Schools that have never made the NCAA Tournament — the 2016 edition

Updated: The 2017 Edition

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

All season records are through February 28

League tourney time is right around the corner, with the regular season drawing to a close for most of the nation’s conferences. That means it’s time for March Madness, with schools across the country striving to making the promised land, the NCAA Tournament.

Most of them will not succeed. After all, there are 351 institutions that play men’s basketball at the Division I level, and only 68 of them will make the NCAAs. For some of those schools, though, the failure to make the tourney is not just a brief blip in their respective hardwood histories.

There are 33 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 (like Central Arkansas or Bryant) and longtime no-nos (such as Hartford or UMKC).

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 schools like Denver, Maryland-Eastern Shore, or Stetson, the annual tradition of watching Selection Sunday with no vested interest has become a numbing experience, if not a depressing one.

History shows that it is hard for these schools to break through. When I started writing about this topic in 2010, I listed the twenty schools with the longest waits for an NCAA tourney bid. Of those twenty, seventeen of them are still waiting. One of the three no longer on the list, Centenary, simply dropped to Division III after 50 years of frustration.

However, there is hope, as the other two schools dropped off the list because they finally made the tournament last season. For UC Irvine, which had been in D-1 since 1978, the dream was realized when it won the Big West tourney title. The program had lost in the conference championship game on four previous occasions.

Meanwhile, Buffalo (a D-1 member for 26 years, and continuously since 1992) won the MAC tourney and earned its first trip to the NCAAs in the process, having come very close several times before but never quite getting over the hump. Both UCI and Buffalo lost close games in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last season, but at least they got there.

Before starting this year’s report on the longtime no-timers, however, 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 the majority of the never-beens.

First (last?) among this group of schools is Dartmouth. The Big Green was the national finalist twice (in 1942 and 1944), and has made five other appearances in the tournament. However, Dartmouth last made the NCAAs in 1959. That streak will continue for at least one more season, as the Big Green has already been eliminated from the Ivy League title race (and that conference has no postseason tournament).

Next up (down?) is another member of the Ivies, Yale, which has not appeared in the NCAAs since 1962, the last of three trips for that program. However, the Elis are currently in first place in the Ivy League, and stand a decent chance to get that long-awaited return trip (after narrowly missing out last season).

Other schools that have made at least one appearance in the NCAA Tournament, but haven’t been back since 1996 (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), Oregon State (1990), 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), Green Bay (1996), Montana State (1996), New Orleans (1996), Northern Illinois (1996), Portland (1996), San Jose State (1996), Santa Clara (1996), ULM (1996), and Western Carolina (1996).

Yes, twelve schools that appeared in the 1996 tournament have not been back since, which is more than a little flukish.

Note: Seattle (a finalist in 1958, but with no NCAA appearances since 1969) and Houston Baptist (made the tourney in 1984) both left D-1 and then later returned, so they haven’t continuously been in the division after making their most recent NCAA tourney appearances.

Last year, Northeastern and SMU both made the NCAAs after long absences. They had last made the field in 1991 and 1993, respectively.

Besides Yale, teams on the above list with a reasonable chance to make it back to the NCAAs this season include Furman, Toledo, Jacksonville, Marshall (still trying to overcome the Curse of Randy Nesbit), Oregon State, Louisiana Tech, Towson, Tennessee State, Green Bay, and Northern Illinois.

Of course, it’s possible none of the above-mentioned schools return to the tournament. Most of them would have to win their conference tourneys to get a bid. An exception to that might be Oregon State, which holds the dubious distinction of suffering from the longest current tournament appearance drought of any power 5 school save Northwestern.

Speaking of the Wildcats, 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.

The NCAA Tournament began in 1939, with the final that year held in Evanston, Illinois (which must really annoy Northwestern fans). In 1948, the NCAA reorganized into separate divisions (university and college) for its member institutions. Of the schools that since 1948 have continuously been in what is now Division I, there are five which have never made the tournament field.

All five of those schools theoretically could have been in the tournament beginning in 1939, so for them the wait is actually longer than their history as official members of Division I. (This is just one of many crushing items/statistics about these institutions’ basketball histories.)

