Schools that have never made the NCAA Tournament — the 2017 edition

Previous entries on this subject:  The 2016 edition The 2015 edition The 2014 edition The 2013 edition The 2012 edition  The 2011 edition  The 2010 edition

All season records through February 26

With the regular season about to end in most of the nation’s conferences, conference tournament time has arrived. That means it is time for March Madness, with schools across the nation dreaming about making a trip to the promised land, the NCAA Tournament.

Most of those dreams will not come true. There are 351 Division I institutions that play men’s basketball, and only 68 of them will make the NCAAs. For some of those schools, though, the failure to make the tourney is an unfortunate tradition of long standing.

There are 31 schools that have been members of D-1 for at least a decade, but have never appeared in the NCAAs. Now, there are other schools in the division that have also never made the Big Dance, but there is a distinction to be made between schools that are recent arrivals in D-1 (such as Northern Kentucky or Presbyterian) and longtime no-nos (like Youngstown State or Maryland-Eastern Shore).

Of those schools with 10+ years in Division I but no bids to show for it, 17 of them have been in D-1 for 30 years or more and are still waiting. For fans of Bethune-Cookman, Denver, or Hartford (just to name three such schools), watching Selection Sunday with no vested interest isn’t just depressing — it’s all they’ve ever known.

When I started writing about this topic in 2010, I listed the twenty schools with the longest waits for an NCAA tourney bid. That was seven years ago, but seventeen of those schools are still waiting to hear their name called on Selection Sunday. One of the three institutions no longer on the list, Centenary, dropped out of Division I after 50 years of trying.

However, there is hope. Two first-timers made the field of 68 last season, and one of them had put in its dues.

Stony Brook, a D-1 member since 2000, had won 22, 15, 22, 25, 23, and 23 games in the years preceding last season, but had not won the America East conference tournament. The Seawolves finally broke through in 2016, winning 26 games and the AE tourney title.

Cal State Bakersfield, a relative baby in D-1 terms, also made its debut in the NCAAs after winning the WAC tournament.

Before delving into this year’s report on the perpetual hopefuls, there is another list of schools worthy of mention. There are numerous institutions that have made at least one NCAA appearance, but haven’t been back to the tournament in at least 20 years. A few of them have been waiting longer for a return to the NCAAs than most of the no-timers.

First (or last, depending on your point of view) among this group of schools is Dartmouth. In both 1942 and 1944, the Big Green advanced to the NCAA title game. Dartmouth has made five other appearances in the tournament, but last made the NCAAs in 1959.

Other schools that have made at least one appearance in the NCAA Tournament, but haven’t been back since 1997 (or earlier) while continuously in D-1:

Tennessee Tech (last made the NCAAs in 1963), Columbia (1968), Bowling Green (1968), Rice (1970), VMI (1977), Duquesne (1977), Furman (1980), Toledo (1980), Loyola of Chicago (1985), Brown (1986), Jacksonville (1986), Marshall (1987), Idaho State (1987), Marist (1987), Loyola Marymount (1990), Idaho (1990), Louisiana Tech (1991), Towson (1991), St. Francis-PA (1991), Rutgers (1991), Howard (1992), Georgia Southern (1992), Campbell (1992), Fordham (1992), East Carolina (1993), Rider (1994), Tennessee State (1994), Tulane (1995), Canisius (1996), Colgate (1996), Drexel (1996), Montana State (1996), New Orleans (1996), Northern Illinois (1996), Portland (1996), San Jose State (1996), Santa Clara (1996), ULM (1996), Western Carolina (1996), Charleston Southern (1997), Fairfield (1997), and Texas State (1997).

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

Seattle spent 15 years out of D-1, so it has not made the tournament in 33 non-consecutive Division I seasons. Houston Baptist has been absent from the NCAA tournament for 11 non-consecutive D-1 seasons.

A few notable trivia items from that list of teams:

  • Tennessee Tech’s last NCAA trip was one to forget: a 111-42 loss to eventual champion Loyola of Chicago.
  • Of course, Loyola of Chicago is also on this list, as the Ramblers haven’t been to the NCAAs since 1985, when Alfredrick Hughes was lighting up the scoreboard. That is by far the longest current tourney drought for any former title-winning school (not counting CCNY, which no longer competes at the D-1 level).
  • VMI advanced to the round of 16 in its last NCAA appearance; the year before, the Keydets made it to the Elite Eight before losing to Rutgers.
  • Speaking of Rutgers, it has not been to the NCAA tourney since 1991, the longest current drought for any school in a power five league; however, the Scarlet Knights obviously haven’t been in a P5 league for that entire time period.
  • Marist last made it to the NCAAs in 1987, when its star was the Dunking Dutchman, Rik Smits.
  • Marshall won the Southern Conference in 1987, but trouble began the following year, when the the Curse of Randy Nesbit began; the Thundering Herd is still waiting to make its next trip to the NCAAs.
  • Idaho State and Idaho both last appeared in the NCAAs in a Salt Lake City subregional (in 1987 and 1990, respectively).
  • Somewhat surprisingly, Loyola Marymount hasn’t played in the NCAA tournament since its memorable Elite Eight run in 1990.
  • St. Francis (PA) has made one appearance in the NCAAs, in 1991. The Red Flash had to win a play-in game against another conference champion, Fordham, to get there (the play-in was not considered part of the tournament proper at that time).
  • Fordham did make it to the NCAAs the following year, 1992, but the Rams haven’t been back since.
  • Santa Clara hasn’t been to the NCAAs since a guard named Steve Nash played for the Broncos.

Another trivia item: Eleven schools that appeared in the 1996 tournament (almost one-fifth of the field) have not been back since. However, that number was twelve last season; Green Bay then made its first appearance in the NCAAs in two decades.

Also making a trip to the tournament last year after long absences: Yale, which danced for the first time since 1962 (not a typo), and then proceeded to beat Baylor in the first round; and Oregon State (which snagged its first NCAA bid since 1990).

A few teams on the above list have a decent chance to make it back to the NCAAs this season. Practically all of them would have to win their respective league tournaments in order to do so. The most likely teams to emerge with a conference tourney title of that group are Furman (SoCon), Georgia Southern (Sun Belt), New Orleans (Southland), and Towson (CAA).

