to return to the NCAAs. Of all the teams on this list that are in “win league tourney or else” mode, though, the Bulldogs may have the best shot. Admittedly, it’s not much of one.

- Auburn (last won an NCAA game in 2003): The last time Auburn made the NCAAs, the Tigers advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2003 before losing by one point in the regional semifinals to Syracuse, which won the national title that year.

The Tigers tend to play well in the NCAAs (12-8 alltime) when they get to the NCAAs. Getting there, however, has been a bit of a challenge at times. This year will be no exception. Only an SEC tournament title will do, and Auburn is the 12 seed in that event.

Seton Hall (last won an NCAA game in 2004): Louis Orr was the coach when Seton Hall last won a game in the Big Dance, winning an 8-9 game against Lute Olson and Arizona in 2004. Orr was also on the bench when the Pirates made their last appearance in the NCAAs, in 2006.

This year, Seton Hall is 15-16, and would have to win four games in four days at Madison Square Garden to qualify for the NCAAs. It would be quite a story.

- DePaul: (last won an NCAA game in 2004): DePaul hasn’t been back to the NCAAs since advancing to the round of 32 in 2004.

This season, the Blue Demons have been dreadful (11-20, last in the Big East), culminating in a horrific 79-46 loss to Butler on Senior Night. That would be Senior Night…at home. In Chicago.

(Speaking of Chicago, it’s been a tough year for college hoops in the Windy City. The five D-1 schools in the metropolitan area (UIC, Chicago State, Northwestern, Loyola-IL, DePaul) have a combined record of 52-103; four of those schools finished in last place in their respective leagues.)

For any of these schools to break through and win a game in the NCAAs, the first step is getting to the tournament. This year, SMU will be there, and Iowa probably will be as well. Nebraska should join them.

Providence and St. John’s could possibly garner at-large bids. The other twelve schools can only get there by winning their respective league tournaments, a tall order. Otherwise, they are guaranteed to be on this list next year.

Schools that have never made the NCAA Tournament — the 2014 edition

Previous entries on this subject:  The 2013 edition The 2012 edition  The 2011 edition  The 2010 edition

All records are through March 2

March Madness is on the horizon. Conference tourney time is almost at hand. Schools far and wide will strive to make the NCAAs.

Most will fail. When it comes to making the NCAA tournament, some have known nothing but failure.

There are 34 schools that have been in Division I for at least a decade that have yet to make a trip to the Big Dance. Now, it is one thing to be UC-Riverside or Gardner-Webb and to have not made your tourney debut, since neither of those schools moved up to D-1 until the dawn of the 21st century.

However, 16 of those 34 schools have been in Division I for 30 years or more and have never received an NCAA tournament bid. For fans of New Hampshire, or Youngstown State, or Stetson, the annual exercise of watching the tourney from the outside looking in has become more than a little frustrating.

Can any of them finally break through? That’s the subject of this post. The short answer, however, is that the odds are not favorable.

I started posting about this topic in 2010. That year, I highlighted the 20 schools that had waited the longest for their first NCAA bid. As of 2014, 19 of those schools are still waiting. The twentieth, Centenary, has left Division I.

There are actually around 54 schools (give or take a transitional member or two) currently in D-1 that have never made the Big Dance, but my focus is on schools that have been in the division for more than 10 years without receiving a bid. It’s too early to worry about making the tournament if you’re UMass Lowell or Incarnate Word.

Of course, last year one of those newly minted D-1 schools took the nation by storm, as FGCU (only in the division since 2008; heck, only a functioning school since 1997) dunked its way into the Sweet 16. This season, the “newbies” with the best chances of making a move into the field of 68 are probably Bryant, North Carolina Central, North Dakota, USC-Upstate, and Utah Valley.

Before I run down the longtime hopefuls, though, I want to mention another subset of schools, namely those institutions that have played in the NCAA Tournament, but have not made an appearance in the event for at least twenty years. Some of them have waited for a return trip longer than most of the never-beens.