The five schools are known as “The Forgotten Five”. The class of 1948 (or 1939, if you want to get overly technical):

——-

Northwestern: It is hard to believe a school in a power conference could fail to get an at-large bid in all this time, especially with the expansion of the tournament, but Northwestern has made believers of us all.

Of the 65 schools in the top five leagues (counting Notre Dame as an ACC member), 52 have made at least one appearance in the NCAA tournament over the past five years. That’s 80% of all power-conference schools.

Of the thirteen that haven’t, only six haven’t made the tourney over the past seven years: South Carolina (last made the NCAAs in 2004), Auburn (2003), TCU (1998), Rutgers (1991), Oregon State (1990), and Northwestern. (It should be noted that TCU and Rutgers haven’t continuously been members of a power conference during that seven-year stretch.)

If you’re wondering how a major-conference school could somehow manage to miss out on the tournament for so long, it’s fairly simple: Northwestern hasn’t had a winning record in Big 10 play since 1968. That may be a more amazing mark of futility than the failure to make the NCAAs.

Northwestern’s struggles in conference action is a tidbit mentioned in John Feinstein’s recent article in The Washington Post on the Wildcats’ hoops program, one of a series of stories on the Forgotten Five over the past few weeks in that newspaper (all authored by Feinstein).

This season, Northwestern is 18-11 overall, but only 6-10 in league play. The Wildcats’ only chance at an NCAA bid this season is to win the Big 10 tourney, and they won’t be able to play Rutgers in every game.

Army: Not only was 1968 the last time Northwestern finished with a winning record in the Big 10, it was also the year Army turned down an NCAA bid and played in the NIT instead. It wasn’t a bizarre decision by any means (as Feinstein relates in his piece on Army hoops).

[Tangent: the last school to turn down an NCAA bid was Marquette, in 1970, a move made by the remarkable Al McGuire, who should be the subject of a major motion picture sooner rather than later. Schools are no longer allowed to decline NCAA bids to play in the NIT, a tournament which is now owned by the NCAA.]

Army went undefeated in 1944 (15-0), but didn’t play in any postseason tourneys; wartime travel restrictions played a role in that. Would the Black Knights have received an NCAA invite in an era in which the tournament only included eight teams? We’ll never know.

As for this year, Army is 18-12 overall, 9-9 in the Patriot League. A run through the league tourney may not be probable, but it is possible.

The Citadel: The Bulldogs have now lost 20+ games in five of the last six seasons, though this year’s campaign (10-21 overall, 3-15 SoCon) has been a little different, given it was the first season in Charleston for Duggar Baucom and the frenetic style of play he employs (as detailed in John Feinstein’s school profile). Regardless, The Citadel will have to wait for at least one more year.

William and Mary: In my opinion, the Tribe is the Forgotten Five program that most deserves to break through and make the NCAAs. The past two seasons have been tortuous, as excellent William and Mary squads have fallen one game short of the Big Dance.

This year, the Tribe is 19-10 overall, 11-7 in the CAA. I wouldn’t be surprised to see William and Mary in the league final for a third consecutive year. The problem is that the Tribe is 0-9 all-time in conference championship games (in three different leagues).

St. Francis College: John Feinstein’s story on the Terriers includes a memorable quote from the school chaplain prior to last season’s NEC title game, which was hosted by St. Francis:

We’ve been in the desert longer than Moses. The end is near.

Moses eventually got out of the desert. St. Francis College, not so much.

There isn’t likely to be any relief for SFC this year, either. After being just one game away from the oasis last season, in 2015-2016 the Terriers are 15-16 overall, 11-7 in the conference.

Perhaps St. Francis can make another tournament run. One gets the sense, though, that the window of opportunity (at least for right now) may have closed.

Next up on the list of the dance-averse are two New England universities still in search of an initial NCAA bid despite being members of D-1 since 1962. As a hardwood tandem, they are known as “The Dour Duo”. Both are members of the America East conference.

New Hampshire: The Wildcats are 18-11 overall, 11-5 in conference play, and have clinched a second consecutive winning season (after not having any winning campaigns in the previous 20 years).

