Schools that have never made the NCAA Tournament — the 2011 Edition

Updated: The 2016 edition

Now updated: the 2015 edition

Editor’s note: this post is from 2011. For the 2014 update, click here.

For the 2013 update, click here.

For the 2012 update, click here.

It’s conference tourney time, and that means it’s time to see if there is a chance that a longtime D-1 school with no NCAA tournament history will finally get its moment in the sun.

Last year I wrote about the twenty schools with the most years in Division I basketball without an NCAA tournament appearance.  There are other schools out there that have gone a long time waiting for a return invitation, like Harvard (which participated in the 1946 tournament) or Rice (which has made four tourney appearances, but none since 1970).

However, I’m only discussing those schools with no NCAA D-1 tourney history.  At least Harvard and Rice (and Dartmouth and Columbia, two other longtime absentees) have played in the event.  Imagine rooting for a team that has never been to the Big Dance, even before it was called the “Big Dance”.  Unfortunately, I don’t have to imagine it…

Last year I briefly outlined the chances of each of the twenty longest-waiting schools finally breaking through.  Alas, none of them did, so it’s the same group of twenty this season.  I guarantee the list will change next year, though, but only because this is going to be Centenary’s last season as a Division I school. (After this year’s tournament is over, UMKC will be the next school on the clock, unless the Kangaroos pull a stunner in the upcoming Summit League tourney.)

As always, the evaluation starts with the Forgotten Five (the five schools that have never made the NCAAs despite being members of Division I since the modern re-classification of the division in 1948).  Records listed are as of February 28:

— Northwestern:  At the beginning of the season, there was a buzz that this might be the year the Wildcats made it.  Instead, Northwestern is 16-12 and currently sits in ninth place in the Big 10.  It’s not going to happen this year.

— Army:  The Bulldogs of the Hudson have lost 18 games and are in last place in the Patriot League.  Things do not look promising.

— St. Francis (NY):  The Terriers have a winning record (15-14) and finished the regular season in fifth place in the NEC.  It’s been one of SFC’s better campaigns in recent years.  It’s unlikely the Terriers make a run in the league tourney, but it’s worth keeping a half-closed eye on the team.

— William & Mary:  With 21 losses and in next-to-last place in the CAA (behind only woeful Towson), I think the Tribe is going to have to wait another season.  William & Mary was a lot more competitive in the previous two years, but its window of opportunity for making the NCAAs appears to have closed, at least for now.

— The Citadel:  There were hopes prior to the season that the Bulldogs could make some noise in the SoCon.  Instead, new coach Chuck Driesell has presided over what is arguably the most disappointing season in school history.  Now, The Citadel has to win four straight games in the league tournament.  What are the chances of that happening?  Not good.

St. Francis looks like the best hope out of the Forgotten Five, but that’s mostly by default.  What about the rest of the schools in our group of 20?

— Centenary (NCAA Division I member since 1960):  Sadly, Centenary finished its five-decade run in D-1 with no NCAA tournament appearances.  The school is moving to Division III next season.  The Gents were 1-29 this year, with the sole win coming in the next-to-last game of the season.  There will be no Summit League tournament, so Robert Parish’s alma mater is done in D-1.

— New Hampshire (class of 1962):  The Wildcats, 12-17 overall, finished seventh in the America East after losing their last three games.  UNH is 344th in the country in field goal percentage, just additional evidence that suggests New Hampshire is not a team capable of springing a big surprise in the AE tournament.

— Maine (class of 1962):  The Black Bears may have peaked too early.  Maine won seven straight games in the month of January.  Then the team lost six straight in February.  The Black Bears are 15-14 and finished third in the America East.  It’s not inconceivable Maine could make a post-season run, but a big change in momentum would be required.

— Denver (D-1 from 1948 to 1980, then back to the division in 1999):  The Pioneers are 13-16 overall but did manage a winning record in the Sun Belt (9-7).  Denver has to rebound better to have any chance of running the table in the league tourney, though; the Pioneers are last in all of D-1 in rebounds per game (23.9).

— UT-Pan American (class of 1969):  The Broncs are 5-23 and finished last in the Great West, a conference that doesn’t even have an automatic bid.  So much for that.

