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.

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?

Longest droughts: schools that have never made the NCAA tournament

Updated: The 2016 edition

Now updated: the 2015 edition

Editor’s note:  this post is from 2010. For the 2014 update, click here.

For the 2013 update, click here.

For a 2012 update, click here. For the 2011 review, click here.

It’s almost time for the conference tournament season, and almost every year a school will celebrate its very first bid to the NCAA tournament.  Announcers will gush as the students rush the court following a dramatic victory in a league tourney final.  “They’re dancing!” is the cry.

Of course, most of the time the school in question has only been in Division I for a few years after enjoying success in Division II or the NAIA.  Occasionally the team is supplemented, if not dominated, by sketchy transfers or refugees from a local work-release center.  It doesn’t matter, though — it’s in the field of 65.  The school becomes part of the madness of March, and its supporters will cheer wildly (often televised from a local sports bar) when its name is called by James Brown on Selection Sunday.

However, every now and then a school that has spent decades in the Division I wilderness, searching in vain for the road to the tourney, finds its way out of the woods and into the promised land.  Two seasons ago it happened to American University, which had just missed in several Patriot League tourney title games before finally punching its ticket with a 52-46 victory over Colgate.  AU had been in Division I since 1967.

Another school that had a long wait end in 2008 was UT-Arlington.  The Mavericks had been members of Division I since 1969, but had never made the NCAAs until winning the Southland tournament that season (as the 7 seed in the league tourney).

These are the schools I (usually) root for come tourney time, to get that proverbial monkey off their back.  They are the 20 schools that have been in Division I the longest without making a single appearance in the NCAA tournament.  To keep what follows in perspective, just remember that George Mason University, which made the Final Four a few years ago, didn’t even exist until 1972.

“The Forgotten Five”

The NCAA’s modern classification into what we now call Division I occurred in 1948, although the hoops tourney started in 1939.  The five schools that have been in D-1 since ’48 were all technically eligible to be selected to the NCAAs since that first 1939 tourney.  Of course, it was only an 8-team tourney in those years.

Tangent:  maybe it was only an 8-team field in those days, but none other than Harvard got a bid in 1946 (losing both its tourney opener and a consolation game). Thus, Harvard has been to the NCAA tourney despite having never won the Ivy League (which has officially only been around since 1954).

The class of 1948:

  • Army:  I didn’t know this until last year, but the Black Knights actually could have gone to the NCAA tournament in the 1960s.  According to Bob Knight (in a TV interview) Army turned down an NCAA invite to instead play in the NIT, with a chance to compete at Madison Square Garden.

Another tangent:  The last school to turn down an NCAA bid was Marquette (in 1970), a decision made by the late, great Al McGuire.  McGuire was annoyed that his team (ranked 8th nationally) was going to have to travel further than he thought was right for a top 10 squad, so he thumbed his nose at the NCAA brass and accepted an NIT bid (Marquette would win that tournament).  Schools are no longer allowed to decline NCAA bids to play in the NIT.

  • Northwestern:  The Wildcats are the only school in a “power conference” to never make the tournament.  The school hosted the first NCAA tourney in 1939.
  • St. Francis of New York:  This school is not to be confused with St. Francis of Pennsylvania, fellow member of the Northeast Conference, which actually made the tournament in 1991 (and had to win a play-in game to do so).  The Terriers, on the other hand, made three NIT appearances from 1956 to 1963, but have never been particularly close to an NCAA berth, at least from what I have been able to determine.  There isn’t a great deal of SFC hoops history readily available online.  The Terriers may be the most forgotten of the Forgotten Five.
  • William and Mary:  The Tribe did make the NIT in 1983.  Thomas Jefferson and Jon Stewart demand more success than that, though.
  • The Citadel:  I wrote about the school’s painful hoops history in November of 2008.  Since I wrote that manifesto, the team has won more games over a two-season stretch than at any other time in the Bulldogs’ history.  Karma?