Stony Brook is the league leader (more on the Seawolves later) and will be favored in the conference tourney. However, UNH cannot be completely dismissed. New Hampshire probably has one more opportunity next season to break through with its current group of players, but sometimes it’s easier to arrive a year early. This could be that year.

Maine: On the other hand, it has been another tough season in Orono, as the Black Bears are 8-21 (4-12 in league play). That is better than last season (3-27), to be fair.

Maine will have to wait at least one more year (a sentence that will be repeated, with minor variations, several times in this post).

The rest of the rundown:

– Denver (D-1 from 1948 to 1980, then back to the division in 1999): The Pioneers are 15-14 overall, 7-9 in the Summit League. This season has been better than last year for slow-slower-slowest Denver (only two other Division I teams average fewer possessions per contest), but a surprise run through the league tournament seems unlikely.

– UT-Rio Grande Valley (class of 1969): If you’ve never heard of UT-Rio Grande Valley, don’t feel too badly about it. The school formerly known as UT-Pan American merged with UT-Brownsville to become UT-Rio Grande Valley, and also changed nicknames (from Broncs to Vaqueros).

Recently, the school announced that former Texas head football coach Mack Brown will lead a feasibility study for potentially establishing a new football program. Brown is expected to recommend that UTRGV add the sport, as there are a large number of high school quarterbacks in the region who could be offered scholarships to play free safety.

On the hardwood, the school hasn’t had much success over the years, regardless of its name, and this year is no exception. UTRGV is 8-20 overall, 4-9 in the WAC.

– Stetson (class of 1972): The Hatters are 10-21 overall, 4-10 in the Atlantic Sun, and ineligible for the NCAAs because of a sub-par APR score. Thus, the school’s most notable hoops player will remain the late Ted Cassidy. You rang?

– Grambling State (class of 1978): The bad news is that Grambling State has only won six games this season. The good news is that the Tigers have won more games this season than they did in any of their four previous campaigns (4, 0, 5, and 2 wins).

This isn’t going to be the year.

– Maryland-Eastern Shore (D-1 in 1974-75, then back to the division for good in 1982): UMES had suffered 12 consecutive 20+ loss seasons until last year’s mini-miracle, which resulted in 18 wins.

Alas, this year the Hawks are 9-21 overall (6-9 in the MEAC). Eight of UMES’ nine conference losses have been by single digits. The magic has left the shore, at least for the moment.

– Youngstown State (D-1 in 1948, then returning to the division in 1982): The Penguins are 11-20, 6-12 in the Horizon League. It’s basically a repeat of last year’s 11-21 season. In other words, time to get ready for spring football practice.

– Bethune-Cookman (class of 1981): The Wildcats are only 13-16 overall, but 9-5 in the MEAC. Could they sneak through the league tourney and grab that elusive NCAA tourney bid?

It’s not out of the question. After all, this is the MEAC Tournament, which always has something for everyone, on and off the court. See pages 40-41 of this document for the men’s and women’s tourney brackets (the two tournaments take place over a six-day period at the Scope Arena in Norfolk, VA).

This year’s entertainment at the MEAC tourney includes a tipoff concert by the “Legends of Soul” (featuring Freddie Jackson) and a pair of official after-party events, one of which is hosted by Kid ‘n Play.

– Western Illinois (class of 1982): During the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons, the Leathernecks won a combined 40 games. However, WIU followed up those fine seasons with 10- and 8-win campaigns, and was 10-17 this year. Western Illinois finished in last place in the Summit League and did not qualify for the conference tournament.

– Chicago State (class of 1985): The Cougars won only eight games last season. This year, Chicago State is 4-26 and has only one Division I victory, which came against…Western Illinois.

Unfortunately, right now Chicago State has much bigger problems than its basketball team’s record.

– Hartford (class of 1985): The Hawks are 9-22, 4-12 in the America East. It looks like this will be another season of torment for WCSC-TV sportscaster Kevin Bilodeau and the rest of Hartford’s faithful fans.

– UMKC (class of 1988): Six of the eight schools in the WAC have never been to the NCAAs. Of the six, the one having the best season (Grand Canyon) is ineligible to participate because it hasn’t completed its probationary period in D-1.