Now it is time to begin the rundown of the schools that have never made the NCAAs in at least a decade of trying. As always, we start with the Forgotten Five (once described as “a very elegant group”). It’s quite possible that soon, though, we will be talking about the Forgotten Four. We’ll see.

The NCAA Tournament began in 1939. In 1948, the NCAA reorganized itself, and established separate divisions (college and university) for its member institutions. Of the schools that since 1948 have continuously been in what we now call Division I, five have never made the tournament field.

All five of those schools theoretically could have been in the tournament beginning in 1939, so for them the wait is actually longer than their history as official members of Division I. I think that makes it worse, to be honest.

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

Northwestern: There are 65 schools in the “power five” leagues (counting Notre Dame as an ACC member). Only five haven’t made the NCAAs over the past seven years, and just three of those have been in a P5 conference for the entirety of that seven year period: South Carolina, Auburn, and Northwestern.

The Gamecocks will almost certainly qualify for the field of 68 this season after a 13-year absence; Auburn, which hasn’t been in the tourney since 2003, probably has to wait at least one more year.

Then there are the Wildcats, which have never advanced to the NCAA tournament. However, this season has been different. Northwestern has already won 20 games and is 9-7 in the Big 10 with two regular-season games to play. An at-large bid is there for the taking. And yet…

NU has lost five of their last seven games, including consecutive road defeats against non-tourney teams Illinois and Indiana (in the latter game, the Hoosiers scored the game’s final eight points to win by one). Could Northwestern finish the season on a five-game losing streak and miss the tourney again? Yes, it could.

Northwestern likely needs to win one of its last two regular-season games to feel better about its chances at garnering a first-ever bid. The Wildcats play Michigan and Purdue, both at home. A win in either game would assure Northwestern of its first winning record in Big 10 play since 1968, and undoubtedly a tourney bid as well.

Incidentally, not everyone thinks that Northwestern making the NCAAs would be such a good thing.

William and Mary: While the national press is fixated on Northwestern (and no wonder; it appears one out of every three sportswriters went to school there), the Forgotten Five member most deserving of the general public’s rooting interest is arguably William and Mary. The program has been to its conference championship game nine times. On each occasion, a bid to the NCAAs was on the line.

The Tribe is 0-9 in league title games. Two of those defeats have come in the last four seasons.

This season, veteran coach Tony Shaver (14 years at W&M) has led his squad to a 16-13 record (10-8 CAA). William and Mary won’t be favored in the conference tourney, but it would not be a complete shock if the Tribe were to advance to the league final. That wouldn’t be quite enough, as fans of the school know all too well.

The Citadel: The Bulldogs have lost at least 20 games in six of the last seven years, including the 2016-17 campaign (10-20, 3-14). However, there are glimmers of hope along the Ashley River, despite an 11-game losing streak earlier this season.

It is extremely unlikely that The Citadel wins the upcoming SoCon tourney, but this may be a program to watch in the next couple of years.

Army: The Cadets (12-18, 6-12 in the Patriot League) will be a major underdog in their conference tournament. If Army were to somehow win the Patriot League tourney, there is no doubt the school would accept the NCAA bid that comes with the championship.

In 1968, that wasn’t the case. Army turned down a bid that season, the only school on this list to have done so.

[Tangent: I am now required to note that the last school to turn down an NCAA bid was Marquette, in 1970. The great Al McGuire made that decision. Why no one has made a movie yet about the legendary Marquette coach is truly mind-boggling. Heck, Dick Enberg (!) wrote a play about McGuire.]

St. Francis College: Two years ago, the Terriers were one game away from the NCAA tournament. Alas, it was not to be.

This year, SFC is 4-27, 2-16 in the NEC. Its season is over, as the Terriers did not qualify for the NEC tournament.

For some schools, the window of opportunity is very small indeed.

Next up on the list of teams never to have made the tournament: “The Dour Duo”, two New England schools that have been members of D-1 since 1962. Both are members of the America East conference.

New Hampshire: It has been another good year for the Wildcats. Bill Herrion’s team is 19-11 overall, 10-6 in the America East.

Herrion is like William and Mary’s Tony Shaver in that he has built a program into a contender over a long period of time. It would be nice to see guys like that rewarded for their perseverance.

Unfortunately for Herrion and UNH, this year’s America East has been dominated by Vermont, which is undefeated in the league and a heavy favorite to capture the conference tourney title.

Maine: Over the past four seasons, the Black Bears have won 6, 3, 8, and (this year) 7 games. Winters are long in Orono.

Maine did finish the regular season in style, winning at Binghamton on Saturday. That first-round tourney game against Vermont doesn’t look promising, however.

The rest of the rundown:

– Denver (D-1 from 1948 to 1980, then back to the division in 1999): Joe Scott was 146-132 in nine seasons as Denver’s head coach. After last year’s 16-15 finish, Scott was fired with two years remaining on his contract.

The school’s associate vice chancellor had this to say:

We want to get to the NCAA Tournament in men’s basketball. We looked at what Joe’s team had done over the nine years and decided it was time to make a transition. Postseason success had not occurred.

Yes, at every level of Division I, there is pressure to get to the NCAAs.

The Pioneers are now coached by Rodney Billups. They are 16-13 overall, 8-8 in the Summit League. I think the school administration at Denver may have to wait at least one more year for that NCAA bid.

– UT-Rio Grande Valley (class of 1969): Whether it has been known as UT-Pan American (the name before a merger with UT-Brownsville) or UT-Rio Grande Valley, success in basketball has not been easy to come by for the school located in Edinburg, Texas.

This year’s 10-20 mark (2-11 WAC) is more or less what the program has done in recent hardwood campaigns, as the team averaged nine wins per season in the three years before this one. On the bright side, the sort-of-new team nickname (Vaqueros) is cool.

– Stetson (class of 1972): Last year, the Hatters were ineligible for an NCAA bid because of APR scores, but for some reason the Atlantic Sun allowed Stetson to play in the league tournament.