The chances of any of these schools making it this year are not particularly good. Northwestern, William and Mary, and Army all got off to good starts, but have faded down the stretch (the Tribe’s 16-point loss to Iona in a Bracketbusters game probably eliminating W&M from at-large consideration).  To get a bid, it’s likely that only a league tournament title (and the automatic bid that goes with it) will do.

At this point, The Citadel might have the best shot, as it will be very difficult for Northwestern and/or William & Mary to win their respective conference tourneys (I think it’s fair to say that winning the Big 10/CAA tourneys is harder than winning the SoCon crown).  The Bulldogs, while currently playing good basketball, will probably have to win four SoCon tourney games in four days, however.  Considering the school has only won two consecutive SoCon tourney games once in its entire history, that may be too tall an order.

As for Army and St. Francis of New York, both are currently in 8th place in their respective conferences, which does not exactly scream “potential tourney run”, especially for Army, since there are only eight teams in the Patriot League.

Other schools who have had to hold their tickets for too long (records listed are as of Feb. 20):

  • Centenary (D-1 member since 1960):  Well, the Gentlemen only have two more years to make the NCAAs (including this one), since the school is moving to Division III after the 2011 season.  Robert Parish’s alma mater would have to win the Summit League tourney.  Currently Centenary is in next-to-last place in the conference and has lost 19 games.
  • New Hampshire (class of 1962):  A case could be made that the Wildcats have been the worst D-1 program since joining the division.  Entering the 2009-10 campaign, the Wildcats’ all-time school record (including the years before joining D-1) is 817-1327 (38%).  New Hampshire’s record in America East play entering this season was 142-299.  Yikes.  At any rate, it doesn’t look like UNH (currently seventh in the America East with an overall record of 10-15) will break through this year.
  • Maine (class of 1962):  Now here is a promising team to watch.  Like New Hampshire, Maine is a member of the America East conference.  Unlike UNH, though, Maine is having a solid season, third in the league, and with an overall record of 17-9.  Keep a close eye on the Black Bears, which may have their best shot at making the field since 1994, when Maine lost in the conference final to Drexel.
  • Denver:  The Pioneers were in D-1 in its initial incarnation in 1948, left the classification in 1980, and then returned to D-1 in 1999.  Denver (one of several hockey-first schools on this list) is a middling Sun Belt team this year (8-7 in league play, 15-11 overall).  It wouldn’t be a complete shock to see the Pioneers make a SB tourney run, though.
  • UT-Pan American (class of 1969):  The Broncs currently compete as members of the Great West conference, a league that doesn’t send an automatic qualifier to the NCAAs.  With a current record of 4-23, I’m guessing UTPA is not in line for an at-large bid.
  • Stetson (class of 1972):  The Hatters reside in the Atlantic Sun basement right now, tied with Florida Gulf Coast in league play (if you’ve never heard of Florida Gulf Coast before, don’t feel bad — DePaul never had either). Stetson has an overall record of 6-21. This isn’t going to be the year.
  • UC Irvine (class of 1978):  Like a lot of these schools, the Anteaters are at the bottom of their league standings, tied for last in the Big West with UC Riverside.  It’s not going to be their year either.
  • Grambling State (class of 1978):  You would think a school with a football tradition as grand as Grambling’s could parlay that into an occasionally good hoops team, but no.  This season is no different, as the Tigers are only 6-15 entering weekend play.  Of course, being in the SWAC means that a team with a 6-15 overall record can’t be completely ruled out as far as winning the league tourney is concerned.
  • Maryland-Eastern Shore:  The Hawks joined D-1 in 1974, but left after just two years, and then returned in 1982.  This season UMES is 6-6 in MEAC play but only 8-18 overall.  I don’t see the Hawks getting past Delaware State or South Carolina State in the MEAC tourney, much less Todd Bozeman’s Morgan State club.
  • Youngstown State:  The Penguins were D-1 in 1948, but then dropped down and didn’t return to the division until 1982.  Jim Tressel won multiple I-AA football titles while in Youngstown, but the hoops squad hasn’t been as successful, and this year is no different.  YSU is tied for last in the Horizon League with Illinois-Chicago (the Flames have been extinguished) and has an overall record of 8-18.
  • Bethune-Cookman (class of 1981):  B-C is actually tied with UMES in the MEAC standings right now, but at 14-12 may be a better team.  I wouldn’t give the Wildcats much more of a shot of winning the league tourney, though.  Maybe they need to bring Cy McClairen back.
  • Western Illinois (class of 1982):  The Leathernecks are currently third-from-last in the Summit League, one place above Centenary.  It’s hard to see WIU making much of a run in that conference tourney.
  • Chicago State (class of 1985):  Like Texas-Pan American, Chicago State is a member of the Great West.  Like UTPA, Chicago State has no chance to make the NCAAs in the foreseeable future.
  • Hartford (class of 1985):  The Hawks, whose most notable hoops alum is Vin Baker, missed a chance to make the NCAAs when they lost in the America East finals two seasons ago to UMBC.  At 8-19 this season, the odds are not in Hartford’s favor.
  • Buffalo:  the Bulls moved up to D-1 in 1974, left D-1 in 1977, then rejoined the classification in 1992.  Buffalo has come closer than any other school on this list to breaking through in recent years, losing in the MAC title game last season and in 2005 (the latter an excruciating 80-79 loss in overtime).  The Bulls are currently 15-9.  It wouldn’t be that surprising to see them in the conference championship game again.