— Stetson (class of 1972):  The Hatters lost 12 of their last 14 games to finish 8-23 overall.  Stetson failed to qualify for the Atlantic Sun tournament, so the dream is dead for another year.

— UC Irvine (class of 1978):  UCI is only 13-17 overall, but has won its last two games, both in double overtime.  The Anteaters feature Mike Wilder, a first team Afro All-American.  I could see UCI doing some damage in the Big West tourney.  Whether it’s capable of doing three games worth of damage is another question.

— Grambling State (class of 1978):  Hey, Doug Williams is back as head football coach again!  Good thing, too, because at 8-19, the basketball team isn’t getting a lot of positive press.  On the other hand, the Tigers do play in the SWAC, so winning the league tourney can’t be completely ruled out.

— Maryland-Eastern Shore (D-1 in 1974 and 1975, and then for good in 1982):  The Hawks are 7-21 overall and tied for last in the MEAC.  This isn’t going to be the year.

— Youngstown State (D-1 in 1948, back again in 1982):  The Penguins have lost 20 games and are tied for last in the Horizon League.  This isn’t going to be the year.

— Bethune-Cookman (class of 1981):  Whoa, a team in first place in its league?!  The Wildcats, currently 18-11, have in fact clinched the MEAC regular season title.  B-C did lose its sole meeting with Todd Bozeman’s Morgan State squad, but at the very worst an NIT bid is in the cards…and look — that’s Cy McClairen driving the bandwagon!  (Why not, he did everything else at the school.)

— Western Illinois (class of 1982):  I think the season for the Leathernecks can be summed up in eight words: “this is the team that lost to Centenary.”  Like the Gents, WIU did not qualify for the Summit League tournament.

— Chicago State (class of 1985):  Earlier in this post I noted that UT-Pan American is 5-23 and plays in the Great West, a league without an automatic bid.  The difference between Chicago State and UTPA?  The Cougars are 6-23.

— Hartford (class of 1985):  The Hawks contributed one of the season’s worst box scores in a loss to Stony Brook.  Hartford isn’t quite that bad, and actually beat Stony Brook in the rematch.  However, a team that can’t shoot (bottom 10 nationally) or rebound (bottom 50 nationally) probably isn’t going to shock the world in the league tournament.

— Buffalo (class of 1985):  The Bulls have just missed making the NCAAs a couple of times in recent years.  Buffalo is currently 16-11 with two MAC league games left before conference tourney play begins.  The Bulls likely will have to win four games in the MAC tourney, which is a tall order, but there isn’t a dominant team in the league, so you never know.

It looks like Bethune-Cookman has by far the best shot of making the big show out of the twenty schools.  Maine, Buffalo, and possibly St. Francis have not completely unreasonable chances.  For the rest, the chances are slim and none, like they are most every year.

Someday, though, that moment of triumph will come.  Uh…right?

Bulldog hoops: the most disappointing season

The Citadel’s last victory on the hardwood came at Davidson, on January 26.  As this post is going up on February 20, that is a problem.  The Bulldogs have lost seven straight games, with two regular season road games remaining before the Southern Conference tournament.

It is not out of the question that The Citadel could finish the season on a ten-game losing streak.  The last time the Bulldogs ended a season with a double-digit losing streak was 2005, when Pat Dennis’ team started 12-5 before losing its last eleven contests.

This is not what most people were expecting when the season began.  The Citadel returned many experienced players, including three mainstays (Cameron Wells, Zach Urbanus, and Austin Dahn) in its rotation.  While picked to finish fourth in the South Division of the SoCon in the preseason, many people expected at the very least a winning campaign, and possibly something more than that.

I was one of those people, as I thought The Citadel could win 17 or 18 games.  The Pomeroy Ratings also projected the Bulldogs to win 18 games.

It has been a tough season for new coach Chuck Driesell.  After a four-game winning streak pushed the Bulldogs to a still-not-great 9-13 record, the bottom seemed to fall out of the campaign.  Five of the seven losses in the recent run were at home.  Two of the defeats were particularly awful (Savannah State and the recent loss at Georgia Southern).