Naturally, the Hatters made the final. Stetson eventually lost in overtime, finishing the season with 12 wins and with renewed hope that next season could be the year.

It wasn’t. Stetson is 11-20 overall, 3-11 in the conference. So much for that postseason momentum carrying over.

This means that, as always, the school’s most famous hoops player will remain the late Ted Cassidy. You rang?

– Grambling State (class of 1978): Hey, Grambling isn’t half-bad this year!

Sure, the Tigers are only 13-15 overall (8-7 in the SWAC). That looks fantastic, though, when you consider that in the previous five seasons, GSU won a total of 18 games.

Texas Southern is the team to beat in the SWAC, but Grambling has at least a puncher’s chance in that league tourney.

– Maryland-Eastern Shore (D-1 in 1974-75, then back to the division for good in 1982): In 2014-15, UMES somehow won 18 games, after losing at least 20 games in each of the twelve years prior to that season.

The Hawks regressed last year, losing 22 games. This season’s squad is 11-18 overall, but has a winning record in the MEAC (8-6) and could makes some waves in the conference tournament. However, North Carolina Central is expected to be the last team standing at the Scope Arena.

– Youngstown State (D-1 in 1948, then returning to the division in 1982): The Penguins are 11-20, 5-13 in the Horizon League. Last year, Youngstown State won 11 games. The year before, YSU won 11 games.

Winning 11 games in football is excellent. In hoops, not so much. Perhaps Bo Pelini could do double duty.

– Bethune-Cookman (class of 1981): The Wildcats are only 7-21 overall, 4-10 in the MEAC. This isn’t going to be the year.

– Western Illinois (class of 1982): The Leathernecks are 8-19 overall, 5-11 in the Summit League. Unlike last season, WIU did qualify for the league tournament, but it will be the 8 seed and faces top seed South Dakota in the first round.

– Chicago State (class of 1985): Last year, the Cougars only had one Division I victory. This season, Chicago State has three, so I guess that’s an improvement.

Chicago State is 6-24 overall, 1-12 in the WAC. At least this year, school employees haven’t received layoff notices. Not yet, anyway.

– Hartford (class of 1985): The Hawks are 9-22, 4-12 in the America East. The highlight of its season was unquestionably Hartford’s victory over Boston College in December.

To the dismay of legendary singer Dionne Warwick, WCSC-TV sportscaster Kevin Bilodeau, and the rest of Hartford’s faithful fans, a bid to the NCAA tournament is not likely to be on the table this year. Of course, Warwick already knew that.

– UMKC (class of 1988): The WAC is filled to the brim with schools that have never been to the NCAAs. UMKC has a slightly better chance of breaking through than UT-Rio Grande Valley and Chicago State (or Utah Valley State, for that matter), but with a 15-15 record (7-6 in league play), Kangaroo fans probably aren’t counting their wombats.

– Sacramento State (class of 1992): During the 2014-15 season, Sac State won 21 games. The past two years have been more like the mediocre campaigns that preceded that 21-win season.

This year’s team is 11-16 overall, 8-8 in the Big Sky. The Hornets will have their work cut out for them in the league tournament.

– UT Martin (class of 1993): UT Martin is 20-11 overall, 10-6 in the OVC West division. The Skyhawks have now won 20+ games for three straight seasons.

As was the case last year, Belmont will be the favorite in the OVC tournament. Of course, last season Austin Peay won the league title as the 8 seed, so there is no telling what might happen in Nashville this year.

– Jacksonville State (class of 1996): For the first time in four years, Jacksonville State qualified for the OVC tournament. At 17-14 overall (9-7 OVC), JSU isn’t expected to win the tourney, but at least the Gamecocks have a chance this year. All anyone ever wants is a chance.

– Quinnipiac (class of 1999): At 10-20, 7-13 in the MAAC, Quinnipiac doesn’t have the profile of a league tournament champion, much to the disappointment of alumnus and licorice aficionado Turk Wendell.

Perhaps the school should take a new poll and see if its prospects improve.

– Elon (class of 2000): The Phoenix are 18-13 overall, 10-8 in CAA play. While only the 5 seed in the league tournament (which is taking place in Charleston), Elon did avoid having to play in the first round and will “only” have to win three games (instead of four) to claim the league title.

It isn’t out of the question that Elon could still be playing in Charleston on Monday night.

– High Point (class of 2000): High Point won or shared the Big South title in each of the last four seasons, but never could turn all that success into a league tourney championship and NCAA bid.

This season, the Panthers are the very definition of a .500 team (15-15 overall, 9-9 conference). Like Elon, High Point is the 5 seed in its conference tourney and also avoided a first-round game, advancing directly into the quarterfinals (where it will play a neutral-site game in Rock Hill against fellow never-been Gardner-Webb).

– Sacred Heart (class of 2000): The Pioneers are 13-18 overall, 8-10 in the NEC.

Sacred Heart has been a very streaky team this season. It is currently on a 3-game skid that immediately followed a 5-game winning streak. The Pioneers also had two 4-game losing streaks earlier in the season.

Of course, it only takes one 3-game winning streak at the right time to claim a berth in the NCAAs.

UC Riverside (class of 2002): After back-to-back 14-win campaigns, the Highlanders have slipped this season. UCR is 7-19 overall, 5-10 in the Big West.

The Highlanders are in serious danger of not making their conference tournament, as only eight schools qualify for that event. UCR is currently in ninth place in the league.

Fort Wayne (class of 2002): The Mastodons (such a great nickname) are 19-11 overall, 8-8 in the Summit League. That isn’t quite as good as last year’s 24-win campaign, but the squad should still be a viable threat in a relatively balanced conference.

Besides, as I always say: Mastodons may be extinct, but you still can’t count them out.

Gardner-Webb (class of 2003): The Runnin’ Bulldogs are 18-13 overall, 11-7 in the Big South. As mentioned earlier, GWU is playing another no-timer, High Point, in the first round of the Big South tournament.

Could Gardner-Webb win the tourney title? Yes. However, it went only 1-5 against the top three teams in the league (Winthrop, UNC-Asheville, and Liberty).