So there you have it.  Those are the 20 schools that have waited the longest for an NCAA bid.  Will one of them break through this year?  Maine and Buffalo look like the best bets, but you wouldn’t really want to place a wager on any of them.

It would be great if one did, though.  I think back to that American victory in 2008, and the sight of Eagles head coach Jeff Jones crying in his sideline chair.  He knew the difficulty of what his team had accomplished.  I felt so good for him and for the long-suffering AU fans.

Incidentally, that difficulty of accomplishment is just another reason why expanding the tournament would be such a mistake.  It wouldn’t mean nearly as much if it were easier to gain entry into the field.  For myself, I’m not interested in The Citadel being part of a diluted field.  Like the fans and players of all the schools still waiting for their moment, I want to enjoy the real thing.

It would be nice to enjoy it sooner rather than later…

Verdict on the non-conference results: Not bad

After Saturday’s come-from-behind-then-almost-blowing-it-at-the-end 58-57 victory over Bethune-Cookman, The Citadel is 6-7 overall, with a 5-6 record in non-SoCon matchups.  For the rest of the year, the Bulldogs will only play Southern Conference foes, unless The Citadel receives an unprecedented bid to either the NCAAs or the NIT.  (Unprecedented doesn’t begin to describe that possibility, of course.)

Let’s compare this season’s non-conference results to non-conference games from the 2007-08 campaign…

Last season:

— Four home wins over non-D1 competition, including a near loss to Webber International (66-63); a 61-point loss at South Carolina; a televised beatdown at the hands of Washington State (67-45, and it was a lot worse than that); a 27-point home loss to Southern California (O.J. Mayo’s first college road game!); a 16-point loss in The Palestra to Penn; and a narrow home victory over Charleston Southern.  Nine non-conference games, a 5-4 record, but only 1-4 against Division I competition.

This season:

— Two home wins over non-D1 competition; a 14-point loss at South Carolina; a televised 14-point loss to Michigan State in which The Citadel held its own; a 22-point home loss to Iowa; a 23-point loss at Virginia Commonwealth; a split of two neutral site games in Cancun (loss to Central Arkansas, win over Grambling State); a dismal home loss to UC Davis; a road victory over Charleston Southern; and a one-point home win over Bethune-Cookman.  Eleven non-conference games, a 5-6 record (3-6 against Division I competition).

Not that it’s the resume of a Final Four team or anything, but this season’s non-conference results were much better than those from last year.  Only two of the games could be considered true disappointments (the home losses to Iowa and UC Davis).  Winning a road game of any kind would have bettered last season’s 0-fer away from home, and the Bulldogs already have two (one in conference play) plus a neutral-site win.  I think only having only two non-D1 games (instead of four) is also a plus.