We’ve already seen Chicago State and UT-Rio Grande Valley on this list. As for UMKC, the Kangaroos are 10-18 overall, 3-10 in the WAC. UMKC does have a win over a power conference team this season (Mississippi State), but that’s probably going to be the highlight of its season.

– Sacramento State (class of 1992): Last year was a very good one for the Hornets, which won 21 games. One of those was a CIT triumph over Portland, the first postseason tournament victory in the program’s history.

This year, things haven’t gone nearly as well. Sacramento State is 11-16, 4-12 in the Big Sky. In past years, that would have eliminated the Hornets from league tournament qualification, but this year the conference has expanded its tourney to include all 12 teams.

– UT Martin (class of 1993): The Skyhawks are tied for first place in the OVC West, with a 10-6 conference mark (18-13 overall). It’s the second consecutive solid season for UT Martin, which won’t be the favorite at the OVC tourney (that will be Belmont), but would seem to have at least a puncher’s chance.

– Jacksonville State (class of 1996): The Gamecocks are 8-23, 4-12 in the OVC. For the third season in a row, Jacksonville State will not qualify for the league tournament. It’s kind of hard to make the NCAAs in a one-bid league if you can’t make your conference tourney.

– Quinnipiac (class of 1999): At 9-20, 6-14 in the MAAC, Quinnipiac is going backwards. The Bobcats won twenty games in 2013-14 and fifteen games last season.

Perhaps in an election year, it is a bit much to expect Quinnipiac to fully concentrate on hoops when there is so much polling to do.

– Elon (class of 2000): The Phoenix are 16-15 overall, but just 7-11 in CAA play. The league tournament should be one of the nation’s most competitive this year, but it’s difficult to envision Elon winning four games in four days.

– High Point (class of 2000): High Point is due. This is the fourth straight season the Panthers (20-9, 13-5) have won or shared the regular-season title in the Big South. High Point also has the league’s best player in John Brown.

However, Brown missed the regular-season finale with a foot injury. If he is limited (or simply unable to play) in the conference tournament, it could be crushing for HPU.

– Sacred Heart (class of 2000): The Pioneers lost 10 of their first 11 games, but things improved once conference action began. Sacred Heart is 12-17 overall, with a winning record in the NEC (11-7).

The league tourney could be a brawl. Sacred Heart is a potential sleeper.

– Stony Brook (class of 2000): Over the last six seasons, the Seawolves have won 22, 15, 22, 25, 23, and 23 games. Last year, Stony Brook was very close to an NCAA tournament bid. How close? This close.

That had to hurt.

This year, the Seawolves are 23-6 overall, 14-2 in conference play — but with losses in two of their last three games.

Stony Brook will host every game it plays in the league tournament. Will this finally be the year?

UC Riverside (class of 2002): The Highlanders won 14 games last season and are 14-16 this year. UC Riverside is a respectable middle-of-the-pack Big West squad, but winning the conference tournament might be a bit of a stretch.

– IPFW (class of 2002): The Mastodons are 23-8 overall and tied for first place in the Summit League with a 12-4 mark. The conference tournament is in Sioux Falls, which could be an issue (nearby South Dakota State being the other team that tied for first). Still, this should be a good opportunity for IPFW to make the NCAA tourney.

Mastodons may be extinct, but you still can’t count them out.

Gardner-Webb (class of 2003): The Runnin’ Bulldogs are 15-15 overall, 10-8 in the Big South. It wouldn’t be a total shock for Gardner-Webb to be playing for the league tournament title on March 6.

Savannah State (class of 2003): The Tigers are 13-13 overall, 8-6 in the MEAC. Savannah State needs a few breaks to go its way in the MEAC tournament. Hey, it could happen.

– Lipscomb (class of 2004): The Bisons are 11-20, 7-7 in the Atlantic Sun. If North Florida were to be upset in the league tournament, then just about any other team in the top six could win it, including Lipscomb. I wouldn’t bet the mortgage on it.

UC Davis (class of 2005): The Aggies won 25 games last season and the Big West regular-season title. This season, UC Davis is 10-17, 5-9 in the league.

Last year could have been the year. This year almost certainly won’t be.