Savannah State (class of 2003): The Tigers are 11-16 overall, 8-6 in the MEAC. It doesn’t matter though, as Savannah State is ineligible for the NCAAs due to APR issues.

– Lipscomb (class of 2004): The Bisons are 19-12, 11-3 in the Atlantic Sun. Only Florida Gulf Coast had a better conference record than Lipscomb.

Could this be Lipscomb’s year? It has won eight of its last nine games, including a road victory over FGCU. Hmm.

UC Davis (class of 2005): The Aggies won 25 games two years ago, including the Big West regular season title. The tourney title and resulting NCAA bid escaped them, however.

Last year’s campaign ended with only 11 victories, but this year UC Davis is back to its winning ways, with an 18-11 overall record (10-4 in the Big West). The Aggies are currently tied for first place in the conference.

A quick list of other D-1 schools angling for their first tourney invites, but which haven’t been full Division I members for 10 years: Bryant, Central Arkansas, Kennesaw State, Longwood, NJIT, North Dakota, Northern Kentucky, Omaha, Presbyterian, South Dakota, USC-Upstate, and Utah Valley State.

Another member of this cohort, SIU-Edwardsville, did not qualify for its conference tournament.

There are four D-1 schools still in their “transition” phase, and thus ineligible for postseason play until next season: Grand Canyon, Abilene Christian, Incarnate Word, and Massachusetts-Lowell.

Of the “newbie” institutions, the best bets to win a conference tourney are from the Dakotas, as South Dakota is the top seed in the Summit League tournament, while North Dakota currently leads the Big Sky.

Can any of the longtime no-timers finally break through this year? Well, there is Northwestern, of course. After that, Lipscomb and UC Davis are both worth watching, as are (perhaps to a lesser extent) Fort Wayne and New Hampshire.

If any of the aforementioned schools qualify, my biggest fear is that they are forced into one of the play-in games (better known as the PIGs).

As I’ve said many times before, the play-in games limit the tournament experience of the automatic qualifiers. It is both unfair and unnecessary. If the PIGs have to exist, at least make the last eight at-large teams play in them, as opposed to four of the teams that get automatic bids.

Automatic qualifiers should always be in the main draw — the real tournament.

Good luck to all the teams dreaming about a really big dance.

The Citadel’s football fans aren’t afraid to travel

This is just a quick post, with a theme more or less borrowed from an Andy Solomon “Solomon’s Mines” column. Solomon’s observations arrive via email from The Citadel Football Association (which you should join today!).

So, thanks and apologies in advance to Andy and the CFA…

Solomon pointed out something well-known to veteran observers, but not mentioned very often: The Citadel is absolutely the current top dog in the SoCon when it comes to fan attendance at road games in the league.

Our fans enjoy going on road trips, especially to scenic places like Western Carolina.  We have loads of fans in the Greenville/Spartanburg area, so our away games to Furman and Wofford rival their crowds for the higher number.  Games at Mercer are seeing better Citadel attendance, and while Chattanooga, Samford and VMI are the furthest away, we have better than respectable attendances there. And because I-26 now concludes in Johnson City, the future road games at ETSU should also see a large Citadel contingent.

He then put together a nice little table that included league average attendance for each school, alongside attendance at The Citadel’s 2016 four conference road games, and attendance at FCS institutions in South Carolina. We’re #1 on that list, too.

I want to further expound on The Citadel’s conference road attendance numbers.

The Citadel’s four road games in league action last season were against Mercer, Western Carolina, Wofford, and VMI.

– The game against Mercer was played on Thursday night, and had an announced attendance of 12,542. That number probably reflects tickets sold (it certainly doesn’t reflect actual attendance).

At any rate, that was the highest-attended game played at Mercer last season, even though it was played on Thursday night. It was also the most-attended game since Mercer began playing football again in 2013.

– Attendance in Cullowhee for The Citadel’s game against Western Carolina: 12,283. WCU averaged 10,465 per home contest; the matchup with the Bulldogs produced the Catamounts’ biggest crowd of the season at E.J. Whitmire Stadium.

In 2014, the game in Cullowhee between the two teams drew a crowd of 13,323, which was the largest home attendance that season for the Catamounts. It was also the largest crowd for a home game at Western Carolina since 2010.

– Wofford averaged 6,789 per home contest in 2016, but drew a season-high 11,102 fans for its game against The Citadel. No other game in Spartanburg had an attendance greater than 8,102 last year.

The contest was the highest-attended football game at Gibbs Stadium since 2010. Matchups against The Citadel also resulted in Wofford’s best-attended home games for the 2008, 2012, and 2014 seasons, and the most-watched regular-season home contest in 2010.

– Last season, a crowd of 8,251 was on hand in Lexington, Virginia, to watch VMI and The Citadel battle for the coveted Silver Shako. The Keydets’ other three home games in 2016 all drew between 5,000-6,000 fans.

From what I can tell, it was the largest home crowd for a VMI game since 2007, when 9,183 fans watched the Keydets play…The Citadel.

The 2014 matchup at Alumni Memorial Field was VMI’s highest-attended home game of that season. The Bulldogs and Keydets also played in the most-watched 2012 contest.

I also took a look at recent attendance for The Citadel’s road games against Furman, Chattanooga, and Samford.

– The attendance for The Citadel’s 2015 game at Furman was 12,124. That is the largest attendance for any game at Paladin Stadium since 2011.

– The Citadel’s game at Chattanooga in 2015 was the most-attended SoCon game (11,594 fans) at Finley Stadium that season. It was also better attended than any of the Mocs’ home games in 2016.

The 2007, 2009, 2011, and 2013 matchups between the two teams produced the second-highest attendance for a SoCon matchup in Chattanooga in each of those respective years.

– One place where The Citadel’s fans have been less likely to appear in large numbers is Seibert Stadium, home field for Samford. Average attendance for the last three meetings between the two schools in suburban Birmingham: 5,915. Samford’s average home attendance in those three years was 6,731.

This is not altogether surprising, as it is the longest trek for Bulldog fans to make in the conference. However, that strikes me as a good reason for fans of The Citadel to make a special effort to attend the game between the two squads in 2017 (it takes place on September 30).