So while last year’s team was 5-7 on this date in 2008, and this year’s team is 6-7, the improvement is obvious.  Last year’s 5-7 start included an 0-3 mark in SoCon play, while this year’s team is currently 1-1 in the league, with a win and a narrow loss, both on the road.  The Citadel is actually safely out of the 300s in the RPI right now (269).  Last year’s team, of course, would only win one more game the rest of the way and finished 6-24 (1-19), with an RPI of 334.

Total wins for The Citadel, last six seasons:  8, 6, 12, 10, 7, 6

This year the Bulldogs already have 6 wins with 18 games remaining (yes, SoCon teams are again playing 20 conference games, which is ridiculous).   According to Ken Pomeroy’s projection system, The Citadel is projected to win 7 of those 18 games.  That would result in 13 wins on the season for the Bulldogs, the most in seven years.  I wouldn’t mind if the team got a little greedier, though.

The next step in the pursuit of respectability comes Thursday at McAlister Field House, when the Bulldogs face a Georgia Southern squad that is already 2-0 in the conference, and which also has a neutral-site victory over Houston.

Ballin’ in the Ballroom

The Citadel went 1-1 over the weekend in the Cancun Challenge, losing on Saturday to Central Arkansas 58-53, but then defeating Grambling State 55-41 on Sunday.  The Bulldogs are now 4-3 on the season, which is pretty good for The Citadel.  Of course, three years ago the Bulldogs started off 6-3, and then lost thirteen consecutive games…

The Citadel lost to UCA because, to put it mildly, the Bulldogs couldn’t shoot straight.  The offensive stats were brutal.  15 for 52 from the field (5-27 from beyond the arc).  18-31 from the line (4-11 in the first half), and that after having such a strong start to the season shooting free throws.  The Bulldogs only scored 19 points in the first half and never could quite catch up.  It’s hard to complete a comeback (The Citadel managed to get within two late, but UCA got it back to four almost immediately on a breakaway slam) when you’re down 10 at the break and there are only 56 possessions in the entire game.

The Citadel only committed three turnovers, and had a good rebounding effort (with lots of offensive boards; of course, you ought to get a lot of offensive rebounds when you miss that many shots).  The defensive stats weren’t great, although they weren’t terrible either.  The Citadel just couldn’t put the ball in the basket, from anywhere on the court.  Maybe the chandeliers distracted the players.

That’s right, chandeliers.  The tournament games were played in a second-floor ballroom with seats for 400 spectators (not that the place was full).  Neither of The Citadel’s games was televised, but I did watch part of another Cancun Challenge game, Drake-New Mexico, which on Sunday night was broadcast on CBS College Sports TV.  It was a rather unusual venue for a basketball game, although not quite at the level of claustrophobic hilarity that defined Deas Hall (the east coast “Thunderdome” is probably my favorite place to have witnessed college hoops, even if it was just a one-season wonder).  While watching the Drake-UNM matchup on TV, I felt strangely disappointed that there weren’t a bunch of different-colored painted lines snaking around and through the court.

The Citadel would rebound from the tough loss to Central Arkansas the next day, beating Grambling in a solid performance.  The game was close until late in the first half, when the Bulldogs went on a 14-3 run over the final 3:23 to take a 10-point lead into the break.  Grambling would not get within nine points for the remainder of the game.  Fans watching this game could have been justified in taking a nap during the second half once the Bulldogs had established their lead, considering the contest’s glacial pace (54 possessions for each team).  The Citadel had its best statistical performance of the season to date defensively, as the Tigers only shot 37% from the field, collected only two offensive rebounds, and turned the ball over 12 times.

Grambling had beaten Morehead State the night before by one point on a last-second tip-in; you have to wonder how much the Tigers had left in the tank for this game.  Of course, The Citadel had played a hard-fought game of its own on Saturday as well.