Utah Valley (class of 2005): Utah Valley is 12-16, 6-7 in the WAC. That isn’t great, but it’s better than the three other WAC teams on this list.

Indeed, the Wolverines are 6-0 against UMKC, Chicago State, and UTRGV (the three worst teams in the league). However, they are winless against the three schools expected to compete for the conference tourney title (including the favorite, New Mexico State).

Well, that’s the roll call for this season. Will any of those teams finally get their moment in the sun?

Surprisingly enough, I think so. Last year it was UC Irvine and Buffalo. This year could be the time to shine for Stony Brook, or IPFW, or High Point, or maybe (after all these years) William and Mary.

One other potential first-timer not on the list is Cal State Bakersfield, which has been a full-fledged D-1 member for only six years. The Roadrunners (20-8, 10-3) are having a nice season in the WAC and could definitely challenge for the league tourney title.

As I’ve said many times before, if any of the aforementioned schools qualify for the NCAAs, they better not be dropped into one of the play-in games. The “First Four” chiefly serves to limit the tournament experience of the automatic qualifiers, which is unfair and asinine. If the NCAA has to have play-in games (it doesn’t), make at-large teams play in all of them.

A team that handles the pressure of a one-bid league tournament and survives to garner an NCAA bid should always be in the real tournament — the main draw. Always.

Good luck to all the dreamers out there.

Schools that have never made the NCAA Tournament — the 2015 edition

Updated: The 2016 edition

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

All records are through March 1

It’s time again for another round of March Madness. The regular season is drawing to a close, and conference tournament action is about to begin. Across the country, schools will make a final push to make it to the promised land, the NCAA Tournament.

For some of them, however, there has never been a journey to the mountaintop.

There are currently 35 schools that have been in Division I for at least a decade that have yet to make a trip to the NCAAs. Of course, there are 18 other schools in D-1 that haven’t received a solitary tourney invite either, but there is a difference between recent D-1 entrants such as Northern Kentucky or Incarnate Word and longtime outsiders like UT-Pan American or Youngstown State.

Of those 35 schools with 10+ years in D-1 but no bids to show for it, 18 of them have been in Division I for 30 years or more and are still waiting. For fans of Hartford, or Bethune-Cookman, or Western Illinois, the annual tradition of watching as other schools get their names called on Selection Sunday has become more than a little depressing.

This post is about those schools that have known nothing but pain, nothing but longing, nothing but disappointment. Will the dream finally come true for one or two of them this season? Sadly, history says that the answer is no.

However, history can be rewritten. I truly believe there is hope this year. A couple of longtime wannabes may get asked to the dance this time. It won’t be easy,though.

I started posting about this topic in 2010. That year, I highlighted the 20 schools that had waited the longest for their first NCAA bid. As of 2015, nineteen of those schools are still waiting. The twentieth? Centenary, which left Division I four years ago.

In a way, it is hard to blame the folks in Shreveport for throwing in the towel. Centenary would have almost certainly made the NCAAs when Robert Parish was enrolled there, but instead its games from that era — including its players’ individual statistics — did not count. If you want to read yet another horror story about the NCAA, this 1975 Sports Illustrated story is for you: Invisible in the Post

In recent years, I’ve expanded the rundown to include schools with at least ten years or more in D-1 but no appearances in the NCAA Tournament. For all of those schools, making the ultimate leap into the field of 68 seems almost impossible. However, one did beat the odds in 2013-14.

Last season, Cal Poly entered the Big West tournament with a 10-19 record, but promptly beat the league’s top two seeds (including star-crossed UC-Irvine; more on the Anteaters later). Cal Poly captured the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAAs, the Mustangs’ first in 20 years as a D-1 member.

Of course, that bid came with an asterisk, as Cal Poly was relegated to “almost but not really in the tournament” status by having to participate in a play-in game. The Mustangs did win the much-despised PIG, however, and advanced to the “real” tournament, where they lost to Wichita State.

Congratulations to Cal Poly for dropping off this list and not emulating Centenary in the process. Alas, two more schools have been added to the 10+ years club, UC Davis and Utah Valley. For the Aggies and Wolverines, the struggle begins anew (though it may be a brief struggle for UC Davis, as we’ll see below).