As mentioned by Andy Solomon, I-26 now runs through Johnson City, Tennessee (it ends one mile into the state of Virginia, past Kingsport). That wasn’t the case when ETSU was previously in the Southern Conference, so the trip for Bulldog fans should be that much easier when the two teams meet on September 16 in Johnson City.

The Citadel’s fans support their team. They travel, they stay in hotels, they eat in town and at the game, and they buy game programs.

(That reminds me: I’m guessing that Wofford will be better prepared when the Bulldogs play in Spartanburg again in 2018. The visitors side concession stand ran out of food at halftime during last season’s matchup.)

It is also something the coaches can point to when recruiting. Not only will future Bulldogs play in front of significant home crowds at Johnson Hagood Stadium, but they will see plenty of blue and white when they play on the road, as well.

By request, here is a table listing the top 20 league games in terms of attendance in the SoCon over the last three years. The Citadel played in seven of the top eight (four at home, three on the road) and twelve of the top 20 (six at home, six on the road).

Year Road team Home team Attendance
2016 Samford The Citadel 15015
2015 VMI The Citadel 14925
2016 Chattanooga The Citadel 14590
2016 Western Carolina ETSU* 13863
2014 The Citadel Western Carolina 13323
2016 ETSU The Citadel 12978
2016 The Citadel Mercer 12542
2016 The Citadel Western Carolina 12283
2016 Western Carolina Mercer 12247
2014 Furman Mercer 12227
2015 The Citadel Furman 12124
2015 Samford Western Carolina 12014
2016 Furman The Citadel 12009
2015 The Citadel Chattanooga 11594
2015 Western Carolina Chattanooga 11495
2014 Furman The Citadel 11488
2015 Samford Mercer 11273
2016 The Citadel Wofford 11102
2016 Mercer Chattanooga 11039
2016 ETSU Mercer 10913

* The Western Carolina-ETSU game last year was played at Bristol Motor Speedway, nominally a home game for the Buccaneers. Of the top eight SoCon contests (in terms of attendance) over the last three seasons, this is the only game in which The Citadel was not one of the two teams involved.

The Blue-White spring game is less than a month away. The 2017 opener against Newberry is getting just a little closer…

SoCon baseball: 2016 conference-only statistics, with a little commentary

I recently wrote about The Citadel’s upcoming baseball campaign. While doing a little research, I wound up with a bunch of league-only stats for all SoCon teams, not just The Citadel. I decided to stick that information in another post, just in case anyone was interested.

Obviously, quite a bit of this is available at the league website, but I’ve also included a few other statistical categories, including team park factors, normalized run totals, and some offshoots of standard stats (like K/9, K/B ratio, etc.). I also delved into the mind of Pythagoras. Well, maybe not…

Anyway, here it is. Keep in mind, these are for conference games only. Each team played 24 league contests during the regular season, 12 at home and 12 on the road.

(Also keep in mind that I’m not exactly a statistical savant. I’m just here to entertain the masses.)

Pitching ERA W L SV IP H R ER
Mer 4.82 16 8 7 213 225 126 114
Sam 5.41 13 11 5 216.3 232 137 130
UNCG 5.56 15 9 6 209 226 144 129
WCU 6.06 15 9 5 215.3 248 162 145
Woff 6.16 12 12 4 209 257 160 143
Fur 6.27 14 10 8 209.7 238 156 146
ETSU 6.96 13 11 4 208.3 252 185 161
TC 7.29 6 18 4 207.3 253 190 168
VMI 7.86 4 20 0 208.3 275 213 182
Totals 6.26 108 108 43 1896.3 2206 1473 1318

 

Pitching BB SO P-HR BAA WP P-HBP BK SHA-SFA
Mer 86 165 29 0.274 23 28 2 13-6
Sam 101 154 21 0.283 21 32 0 21-14
UNCG 117 171 25 0.282 22 25 2 22-13
WCU 137 212 37 0.297 23 22 5 20-9
Woff 95 199 33 0.307 28 18 1 17-7
Fur 106 168 26 0.295 26 23 2 25-12
ETSU 102 172 36 0.300 25 16 6 16-13
TC 118 158 26 0.303 41 27 2 14-8
VMI 110 149 45 0.318 29 29 4 12-16
Totals 972 1548 278 0.296 238 220 24 160-98

 

Pitching AB DER K/BB K/9 BB/9 WHIP PF-Avg Nm-RA
Mer 822 0.697 1.92 6.97 3.63 1.46 111.88 119.26
Sam 821 0.690 1.52 6.41 4.20 1.54 105.00 138.16
UNCG 801 0.686 1.46 7.36 5.04 1.64 103.63 147.15
WCU 835 0.657 1.55 8.86 5.73 1.79 112.75 152.14
Woff 837 0.644 2.09 8.57 4.09 1.68 101.75 166.51
Fur 806 0.673 1.58 7.21 4.55 1.64 105.38 156.76
ETSU 841 0.674 1.69 7.43 4.41 1.70 102.63 190.88
TC 836 0.663 1.34 6.86 5.12 1.79 98.63 203.99
VMI 865 0.671 1.35 6.44 4.75 1.85 111.38 202.51
Totals 7464 0.673 1.59 7.35 4.61 1.68 105.89 163.67

 

DER stands for Defensive Efficiency Rating, not to be confused with fielding percentage. DER is simply the rate at which batted balls put into play are converted into outs by a team’s defense.

The two statistics did not quite match up, which is not surprising. Fielding percentage does not necessarily indicate how well a team fields. If a play is not made, but is not an error, it is still a play that is not made.

Wofford, for example, finished in the middle of the pack in fielding percentage, but was last in DER. Of course, that doesn’t automatically mean the Terriers were the worst-fielding squad in the league. There are sample size issues, for one thing, and park factors can also come into play.

However, Wofford finished only fifth in WHIP despite leading the league in K/BB ratio. The Terriers had the second-highest K/9 and the second-lowest BB/9. Wofford allowed the second-most hits in the league (and the second-most hits that were not homers).