The Bulldogs got solid contributions from Zach Urbanus (15 points to lead all scorers) and Cameron Wells (the 6’1″ guard grabbed 14 of The Citadel’s 27 total rebounds, and added 10 points of his own).  The offensive efficiency wasn’t bad at all, although The Citadel only shot four free throws in the entire game.  The Bulldogs more than compensated for that by going 12-26 from 3-land, with Urbanus making five from long range and Austin Dahn adding three more.

The other interesting thing about this game from The Citadel’s perspective was that freshman Matt Roberts started instead of Demetrius Nelson.  Roberts only played eight minutes, though, while Nelson played 20, slighly under his average.  That might be something to watch, or it may have just been an experiment.  Maybe Nelson started gazing too intently at the chandeliers before the game started and got dizzy.

All in all, I think Ed Conroy and company are probably satisfied with what they got out of the Cancun Challenge — namely, a nice Thanksgiving weekend trip to a resort, and a chance to play two extra non-conference games, both of which were competitive (instead of one-sided affairs on the winning or losing side) before starting the conference season.  The Bulldogs start that conference season on Thursday night against UNC-Greensboro, the first of two road games in three days (The Citadel travels to Elon on Saturday).  The Bulldogs now have as many victories against Division I opposition as they did all of last season.  Now it’s time to see if this week they can match or exceed their number of conference wins from all of last year (one).

Cancun Challenge matchups (that are actually in Cancun!)

It’s time for the Cancun Challenge to reach its highly anticipated climax.  All the excitement moves to Mexico, where The Citadel will play two games in two days this weekend in pre-determined, non-televised matchups.  On Saturday the Bulldogs play Central Arkansas.  On Sunday, the opponent will be Grambling State.  The games will be played at the Moon Palace Resort in Cancun.  Incidentally, this tournament is run by Triple Crown Sports, the same outfit responsible for the women’s NIT (pre-season and post-season).

Central Arkansas is a school with an enrollment of about 13,000 students.  It’s located in Conway, a city with a population of around 55,000, about 25 miles north of Little Rock.  UCA was an NAIA school for many years, then moved to NCAA Division II, and four years ago began its transition to NCAA Division I.  It’s in year three of that transition, and has a year to go before becoming a full-fledged D-1 member.  Thus, it isn’t eligible for its conference tournament until next season.

That conference would be the Southland.  UCA just completed a football season in which it went 10-2, 7-1 in the league, but it wasn’t recognized as conference champion because the league feared it would lose its automatic bid to the FCS playoffs if its champion was ineligible to compete in the postseason.

There are two other facts about Central Arkansas worth mentioning.  One is that Scottie Pippen went to UCA, where he was a two-time NAIA All-American before winning six NBA titles with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.  Pippen actually started his career at UCA as a 6’1″ walk-on (with team manager responsibilities), but then he grew to 6’7″ and the rest is history.  The other thing you need to know about Central Arkansas is that while its men’s teams are called the Bears, the women’s teams are known as the Sugar Bears.

The Citadel and Central Arkansas have never met in hoops.  So far this season UCA is 2-2, with home wins over Bacone (an NAIA school in Muskogee, Oklahoma) and UNC-Greensboro, and road losses to Northwestern and Vanderbilt.  The loss to Northwestern was just horrendous (81-39).  On the other hand, beating UNCG should be more than enough to impress The Citadel, which was swept by the Spartans last season.

UCA returns three starters from last year’s 14-16 squad (which went 4-12 in the Southland) and adds a couple of key players to that mix.  6’6″ Mitch Reuter missed most of last season for the Bears with an injury.  He’s off to a nice start this season, as is Chris Brown, a 6’8″ transfer from Wichita State.  Other players of note for UCA include Marcus Pillow, a 6’0″ guard who leads the team in scoring and minutes played, and Mike Pouncy, a 6’1″ guard who exploded for 26 points against UNC-Greensboro.  Also part of the Bears eight-man regular rotation are a pair of centers, 6’9″, 260 lb. Brian Marks (leading the team in rebounding) and 6’8″ Landrell Brewer.