First on this list is Dartmouth, a two-time national finalist (!) that hasn’t been back to the NCAAs since 1959. The Big Green won’t be in the tourney this year, either, having already been eliminated in the race for the Ivy League title (as there is no post-season tournament in that conference).

Next in this group is another member of the Ivies, Yale, which has not appeared in the NCAAs since 1962. That streak is likely to continue for at least one more year, as the Elis are all but mathematically eliminated from league title contention (with Harvard set to clinch the auto-bid with one more victory).

Other schools that have made at least one NCAA trip but haven’t been back since 1994 (or earlier) while continuously in D-1: Tennessee Tech (no appearances since 1963), Columbia (1968), Bowling Green (1968), Rice (1970), VMI (1977), Duquesne (1977), Furman (1980), Toledo (1980), Mercer (1985), Loyola of Chicago (1985), Brown (1986), Jacksonville (1986), Marshall (1987), Idaho State (1987), Marist (1987), Oregon State (1990), Loyola Marymount (1990), Idaho (1990), Louisiana Tech (1991), Towson (1991), Northeastern (1991), St. Francis-PA (1991), Rutgers (1991), Howard (1992), Georgia Southern (1992), Campbell (1992), Fordham (1992), Coastal Carolina (1993), East Carolina (1993), SMU (1993), Rider (1994), and Tennessee State (1994).

Of note: Seattle (a finalist in 1958 thanks to Elgin Baylor, but which last made the NCAAs in 1969) and Houston Baptist (a tourney team in 1984) both left Division I and then later returned, so they haven’t been in D-1 for all the years after making their most recent NCAA tourney appearances.

Last year, a couple of schools with long breaks between appearances broke through (Middle Tennessee State and La Salle). This season, things are looking very good for Larry Brown’s SMU squad to grab a spot in the field. Others to watch in this group: Coastal Carolina, Louisiana Tech, Mercer, Toledo, Towson, and VMI.

Among the power conference schools, Oregon State’s 24-year drought is currently the longest, not counting Northwestern…and that’s our cue to begin the rundown of schools that have never made the tournament. As is traditional, we start with The Forgotten Five.

The NCAA Tournament began in 1939. In 1948, the NCAA reorganized into separate divisions (university and college) for its member institutions. Of the schools that since 1948 have continuously been in what is now Division I, there are five which have never made the tournament field. All five of those schools theoretically could have been in the tournament beginning in 1939, actually, so for them the wait is longer than their history as official members of D-1.

The five schools are known as “The Forgotten Five”. The class of 1948 (or 1939, I suppose):

- Northwestern: According to the Helms Foundation, Northwestern actually won the national championship in 1931. Of course, that’s a retroactive ranking, not an actual on-court result.

At 12-17, the Wildcats can only make the NCAAs this season by winning the Big 10 tournament, which is unlikely. However, Northwestern has shown a little bit of moxie in Chris Collins’ first season as head coach.

I think the Wildcats are perhaps two years away from finally breaking through. Maybe next season, even. Not this year, though.

- Army: Last season, the Black Knights enjoyed their first winning campaign in almost three decades. Army is currently 14-15 and has concluded regular season play.

To make its first NCAA trip, a Patriot League tourney title is necessary. It’s not inconceivable, though Boston University and American are the league favorites.

- St. Francis College: The Terriers (18-13) are going to qualify for the NEC tourney, but need a lot of luck to grab the auto-bid from league heavyweight Robert Morris (not to mention second-place Wagner). SFC hasn’t been very close to making the NCAAs since it lost in the 2003 NEC title game.

It’s too bad. I bet even Jim Rockford would root for the Terriers, despite the fact that Lt. Chapman played for SFC.

- William & Mary: Three times, the Tribe has advanced to the CAA final. Three times the Tribe has lost.

It isn’t out of the question that William & Mary (18-11) could find itself back in the league championship game again this season. Can it finally grab the brass ring?

- The Citadel: A win over Samford ensured that the Bulldogs would not go winless in the Southern Conference for the first time since 1955-56. That said, The Citadel is 6-25. This won’t be the year.