Driesell hasn’t had a lot go his way, but I think his decision to shorten his rotation to just seven players, which initially resulted in some impressive victories, ultimately torpedoed the season.

The Citadel has traditionally struggled at the end of basketball seasons, a phenomenon Jeff Hartsell of The Post and Courier recently called “getting heavy-legged” while speaking on the ‘Citadel Grayline’ radio program.  These end-of-year collapses are generally ascribed to the difficulties of competing in a long sport season while fulfilling the duties associated with being a cadet.

The historical numbers for the Bulldogs bear out the fact that it has been a problem. Just look at the last six years before this one, for example:

— 2010:  finished 16-16 after losing four of their last five games

— 2009:  finished 20-13 after losing three of their last four games (following an 11-game winning streak)

— 2008:  lost 18 of their last 19 games (of course, that team only won six games all year)

— 2007:  lost 12 of their last 13 games (a seven-win team)

— 2006:   lost 18 of their last 22 games (a ten-win team)

— 2005:  as mentioned above, lost 11 straight to finish 12-16

You can find more years like those, even when concentrating on some of the more respectable teams (like 1998, when the Bulldogs lost six of eight to finish 15-13).  The best evidence of “tired legs”, of course, is The Citadel’s stupefying lack of success in the Southern Conference tournament; even though the Bulldogs haven’t had that many good teams over the years, you would have thought The Citadel would have gotten lucky in the league tourney once or twice.  Nope.

Wells, Urbanus, and Dahn have combined to play over 82% of the minutes available to them over the last four years, which is amazing.  What’s not amazing is the rough finishes the team has had, perhaps as a consequence of that.  The trend has continued this season.

In conference play Urbanus has averaged over 38.5 minutes per game, tied for first in the league.  Wells is fourth in the league in minutes, with 36.5 per contest, while Dahn is 14th (32 mpg).  Early foul trouble in a couple of games is the only reason Wells and Dahn haven’t played even more (Urbanus, on the other hand, is one of two players in the entire country averaging less than one foul per forty minutes of play).

Driesell has tried expanding his rotation as the losing streak has continued, although he’s been hamstrung by Cosmo Morabbi’s injury and the general ineffectiveness of the two transfers he brought in for this season (Morakinyo Williams and Mike Dejworek).

I wish that Driesell had decided to wait a year before fully implementing his system. The current roster is obviously built for Ed Conroy’s slower-tempo style of play.  It has been frustrating to watch a team struggle so when it features seniors like the school’s alltime leading scorer and assist man (Wells), career three-point shooting leader (Urbanus), along with a versatile four-year starter (Dahn) and a handy post defender/offensive garbageman (Bryan Streeter).

Then you have the emergence of sophomore Mike Groselle, who has been a revelation in terms of offensive efficiency.  Yet with all that, the team is 9-20, and not by a fluke, either.  No, this is a team that has never put it together on either side of the court, save for that one four-game run in the middle of the season.

For most of the year, The Citadel has lacked an offensive identity and has been poor defensively.  I suspect the offensive problems have contributed to the defensive woes; that is the nature of the game.

I feel badly for the team’s seniors, who I think deserved to go out on a much better note, but at least they will always have memories of the 2009 season, one of the finest in school history.  I am glad they chose to come to The Citadel; it’s one of the best hoops classes the military college has ever had, if not the best.

As for Chuck Driesell, I certainly haven’t given up on him.  He’s got some work to do, however.  Next year’s recruiting class is supposed to be quite good, and Driesell has a well-deserved reputation as a solid talent evaluator.  Now he has to put that talent together (and keep it, never an easy thing at The Citadel).

Driesell seems to prefer outstanding athletes, which is fine, but he must also find room in his system for players like Groselle, whose eFG% in conference games is currently second in the league.  Groselle has a 66.9 FG% in SoCon play and a 3.7 GPA in Civil Engineering;  The Citadel needs as many players like that as it can get, whether they can jump or not.

Regardless, this season has to go down as the most disappointing season in the modern history of The Citadel’s basketball program.  Admittedly, that’s in part because it was the rare season where expectations were fairly high.  That doesn’t make it any less deflating, though.