Before beginning this season’s rundown of the longtime no-timers, however, it’s worth mentioning another list of schools. There are quite a few institutions that have made at least one NCAA appearance, but haven’t been back to the tournament in at least 20 years. Some of those schools have been waiting longer for a return to the Big Dance than many of the never-beens have been in D-1.

First among this group of schools is Dartmouth. The Big Green has made seven appearances in the NCAA tournament, and was the national finalist twice (in 1942 and 1944). However, Dartmouth last made the tourney in 1959, and that streak of futility will continue for another year, as the Big Green is tied for last place in the Ivy League (which has no postseason tournament).

Next is another member of the Ivies, Yale, which has not appeared in the NCAAs since 1962, the last of three trips for the Elis. However, Yale is currently in second place in the conference, and still has a chance to crash the NCAA party. Overcoming hoops nouveau riche Harvard may prove too difficult a task, though.

Other schools that have made at least one appearance in the NCAA Tournament, but haven’t been back since 1995 (or earlier) while continuously in D-1:

Tennessee Tech (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), Oregon State (1990), Loyola Marymount (1990), Idaho (1990), Louisiana Tech (1991), Towson (1991), Northeastern (1991), St. Francis-PA (1991), Rutgers (1991), Howard (1992), Georgia Southern (1992), Campbell (1992), Fordham (1992), East Carolina (1993), SMU (1993), Rider (1994), Tennessee State (1994), and Tulane (1995).

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

Some of those “last time in the field” appearances have been notable. Tennessee Tech may want to forget its 1963 trip, a 111-42 loss to eventual national champion Loyola of Chicago. In 1977, VMI made it to the round of 16 (the Keydets had reached the Elite Eight the year before).

Brown’s reward for winning the Ivy League in 1986? A matchup with Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. Sure, that was fair. (Of course, the same thing happened to Navy two years later, but then a player named David Robinson vaulted into the national consciousness at the home team’s expense.)

Marist has made two NCAA appearances, the last coming in 1987, with Rik Smits (the Dunking Dutchman) leading the Red Foxes. The year 1987 was also the last time Marshall made the field, as the next season the Thundering Herd began suffering from the Curse of Randy Nesbit.

It is hard to believe it has been 25 years since the emotional, mesmerizing run of Loyola Marymount to the Elite Eight, which included one of the most amazing second-round games ever played, the Lions’ 149-115 destruction of defending national champion Michigan. It is almost as hard to believe that it was also the last time LMU made the NCAAs.

– Worthless trivia department: When Jacksonville made its last NCAA trip, in 1986, the Dolphins were coached by Bob Wenzel. When Rutgers made its most recent appearance in the Big Dance, in 1991, the Scarlet Knights were coached by…Bob Wenzel.

– Worthless trivia department, part 2: Idaho State’s last NCAA appearance, in 1987, was a one-game cameo in Salt Lake City. Idaho’s last tourney trip in 1990 also lasted one game, and also took place in Salt Lake City.

– Worthless trivia department: part 3: In 1991, there were three play-in games that took place between the league champions of six conferences, an early effort by the NCAA to eliminate as many automatic bids for smaller conferences as possible. Unlike the PIGs of today, these games were not official NCAA Tournament games, so the three teams that lost are not credited with a tourney appearance.

All three losing teams (Fordham, Jackson State, and Florida A&M) subsequently appeared in the NCAAs; Fordham’s trip came the following year, in 1992, the last time the Rams made the field. The team that beat Fordham in that 1991 play-in game was St. Francis (PA), the first and only time the Red Flash have qualified for the NCAA Tournament.

– Last year, two schools with long breaks between appearances broke through, Mercer and Coastal Carolina — and the Bears made their long-awaited return a memorable one by beating Duke in the first round.

This season, it appears that SMU will make the field after just missing out on an at-large bid last year. Others to watch in this group: Toledo (tied for first in the MAC’s West Division), Bowling Green (first place in the MAC’s East Division), Northeastern (tied for first in the CAA), Louisiana Tech (in first place in CUSA), Georgia Southern (tied for first in the Sun Belt), and Rider (the MAAC’s second-place team).