At one point during the season, The Citadel lost 17 consecutive games. That broke a single-season record originally set by the 1953-54 squad, a team that featured no scholarship players and also had to deal with things like frozen uniforms.

What about the other never-beens? Well, first up are two New England state universities still in search of a bid despite being members of D-1 since 1962. As a hardwood tandem, they are called “The Dour Duo”.

- New Hampshire: The Wildcats are 6-23 and tied for last place in the America East. It’s hard to imagine a team less positioned to make an NCAA run — well, except maybe…

- Maine: The Black Bears are 6-22 and share that last place spot with UNH in the America East. It’s hockey season (as always) for New Hampshire and Maine.

The rest of the rundown:

- Denver (D-1 from 1948 to 1980, then back to the division in 1999): The Pioneers are only 15-14 this season after back-to-back 22-win campaigns. At 8-6 in the Summit League, though, Denver still has a decent shot at finally advancing to the NCAA Tournament.

Joe Scott has continued his classical Princeton approach to coaching offense, as only one D-1 school (Miami-FL) plays at a slower pace than the Pioneers.

- UT-Pan American (class of 1969): The Broncs were 16-16 last year. Like several teams on this list, UTPA moved to the WAC for this season, giving it an opportunity to compete for an automatic bid that wasn’t available in the now-defunct Great West Conference. Unfortunately, this season UTPA is 9-21 and not a serious candidate to claim that automatic berth.

- Stetson (class of 1972): Ted Cassidy’s alma mater is 7-23. Even Gomez Addams couldn’t conjure up a way for the Hatters to win the Atlantic Sun tournament and grab an auto-bid.

- UC Irvine (class of 1978): UCI, currently 20-10 and in first place in the Big West, has a legitimate chance at making the NCAAs this year. The most recognizable of the Anteaters is 7’6″ Mamadou Ndiaye, the tallest player in Division I basketball.

- Grambling State (class of 1978): The Tigers do have two conference wins this year and three victories overall, a marked improvement from last season, when Grambling State went winless. However, GSU is ineligible for postseason play this year due to APR penalties (though the Tigers, like three other SWAC schools, will be allowed to compete in the conference tournament).

- Maryland-Eastern Shore (D-1 in 1974-75, then back to the division for good in 1982): UMES is 5-22. This is the 12th consecutive season the Hawks have lost 20 or more games. Ouch.

Last season, veteran coach Frankie Allen went 2-26 at UMES, and got a one-year contract extension. I don’t know if he will get another one. I don’t know if he wants another one.

- Youngstown State (D-1 in 1948, then returning to the division in 1982): The Penguins have been quietly respectable in recent seasons, and are 15-16 this year. They won’t be favored to win the Horizon League tournament (Green Bay has that distinction), but YSU has a puncher’s chance (along with every other league squad save UIC).

- Bethune-Cookman (class of 1981): In 2011, Bethune-Cookman won the regular-season MEAC title. Since then: 18 wins, 14 wins, and (so far this season) 6 wins. That’s not a promising trend when you’re trying to pick up an NCAA bid.

- Western Illinois (class of 1982): Last year, the Leathernecks won 22 games, the first time WIU had ever won 20 or more games in a season. The opportunity to win the Summit League was there, and then it was gone.

This year Western Illinois is 10-19. Back to square one.

- Chicago State (class of 1985): Another former Great West refugee that found its way to the WAC, Chicago State is 12-17. Don’t sleep on the Panthers’ chances of pulling an upset in the WAC tourney; Chicago State won the final Great West postseason tournament last year, so its players have tasted some success in a tourney format.

Even if the Panthers don’t win the WAC tournament this year, the program has already won one battle. After struggling with academic issues for several years, the men’s basketball team’s most recent APR score was a perfect 1,000.

- Hartford (class of 1985): While Dionne Warwick is Hartford’s most famous alum, its most passionate grad may be WCSC-TV (Charleston) sportscaster Kevin Bilodeau. Will he finally see his school appear in the NCAA tournament?