The “PF-Avg” and “NM-RA” categories are, respectively, “Average Park Factors” and “Normalized Runs Allowed”. I averaged park factors for every team’s league schedule, using Boyd Nation’s most recent park effects data. From that, I calculated “normalized” runs; in other words, how many runs a team would have scored (or allowed) during the conference season playing in a league-neutral environment.

As you can see, the average SoCon squad scored 163.67 runs in 24 games. Mercer, which allowed the fewest runs during conference play, fares well in this category as well. The pitching for Western Carolina and VMI looks a little better as their respective parks are taken into account.

Batting AVG AB R H 2B 3B HR BB
WCU 0.337 866 224 292 43 1 48 128
ETSU 0.330 861 211 284 58 5 39 98
UNCG 0.327 830 178 271 52 10 29 97
Mer 0.302 786 175 237 42 3 32 135
Fur 0.294 827 153 243 42 3 31 77
Sam 0.282 859 155 242 48 4 33 121
TC 0.271 814 127 221 44 4 24 112
Woff 0.266 808 137 215 44 9 14 101
VMI 0.247 813 113 201 47 4 28 103
Totals 0.296 7464 1473 2206 420 43 278 972

 

Batting SO SB ATT SB% HBP SAC GIDP SF
WCU 116 49 60 0.817 40 21 18 13
ETSU 147 37 49 0.755 25 9 13 12
UNCG 151 32 40 0.800 25 14 24 12
Mer 170 8 19 0.421 24 45 13 17
Fur 150 19 24 0.792 24 14 11 12
Sam 167 16 20 0.800 19 8 11 7
TC 204 14 21 0.667 21 26 8 16
Woff 199 37 48 0.771 20 14 11 6
VMI 244 21 29 0.724 22 9 8 5
Totals 1548 233 310 0.752 220 160 117 100

 

Batting SLG% OB% OPS PF-Avg NM-R
WCU 0.555 0.439 0.994 112.75 210.37
ETSU 0.545 0.409 0.954 102.63 217.71
UNCG 0.518 0.409 0.927 103.63 181.89
Mer 0.485 0.412 0.897 111.88 165.64
Fur 0.464 0.366 0.830 105.38 153.75
Sam 0.462 0.380 0.842 105.00 156.31
TC 0.424 0.368 0.792 98.63 136.35
Woff 0.395 0.359 0.754 101.75 142.57
VMI 0.418 0.346 0.764 111.38 107.43
Totals 0.475 0.388 0.863 105.89 163.67

 

Based on this, it appears East Tennessee State could make a claim to being the league’s best offense last season (at least, in conference action). I have to say, though, that Western Carolina almost pulling off a 1.000 team OPS in SoCon play is quite impressive, regardless of park effects.

I also ran a Pythagorean theorem check to see if any of the league’s teams were luckier than average. Let me explain…well, I’ll let Wikipedia handle it:

Pythagorean expectation is a formula invented by Bill James to estimate how many games a baseball team “should” have won based on the number of runs they scored and allowed. Comparing a team’s actual and Pythagorean winning percentage can be used to evaluate how lucky that team was (by examining the variation between the two winning percentages). The name comes from the formula’s resemblance to the Pythagorean theorem.

I used the most basic formula, not the revised Pythagenpat calculation, mainly because I’m not sure if Pythagenpat really applies to college baseball. It probably does, but I don’t think it matters much for a league season in which each team plays 24 games.

Here is the table in question:

Team RS RA PyThm Exp W Actual W Diff
WCU 224 162 0.657 15.758 15 -0.758
ETSU 211 185 0.565 13.569 13 -0.569
UNCG 178 144 0.604 14.506 15 0.494
Mer 175 126 0.659 15.806 16 0.194
Fur 153 156 0.490 11.767 14 2.233
Sam 155 137 0.561 13.474 13 -0.474
TC 127 190 0.309 7.412 6 -1.412
Woff 137 160 0.423 10.152 12 1.848
VMI 113 213 0.220 5.271 4 -1.271
Totals 1473 1473 0.500 12.000 12 0.000

The “luckiest” team in the league in 2016 appears to have been Furman. The Paladins scored almost the same number of runs as they allowed, but wound up finishing 14-10.

Wofford finished 12-12 despite allowing almost one more run per game than its opponents. The two “unluckiest” teams in the league, The Citadel and VMI, finished next-to-last and last in the conference standings.

Some of these statistics may be meaningful. Some may not. The bottom line, though, is the only statistic that really matters is how many wins you put on the board.

Riley Report: Hey, baseball season is starting!

From The Citadel’s varsity sports website:

The Citadel baseball team opens the 2017 season with the Charleston Crab House Challenge beginning Friday at Joe Riley Park.

The Bulldogs welcome Kansas, Virginia and Liberty to the three-day tournament. They will face Kansas on Friday at 4 p.m., followed by Virginia on Saturday at 3 p.m. and Liberty on Sunday at 2 p.m.

The tournament begins at 12 p.m. on Friday when Virginia faces Liberty. On Saturday, Kansas and Liberty open the day at 11 a.m. Virginia and Kansas will play on Sunday at 10 a.m.

Live video will be provided on the SoCon Digital Network for all three of The Citadel’s games, while live stats will be available for the entirety of the tournament.

Links of interest:

– The Citadel’s 2017 baseball schedule

The Citadel’s 2017 baseball roster

– Season preview from The Post and Courier

Weekend preview from The Post and Courier

Beer will be sold at Riley Park when The Citadel is playing this year

– Fred Jordan “retools” his program

– Bulldogs picked to finish last in the SoCon by the coaches, next-to-last by the media

– No player from The Citadel was selected to the preseason all-conference teams

– Former Bulldog James Reeves got a non-roster invitation to the Yankees’ big-league camp

SoCon weekly release

The Citadel’s game notes for opening weekend

Additional links:

Kansas baseball website

Virginia baseball website

Liberty baseball website

2016 SoCon league-only baseball statistics, with a little commentary

The Citadel won the league title in 2010 with an overall record of 43-22, 24-6 in the SoCon. Since that season:

  • 2011: 20-36 overall (3-18 road), 8-22 SoCon
  • 2012: 25-33 overall (5-18 road), 13-17 SoCon
  • 2013: 35-25 overall (10-12 road), 18-12 SoCon
  • 2014: 24-34 overall (3-17 road), 8-18 SoCon
  • 2015: 28-30 overall (6-13 road), 10-14 SoCon
  • 2016: 17-42 overall (4-23 road), 6-18 SoCon

That six-season stretch adds up to 149-200 overall (31-101 road), 63-101 in the SoCon.