Thinking about baseball (just a quick riff on the Hall of Fame)

Joe Posnanski had a (typically outstanding) blog post on Thursday about the baseball Hall of Fame.  He decided to come up with an all-star team of his lifetime, and in the course of doing so hit upon a very good idea, namely listing the top 5 players at each position in the Poz Era.

This led to an examination of Gary Sheffield’s Hall of Fame candidacy.  Sheffield officially retired on Thursday after not playing at all in 2010.

Posnanski noted Sheffield’s well-deserved reputation as a “scary” hitter, one who particularly cleaned up on mediocre pitchers.  I witnessed this phenomenon in person at this game.  I have never seen a home run leave the playing field as quickly as Sheffield’s first-inning blast off poor Victor Santos, who instinctively ducked as the baseball left Sheff’s bat; approximately .3 seconds later, the ball hit the batting eye just a few feet above the center field wall.

However, as good a hitter as Sheffield was, he was not a good defender, and as Posnanski points out, corner outfielders are supposed to hit.  Thus, when compared to his contemporaries Sheffield is not a top-5 right fielder.

I thought this was an excellent way to evaluate his Hall of Fame argument.  Posnanski did me a favor in a way, because I have been on the fence about whether Sheffield is a Hall of Famer.  JoePo was considering Sheffield a possible “yes” until conducting this little study.  I’m inclined to agree with his current position, which is that Sheffield has to wait in line behind a number of other corner outfielders.

This brings me to a second point, and maybe the main focus of this admittedly unfocused post.

One of the things you hear (or read) a lot is people complaining about BBWAA voters casting a ballot for a player for the first time after several years on the ballot.  Bert Blyleven is a good example.  It took 14 years for Blyleven to finally be elected.  He didn’t win any more games or strike out any more batters in those 14 years, but writers who hadn’t voted for him at first started voting for him later.  Why not vote for him the first time?  He’s either a Hall of Famer, or he’s not.

I understand this argument, and yet…

I don’t have a Hall of Fame vote, of course, but if I did, honestly compels me to admit that I probably would have not been initially certain of Blyleven’s worthiness.  I certainly think he’s a deserving Hall of Famer now, but there was a time I wasn’t so sure — and it’s not just Blyleven.

I have only recently come around to the notion that Larry Walker deserves enshrinement in Cooperstown.  I like to think I know a little bit about baseball, but I have had a hard time evaluating him, thanks mostly to Coors Field.  I’m now comfortable enough to say that Walker belongs in the Hall, but I can easily understand a writer taking a few years to come to that conclusion.  I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

Gary Sheffield retired Thursday.  On Friday, Jim Edmonds announced his retirement. Like Ted Williams, Edmonds homered in his last at bat as a major leaguer.  Unlike Williams, Edmonds isn’t a “lock” Hall of Famer.

Tangent:  thanks to Bill Deane and some of his friends, we know that Edmonds is the 45th player to homer in his final at bat in the majors.  It’s a very interesting group of players that includes Albert Belle, Mickey Cochrane, and Joe Frazier (not the boxer). Frazier, who among other things once managed the Mets, died this week.

Until recently, I was not on the Edmonds Hall of Fame bandwagon, but now I am starting to believe that Edmonds, like Walker, merits induction.  I think that center field is an under-represented position in the Hall (just one reason why I support Dale Murphy’s candidacy), and it is hard to argue with the notion that Edmonds is one of the outstanding centerfielders of his time.

Posnanski rates him second in the Poz Era (forgetting to list Murphy, despite Poz regularly putting Murph on his Hall of Fame ballot), and that may be just about right. By that reckoning, Edmonds is only a non-Hall of Fame type if you believe that of all players who have mostly played center field in the last 40 years, only Ken Griffey Jr. is a Hall of Famer.  That strikes me as unlikely.

Of course, you could be more of a Bernie Williams or Andruw Jones supporter than an Edmonds loyalist, and I can understand that, although I don’t think either of those players had as good a career as Edmonds.  The point (assuming there is one) is that at this moment in time, Jim Edmonds is arguably a very serious candidate for the Hall of Fame, and yet it is doubtful that 75% of the BBWAA voters (or even 50%) currently perceive him that way.

Ten or fifteen years from now, that could change.  And that’s okay.