Probably not. The Hawks are 16-15 overall and are looking up in the league standings at Vermont and Stony Brook (more on SBU below). Perhaps Warwick could save Bilodeau unnecessary anguish and have one of her psychic friends tell him whether or not Hartford wins the conference tournament.

- UMKC (class of 1988): I’m not sure why the Kangaroos moved from the Summit League to the WAC, but the results are similar. UMKC is 9-18 and has the worst offense in the conference. Edie McClurg is not happy.

- Buffalo (D-1 from 1974-77, then back to the division in 1992): At 12-4 in league play (18-8 overall), the Bulls currently lead the MAC’s East division and can dream again of that elusive NCAA bid. Few schools on this list have come as close to crashing the Big Dance as Buffalo has over the last decade.

The first-year head coach of the Bulls, Bobby Hurley, is more than a little familiar with the NCAA Tournament.

- Sacramento State (class of 1992): As noted in last year’s edition of this post, Sacramento State is the alma mater of actor Tom Hanks, and plays its home basketball games at a 1,200-seat gym (Colberg Court, aka “The Nest”) named for a women’s volleyball coach.

Sacramento State didn’t qualify for the Big Sky tourney last season. This year the Hornets (13-14 overall, 9-9 in league play) may sneak into the eight-team event, but getting past Weber State or Northern Colorado to actually win the auto-bid is another story.

You never know, though. After all, Sacramento State has already beaten Weber State once this season, thanks to this amazing shot.

- UT-Martin (class of 1993): After starting the season with ten consecutive losses, things really haven’t improved for the Skyhawks (8-23). UTM will not qualify for the OVC tournament, so the NCAA dream will have to wait at least another season.

- Cal Poly (class of 1995): The alumni list for the Mustangs includes such sporting notables as John Madden, Ozzie Smith, and Chuck Liddell. However, no NBA player lists Cal Poly as his alma mater, so there isn’t a huge hoops tradition in SLO land.

It doesn’t appear that this year will change that. The Mustangs are currently 10-18, 6-9 in the Big West.

- Jacksonville State (class of 1996): Like UT-Martin, Jacksonville State plays in the OVC. Also like UT-Martin, the Gamecocks (10-21) will not qualify for the OVC tournament this year.

- Quinnipiac (class of 1999): Last year, after detailing a few near-misses for the Bobcats in the NEC tournament, I wrote that “one of these years, Quinnipiac is going to win that league tourney. It will probably happen sooner rather than later.”

Ah, the dangers of prognosticating during this era of massive conference realignment. Quinnipiac has since moved to the MAAC, so the Bobcats certainly aren’t going to be winning the NEC tourney anytime soon.

They could win the MAAC tournament, though. QU is 19-10, and in third place in the league standings (trailing regular-season champ Iona and second-place Manhattan). We’ll have to wait for the exit polls to get a better idea on Quinnipiac’s chances of breaking through.

- Elon (class of 2000): At 18-13, Elon is having a season similar to last year’s solid campaign, though not as good a year as its fans may have wanted. The SoCon’s preseason favorite in some precincts finished fourth in the league standings.

There was no Southern Conference tournament title for the Phoenix last season, but Elon is a not-unreasonable pick to win the league tourney this year. Getting past Davidson is going to be a challenge, however.

This is Elon’s last chance at the SoCon auto-bid. Next year, the Phoenix move to the CAA.

- High Point (class of 2000): The Panthers are only 16-13 overall, but a 12-4 conference record was good enough to win the Big South’s North division.

(What division do you think sounds better, the Big South North or the Big South South? I can’t decide.)

Last year, an injury to a key player late in the campaign derailed High Point’s season. The Panthers are hoping for better luck in this year’s Big South tournament.

- Sacred Heart (class of 2000): 5-26 overall, just two wins in NEC play, losers of 13 of their last 14 games, eliminated from the league tournament…ugh. Let’s move on.