There is one player from South Carolina on UCA’s roster, the wonderfully named King Cannon, a 6’5″ forward and graduate of York High School who is averaging 13 minutes per game.  Not seeing much action but worth mentioning is 6’1″ sophomore guard Imad Qahwash, who went to high school in Canada but played this summer for the Jordanian national team.  That’s not Michael Jordan’s house team, by the way.

So far this year UCA has not shot the ball particularly well, a carryover from last season when the Bears were among the poorer shooting teams in the country.  Central Arkansas is currently shooting less than 40% from the field and less than 30% from beyond the arc.  UCA shoots only 65.3% from the foul line.  So far this season, UCA’s defensive FG% stats are rather hideous in four games (opponents are shooting better than 50% from the field), but that’s obviously a small sample size.  Last year the Bears were okay defensively.

After its game against The Citadel, the Bears will play on Sunday against South Dakota State.

Grambling State is famous for its football.  Basketball, not so much (although the school does have one famous hoops alum, Willis Reed).  Grambling has been in Division I since 1978 and has never qualified for the NCAA tournament.  Only eleven schools can claim a longer (continuous) drought without an initial tourney appearance.  One of those schools, of course, is The Citadel.  The game on Sunday will be the first between the Tigers and Bulldogs.

In the last 15 years, Grambling has only enjoyed two winning seasons (14-12 in 2005 and 16-12 in 1998).  The Tigers followed up that 1997-98 season with a six-win season and a three-win campaign.  Maybe even more disappointing for a Grambling fan is that over that same time period, only three times have the Tigers had a winning conference record.  Considering that the SWAC annually ranks near or at the bottom of conference RPI ratings, that doesn’t say much for GSU.  Last year Grambling finished with a 7-19 record and an RPI of 328.  In other words, when it comes to hoops, Grambling State and The Citadel are peers.

Grambling’s new coach is Rick Duckett, who has been around.  He’s a UNC grad who had successful stretches as a head coach at the Division II level, and was most recently an assistant to Dave Odom at South Carolina.  He’s probably a good get for the school, but he has his work cut out for him.  In three games so far this season Grambling has lost a close home game to Louisiana Tech and has been blown out in two road games against New Mexico (96-50) and Oklahoma State (91-60).  Duckett wants to employ an up-tempo style, but he may not have the players to do that yet (in the three games the Tigers are averaging a slightly-above-average 72.5 possessions).

Grambling lost three starters from last season and two other key contributors.  Duckett does have Andrew Prestley, a 6’5″ forward who in three games so far this season is putting up a 17-8 line, and JC transfer Ibrahim Kpaka, a 6’4″ guard who is averaging 13 points per game.  Grambling has very little size; the biggest player in its seven-man rotation is 6’7″, 240 lb. Jamal Breaux.  Breaux is the SWAC’s leading returning rebounder and came into this season averaging 52% from the field for his career, but in three games so far this season he is shooting 36% and only collecting 4.3 boards per game.  Grambling as a team is shooting just 33% from the field and an abysmal 55% from the foul line.  Conversely, its opponents are shooting 50% from the field (43% from 3-land).

The day before playing The Citadel, Grambling State takes on Morehead State, another winless team (0-5).

It will be interesting to see how the Bulldogs fare in neutral-site games against teams with at least similar talent levels.  Playing two games in two days will be a good warmup for the Southern Conference tournament (although assuming the Bulldogs might play more than one game in that tourney is always dangerous).  I will be disappointed if The Citadel doesn’t win at least one of these two games.  Central Arkansas is probably a slight favorite, but the Bulldogs likely would get the edge over Grambling.

Live from Charleston, the Cancun Challenge

I’m still amused (or perhaps bemused) by the format of the Cancun Challenge.  Basically, it’s a four-team tournament with guests…

Vanderbilt, Virginia Commonwealth, New Mexico, and Drake are in the actual bracketing for the tournament.  Drake-Vandy and VCU-New Mexico are the first round matchups, with the winners and losers playing each other the next day.  All of that makes sense.

What doesn’t make a lot of sense is that six other teams are part of the Challenge, but won’t compete in the mini-tourney outlined above.  Those six schools are The Citadel, Grambling State, Central Arkansas, South Dakota State, Central Florida, and Morehead State.