Averaged out for one year, it would come out to 25-33 (5-17 road), 11-17 in the SoCon. In the 19 seasons that Fred Jordan coached The Citadel prior to 2011, he never had a team with a league record as bad as 11-17, and only had one team with a worse overall record than 25-33 (and even then just barely; the 2005 squad was 25-34).

His road record before the 2011 season began was a respectable 195-207, just a bit under .500 for his career. The Bulldogs have only won 23% of their road games in the last six years, though.

A fair number of Bulldog supporters have become increasingly frustrated with the program’s results in recent years, particularly after last year’s 42-loss campaign (which resulted in The Citadel finishing with a worst-ever RPI of 260). It is possible, however, that the most frustrated supporter of them all might be the head coach:

After watching his team struggle to a 17-42 record last season — the worst in his 25 seasons as The Citadel’s baseball coach — Fred Jordan vowed to “retool” his program.

Jordan wasn’t kidding, as he brought in an unprecedented (for The Citadel) four transfer players for this season. That includes junior-college standout Jonathan Sabo, a two-time All-Lowcountry player of the year during his career at West Ashley High School.

The Bulldogs’ three graduate-student transfers are catcher Joe Sabatini from Baylor, right-handed pitcher Aaron Lesiak from Presbyterian and left-handed pitcher Marlin Morris, who’s pitched at USC Sumter and College of Charleston.

 

“I just felt like we needed more maturity in the back end of our bullpen…And in reality, that’s the new wave of recruiting. Everyone is doing it in all sports. I made the statement last year that we’re going to change some things, and that’s one of the things we changed.

“I’m very excited about it. Guys who are 21 or 22 and have had success in college, they step into our clubhouse and demand respect, and that’s what they’ve done.”

…”We’ve got a tremendous graduate program, and our football and basketball programs have done it for years,” said Jordan, whose led the Bulldogs to seven Southern Conference tournament titles and five regular-season championships.

The issue of transfers at The Citadel is not a new one. For this blog, I wrote about it as far back as 2010; in the linked piece, I referenced a Ken Burger column from 2003. The football team had a junior college transfer on its roster back in 1970 who was not a member of the corps of cadets.

I still have some misgivings about graduate transfers, for a variety of reasons that I outlined in my blog post from six years ago. However, this is still my take on things from a coach’s perspective:

I don’t blame any of the individual coaches for bringing in graduate students. Coaches are trying to win. Winning is not easy to do at The Citadel…

At any rate, I hope the graduate transfers give the squad a badly needed forward push. I also appreciate the commitment junior college transfer Jonathan Sabo (a member of the corps) made in order to attend The Citadel. I think a lot of people can identify with that.

About beer sales:

…Fans of legal drinking age will be permitted up to three beer purchases, tracked by wristbands and hand stamps.

An alcohol-free zone also will be set up for each game, the school said…

  • All patrons wishing to purchase or consume beer must present proper identification showing they are of legal age.
  • People wishing to drink beer will have a wristband placed on their wrist and their hand stamped with indelible ink, limiting each person to one wristband per game.
  • Each wristband will have three tabs which can only be removed by the concessionaire upon purchase of a beer.
  • Beer will be served in a clear, plastic 12-ounce cup, with a three-beer maximum.
  • All beer sales will cease at the end of the 7th inning.
  • A designated driver program will be in place allowing all properly credentialed designated drivers one free soft drink.

I’m ambivalent about this move. It could be a boon for attendance; it could also be counter-productive. If it had no impact on attendance at all, that would not be a surprise either.

Personally, I think cadets should not be served beer, even if they are of age. It that an an unfair (if not irrational) position to take? Perhaps. However, there is something to be said for optics.

Instead of beer sales, I just wish the concession stand sold Sprite instead of Sierra Mist…

How did returning players fare last year in SoCon play? I’m glad you asked.

First, the batters (keep in mind these statistics are only for the 24 conference games played in 2016):

Player AVG GP-GS AB R H 2B 3B HR
Martin 0.304 22-18 69 15 21 4 0 2
Charpia 0.281 20-17 64 12 18 2 0 5
Peden 0.276 22-21 76 17 21 1 0 7
Phillips 0.218 19-18 78 13 17 5 1 0
Kinney 0.205 24-24 83 9 17 6 0 2
Cothran 0.300 15-4 20 4 6 1 0 0
Buffington 0.000 4-0 4 2 0 0 0 0
Total 0.254 126-102 394 72 100 19 1 16

 

Player RBI TB BB HBP SO OB% SLG% OPS
Martin 11 31 15 4 16 0.449 0.449 0.898
Charpia 8 35 4 4 29 0.356 0.547 0.903
Peden 15 43 18 0 26 0.411 0.566 0.977
Phillips 9 24 7 1 17 0.284 0.308 0.592
Kinney 12 29 8 1 22 0.277 0.349 0.626
Cothran 0 7 2 2 6 0.417 0.350 0.767
Buffington 0 0 0 0 2 0.000 0.000 0.000
Total 55 169 54 12 118 0.355 0.429 0.784

 

Player GDP SF SH SB-ATT PO A E FLD%
Martin 0 1 3 4-4 48 2 1 0.980
Charpia 0 1 2 0-0 16 28 4 0.917
Peden 0 1 0 0-0 140 13 3 0.981
Phillips 1 2 3 2-2 49 2 1 0.981
Kinney 0 2 6 0-0 32 55 9 0.906
Cothran 0 0 0 0-0 12 14 0 1.000
Buffington 0 0 0 0-0 7 0 0 1.000
Total 1 7 14 6-6 304 114 18 0.957

Returning players account for 47% of last season’s starts among position players. Five of the seven players started at least 70% of league games.