- Stony Brook (class of 2000): Last year, the Seawolves won the America East by three games but was tripped up in the league tourney semifinals by Albany. The game was played at Albany, because that’s how the America East rolls.

This season, Stony Brook (21-9) is second in the league behind Vermont but will avoid drawing a homestanding Albany in the conference tournament semifinals again. That said, getting a first-ever NCAA berth is not going to be easy.

- UC Riverside (class of 2002): The Highlanders are 9-19, have lost five of their last six contests, and are tied for last in the Big West. Last year, UCR was ineligible for the league tourney due to APR issues. That isn’t the case this season, but the Highlanders need to beat UC Davis in their next game in order to guarantee qualification for this year’s event, as only the top eight squads advance to the Big West tourney.

- IPFW (class of 2002): IPFW is short for Indiana University-Purdue University Ft. Wayne, so the acronym is a necessity. The schools’ teams are known as the Mastodons, one of the more distinctive nicknames in Division I.

This year, March Madness could become Mastodon Madness, as IPFW is 22-9 and tied for second place in the Summit League. The program has already set its high-water mark for victories as a D-1 member, but looks to top that achievement with an appearance in the NCAAs.

- Gardner-Webb (class of 2003): The Runnin’ Bulldogs (17-13) tied for second place in the Big South South, and have a decent chance to win what should be one of the most competitive conference tournaments in the country. Last year, Gardner-Webb won 21 games but bowed in the conference semis to eventual champ Liberty.

- Savannah State (class of 2003): It’s been a tough year for the Tigers. After winning 21 and 19 games the previous two seasons, Savannah State is 11-17, including a 10-game losing streak in non-conference play.

However, SSU is 9-5 in the MEAC and could be a dark horse in the league tourney. As always, the MEAC tournament is one of the nation’s more oddly constructed postseason events.

- Lipscomb (class of 2004): The Bisons have won two regular-season titles in the Atlantic Sun (2006 and 2010), but have never won the league tournament, and thus have yet to make the NCAA Tournament. This year, Lipscomb (15-14) is a middle-of-the-pack team in the A-Sun, and it would be a huge surprise if the Bisons snagged the auto-bid from the likes of Mercer or FGCU.

Well, that’s the roll call for 2013-14. Will any of those teams get to the promised land?

Usually, I say no. This year, though, I think at least one of the never-beens is going to make it. UC Irvine, Stony Brook, William & Mary (now that would be a story), Quinnipiac, Denver, Elon, IPFW, Buffalo — at least one of them is going to be dancing.

I hope so, anyway. I also hope that if any of the aforementioned schools qualify, that they aren’t shunted off to the play-in games, which shouldn’t exist in the first place. These long-suffering programs deserves a presence in the main draw.

The play-in games limit the tournament experience of the automatic qualifiers, and that’s unfair. The tourney should really revert back to a 64-team field. At least talk of expanding the tournament to 80 or 90 teams has stopped (for now).

It’s an accomplishment to make the NCAA Tournament. It means something to a program, especially when that school is a first-timer. It should continue to mean something.

Best of luck to all the dreamers.

McAlister Musings: Forget about being close, just win

Statistics are through January 13, 2014

- The Citadel’s record: 4-14, 0-3 SoCon
– SoCon rank in offensive efficiency (through three games): 3rd
– SoCon rank in defensive efficiency (through three games): last
– SoCon rank in free throw shooting (through three games): last
– SoCon rank in 3-point shooting percentage (through three games) 1st

Yes, the offensive statistics through three league games aren’t bad at all. The Citadel has shot the ball well in its last three games, and fared well on the offensive glass. The Bulldogs also committed fewer turnovers in those three games (though still too many).

However, The Citadel still managed to lose all three of those games, blowing double-digit second-half leads in two of them. For a team that desperately needs a win (or two, or three, or four), it was rather dispiriting.

In those two losses (at home against Chattanooga and on the road versus Wofford), the Bulldogs basically let one player on each team dominate them inside and on the boards. Both UTC’s Z. Mason and Wofford’s Lee Skinner had what amounted to career nights against The Citadel, combining for 17 offensive rebounds and 19 made 2-point field goals (on 31 attempts).