Basically, what happens in this “tournament” is that the Vandy-VCU-UNM-Drake group each host two games in the U.S. against two opponents from the six-pack mentioned in the previous paragraph.  It doesn’t really matter which two, because they don’t impact the tournament brackets for any team.  Then all ten teams will go to Cancun, with the four host schools playing an actual tournament while the remaining squads play two pre-determined matchups against other members of the “lesser six”.  The Citadel, for example, will play Central Arkansas and Grambling State in Cancun.

Further confusing things is that there were only eight available spots for the six-pack against the “fab four” in those U.S.-based matchups, so a couple of teams had to play “filler” schools for their second game.  The Citadel thus needed another opponent as part of the Challenge, and Cincinnati Christian is it.

All of this is an effort to cram as many games into an official tournament as possible, because they all count as two games (instead of four) for scheduling purposes.

At any rate, the bottom line is that The Citadel plays Cincinnati Christian tonight.  This will be the first time the two schools have met in hoops.  Cincinnati Christian is an NCCAA school (like Grace Bible College, the opponent in The Citadel’s season opener) and is also a member of NAIA Division II.  CCU, which has about 1100 students, is a member of the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, which includes schools such as Asbury, Berea, Alice Lloyd, and the St. Louis College of Pharmacy.  (The Citadel has played Asbury twice in recent years, winning those two games by scores of 75-48 and 81-60.)  I am not sure, but I think this is Cincinnati Christian’s first year in the KIAC.  In a preseason poll listed on the KIAC website, the Eagles are picked to finish next-to-last in the league, just ahead of SLCOP.

The Bulldogs will be the first of two Division I opponents for Cincinnati Christian this season.  The Eagles will also play Liberty in late December.  The Flames were the opponent the last time CCU played a D-1 team, which was two years ago, Liberty winning 101-65.  Liberty and Cincinnati Christian also met the year before that, an 81-51 triumph for the Flames.

Cincinnati Christian was 23-14 last season.  CCU had been the top seed in the NCCAA national tournament, but lost in the quarterfinals.  Two games later, the Eagles finished their season by winning a consolation game against none other than Grace Bible College, 104-87.  That was the 40th time the two schools had met on the court, with CCU winning 33 of those contests.

This season Cincinnati Christian is 4-1, with victories over Ohio Chillocothe, Kuyper College, Boyce College, and Kentucky Christian, the last two wins coming after the lone loss, 104-67 to Mount Vernon (OH) Nazarene.  Mount Vernon Nazarene was the preseason #3 team in NAIA Division II.

It’s hard to get a read on CCU when you examine the box scores from its first five games.  The Eagles’ first three games were played at a breakneck pace (82, 91, and 92 possessions).  That included an easy win, a close win, and a blowout loss (the 92-possession game).  Then either the Eagles or their opponents lowered the throttle, as the last two games have been played at a more normal pace (71 and 73 possessions).  CCU has occasionally been turnover-prone, but has also forced its fair share of TOs.

The best player for the Eagles is probably Trenton Calloway, a 6’6″, 260 lb. center averaging 15.6 points (on 71% shooting) and 9.8 rebounds per game.  Calloway is not a good free throw shooter (38%).  Chris Scott, a 6’0″ guard, is averaging 11.2 points per game and 4.4 assists per game.  Scott also averages over 3 turnovers per game, as opposed to Tommy McGuire, a 5’10” guard who has almost as many assists as Scott (22 to 18) but has a solid 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.  The Eagles don’t have much of a rebounding presence aside from Calloway.  Their other frontcourt players include Drew Ellis, a slender (215 lbs.) 6’7″ forward, and 6’9″, 265 lb. center Luke Mace.  CCU has played at least 12 guys in each game, incidentally.

That’s about all I have on Cincinnati Christian.  The Bulldogs should win this game, and I believe they will.  I expect a more coherent performance than in The Citadel’s win over Grace Bible College.  I think if the Bulldogs stay within themselves and avoid turnovers, victory should be assured.