They took 48% of The Citadel’s at bats in 2016 SoCon play and scored 57% of the team’s runs, drew 48% of the walks, hit 67% of the Bulldogs’ homers, and suffered 58% of the squad’s strikeouts.

The returning seven position players didn’t get a lot of singles (just 64 in 102 starts).

The Citadel’s overall batting numbers in SoCon action last season were not good when compared to other league outfits. The Bulldogs scored 127 runs in 24 contests (5.3 per game). That was next-to-last in the conference.

Of course, park effects have to be considered. “The Joe” is a pitcher’s park in a hitter’s league.

I used Boyd Nation’s park effects data (2012-15, the most recent edition) to come up with a “normalized runs” total for The Citadel of 136. Alas, that still ranked next-to-last in the SoCon, only ahead of VMI. League teams averaged 163 runs (6.8 per game) in conference play.

Note: the statistics in this section are for all games, not just league contests.

Southern Conference baseball revolves around offense. Yes, pitching (and defense) wins championships, but you have to score runs to succeed in the SoCon, preferably in bunches.

Mercer led the nation in home runs per game (1.52) and walks. UNC-Greensboro topped D-1 in on-base percentage (.425), batting average (.346), and slugging percentage (.538).

Six SoCon teams finished in the top 17 in home runs per game. Five finished in the top 30 in runs scored per contest.

Conversely, no conference team finished in the top 150 in WHIP.

Speaking of pitching, here are the returning hurlers’ numbers in SoCon play:

Pitcher ERA W-L APP GS IP H R ER BK
Smith 6.04 0-1 16 0 22.3 27 20 15 1
Byelick 7.14 1-4 7 6 29 44 31 23 1
Sears 7.81 2-5 8 8 40.3 49 37 35 0
Foulks 2.25 0-0 4 0 4 0 1 1 0
Strickland 4.91 0-0 11 0 14.7 15 8 8 0
Spence 11.12 0-1 6 1 5.7 7 9 7 0
Stamler 11.12 0-0 8 0 5.7 7 7 7 0
Buster 12.15 0-1 11 1 13.7 18 20 18 0
Bialakis 27.00 0-0 1 0 0.3 1 1 1 0
Merritt 99.00 0-0 1 0 0 3 2 2 0
Total 7.76 3-12 73 16 135.7 171 136 117 2

 

Pitcher BB K 2B-A 3B-A HR-A WP HP SF-A SH-A
Smith 12 13 6 0 6 6 2 1 0
Byelick 13 27 7 0 2 3 8 1 3
Sears 22 48 12 0 5 6 2 2 5
Foulks 4 4 0 0 0 1 0 0 0
Strickland 6 12 2 0 3 0 1 0 0
Spence 6 3 2 0 2 4 0 0 0
Stamler 7 3 2 0 0 2 0 1 1
Buster 17 10 9 0 2 5 3 1 0
Bialakis 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 1
Merritt 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
Total 87 120 42 0 20 27 17 6 10

Returning pitchers started 16 of 24 conference games last season. The ten pitchers in the two tables above combined to pitch 65% of the league innings for the Bulldogs.

Fred Jordan stated in one of the quoted articles above that the bullpen needed “maturity”. It is easy to understand why he said that, after the struggles last year out of the ‘pen.

The Citadel’s overall team ERA in SoCon play was 7.29, which is obviously poor, but the bullpen ERA in league action was actually even worse than that. In 94 innings pitched in relief, Bulldog pitchers allowed 82 earned runs, for an ERA of 7.85.

Of course, needing 94 innings out of your bullpen in 24 league games isn’t ideal, either. That is just under 4 innings of relief pitching per contest. Bulldog starters must go deeper into games this season.

The Citadel allowed 190 runs in conference action in 2016, second-most in the league. That is an average of 7.9 runs allowed per game. Only VMI allowed more runs than the Bulldogs.

When runs are normalized, The Citadel had the worst total in the league (204; as mentioned earlier, the league average per team was 163). VMI had a “normalized runs” total of 203.

The Citadel’s park factors average was 98.625, while VMI’s was 111.375. That is why, even though the Bulldogs allowed fewer runs than the Keydets (190 to 213), VMI’s pitching/defense in league play was actually slightly better (because the Keydets played in generally tougher environments for pitching over the course of the conference schedule).

In terms of fielding percentage, The Citadel finished next-to-last in the league, ahead of VMI (sense a theme here?). Of course, fielding percentage doesn’t really tell the whole story when it comes to defense.

The Citadel’s defensive efficiency rating (DER) in SoCon action was 0.663205, which was seventh-best out of the nine league teams. Western Carolina was eighth, and Wofford ninth. VMI was sixth, which suggests the Keydets were a better defensive squad than their raw chances/error totals would suggest.

The two best fielding teams in the SoCon, per DER, were Mercer and Samford.

The Citadel’s catchers threw out 10 out of 47 potential base-stealers in conference play. By percentage, that was seventh-best in the league, ahead of only Furman and UNC-Greensboro. However, the Bulldogs allowed the most total stolen bases in the SoCon (and were run on more than any other team).

Western Carolina’s catchers had a 44.8% caught stealing rate, which topped the conference.

The school website notes that 14 Bulldogs on this year’s squad are newcomers — the four transfer students and ten freshmen.

Of those ten freshmen, six are pitchers (one lefty). The four position players include two outfielders, a second baseman, and a catcher.

The returnees from last season include eleven sophomores, five juniors, and two seniors.

Last year, The Citadel began the season with 21 non-conference games (16 at home) before opening the league campaign at VMI. The Bulldogs were 9-12 in those 21 games.

In 2017, The Citadel will also open with 21 non-conference games before starting its conference slate against VMI (this time at Riley Park). Of those 21 games to begin the year, 17 are at home (and two of the four road games are nearby at College of Charleston).

The Bulldogs have a chance to get off to a good start, and build some confidence leading up to the SoCon slate. The team has to seize that opportunity.

It is time for baseball season to begin. I’m looking forward to it.