Because of that, the Bulldogs are currently last in league play in defensive rebounding percentage. The Citadel is also last in the SoCon in forcing turnovers. The Bulldogs have given their opponents so many “extra” chances to score that even solid perimeter defending hasn’t been enough.

In the “bad luck” category: The Citadel has done a good job keeping its SoCon opponents off the foul line (ranking 4th in the league in that category). However, those opponents are shooting 77.1% from the charity stripe, the highest percentage against any team in the league.

In the “not bad luck” category: The Bulldogs picked a bad time to go into a free throw shooting slump. No team has shot worse from the foul line than the Bulldogs in league action.

This comes after The Citadel did a fine job shooting free throws during the non-conference slate. However, the Bulldogs have not gone to the foul line enough all season as it is.

The Citadel is shooting slightly less than one free throw attempt for every field goal try (33%). The national average for FTA/FGA is 41%.

Of course, three games don’t reflect the entirety of the season, and the Bulldogs struggled mightily out of conference. The Citadel has as many losses to non-D1s as it does victories over D-1s, having lost to West Alabama and beaten Presbyterian.

For the season, The Citadel is in the bottom 50 nationally in offensive turnover rate, FTA/FGA, two-point field goal percentage, steals rate (offense), defensive rebounding percentage, steals rate (defense), and defensive turnover rate. Thanks to all those issues, the Bulldogs also rank in the bottom 50 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

In the Kenpom ratings, The Citadel is currently ranked 339th out of 351 Division I teams.

On the plus side, The Citadel has done a good job beyond the arc, both on offense and defense.

The Bulldogs’ tendency to throw the ball away on a semi-regular basis has been a problem for the past three seasons, as has the defensive issues. I will say that the defending has improved this season, at least on opponents’ initial shots. However, the inability to control the defensive glass has crushed The Citadel.

On his postgame radio show after the loss to Wofford, Chuck Driesell said of his team that “we’re getting close”.

With all due respect to Driesell, I don’t think he can say that. Not right now, anyway.

The goal for this season can’t be to have a record like last year (8-22) or the year before (6-24). This isn’t about trying to eke out a couple of victories or break a losing streak.

Getting close, in the context of this season, is putting together consecutive wins, and building on that — winning four out of six, seven out of ten, etc. Falling short in SoCon games isn’t getting the program to where it needs to be.

Because make no mistake, the Southern Conference is not good this year. It wasn’t very good last year either, but in 2013-14 the league has been dreadful.

There is no reason The Citadel can’t win a bunch of SoCon games, and the next couple of weeks will present the Bulldogs multiple opportunities to bounce back from their bad start in conference play.

On Thursday, The Citadel travels to Greensboro to face the Spartans. UNCG isn’t that bad, relative to the rest of the league, but this is a chance for the Bulldogs to win a road game.

UNCG actually has a turnover rate that is worse than The Citadel’s. Now, the Bulldogs haven’t proven capable of forcing many TOs all season, but this will be one game in which they have a shot at improving on that statistical category. If they can do so, they can win the game.

On Saturday, The Citadel hosts Furman, and then plays Appalachian State at McAlister Field House the following Thursday. I think the Bulldogs should win both contests. Not “can win”, but “should win”. Furman isn’t any better than The Citadel, and Appalachian State has arguably been worse so far this season.

In other words, the Bulldogs ought to win at least two of their next three games. If they don’t, it will be a disappointment.

After the loss to Elon, the sixth straight for the Bulldogs, Chuck Driesell had this to say:

You look at the stats and you think we could have won this game. But we were playing a good team on their home court. We kept our composure, but a couple of breaks didn’t go our way. But more guys are stepping up; everybody’s starting to come around.

I hope so. There would be nothing better than some positive news from the hardwood. Good basketball makes for a shorter winter.

Otherwise, Punxsutawney Phil will see his shadow at McAlister Field House once again.

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