Among the power conference schools, Oregon State’s 25-year drought is currently the longest, not counting Northwestern…and that’s the cue to start with the list of schools that have never made the NCAAs. As usual, we begin with the Forgotten Five (recently described by one school president as a “very elegant group”).

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.

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

Northwestern: NU actually hosted the very first NCAA championship game back in 1939, though technically not the “Final Four”, which as a separate concept did not exist in the days of an eight-team tournament. The semifinal rounds that year were played in Philadelphia and San Francisco.

Of all the schools on this rundown, Northwestern is almost certainly the biggest underachiever. The NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. It is hard to imagine a school in a “power conference” could fail to get an at-large bid during that time, but that is the case for the Wildcats.

Of the 65 schools in the top five leagues (counting Notre Dame as an ACC member), 48 have made at least one appearance in the NCAA tournament over the past four years. That’s 74% of all power-conference schools.

Of the seventeen that haven’t, only six haven’t made the tourney over the past seven years: South Carolina (last made the NCAAs in 2004), Auburn (2003), TCU (1998), Rutgers (1991), Oregon State (1991), and Northwestern. Rutgers hasn’t been in a power league all that time, of course (neither has TCU). The failure by Oregon State to make the field of 64 (or 68) over the last quarter-century is remarkable, but it pales in comparison to Northwestern’s infamous streak.

That streak is likely to continue for at least another season, as the Wildcats are 14-15 overall, 5-11 in the Big 10.

Army: In 1968, Army turned down an NCAA bid, electing to play in the NIT instead. Army had been successful in the NIT under Bob Knight, reaching the semifinals on multiple occasions, and also had a chance to play at Madison Square Garden in the first round. The Black Knights would lose to Notre Dame in that first-round game.

(In case you were wondering, the last school to turn down an NCAA bid was Marquette, in 1970. That move was made by the late, truly great Al McGuire. Schools are no longer allowed to decline NCAA bids to play in the NIT, which is now owned by the NCAA.)

Army also went undefeated in 1944 (15-0), but didn’t play in any postseason tourneys due in part to wartime travel restrictions. I am not sure the Black Knights would have been guaranteed an NCAA invite, as it was still just an eight-team invitational event. It seems likely, though. Many years later, the Helms Foundation awarded Army the retroactive 1944 national title.

All that being said, though, Army is still waiting to make that first NCAA appearance.

This season, the Black Knights are 15-14 overall, but in last place (6-12) in the Patriot League. A run through the league tourney seems unlikely.

The Citadel: The Bulldogs avoided a fifth consecutive 20-loss season, but at 11-18 (6-12 SoCon), it was another frustrating campaign. There will be no party on Selection Sunday for the cadets. Same song, different year.

I wrote about the program’s tortured history in massive detail seven years ago. Since then, things have not improved.

William and Mary: Last year, the Tribe came oh so close to breaking through, but lost a heartbreaker to Delaware in the CAA final, 75-74. The Blue Hens scored the final seven points in the contest to steal the bid.

This season, the Tribe (18-10, 12-6) finished in a four-way tie for first in a balanced CAA (despite a bizarre home loss to Drexel that closed out the regular season). William and Mary will be the top seed in the league tournament.

I wouldn’t bet on a repeat appearance in the conference title game, but I wouldn’t bet against it either. I’m certainly not betting against Marcus Thornton if he gets another championship-winning opportunity.

St. Francis College: It has been a banner season for the Terriers, 21-10 (15-3 in the NEC). St. Francis has clinched the top seed in the league tourney. This appears to be SFC’s best chance in years to grab the brass ring.

The New York City press is starting to take notice of the oldest collegiate basketball program in the city. The late James Luisi, a former NBA player better known for his work as an actor (including Lt. Chapman on The Rockford Files), is arguably the school’s most famous hoops alum.

By getting the top seed, SFC will get to play at home throughout the NEC tournament. That’s a big deal.

Also worth noting: the Terriers at least know they have an NIT bid to fall back on if they don’t win the league tourney (the same is true for William and Mary). SFC wants more than that, though.

Next up on the list of the never-beens are two New England schools still in search of a bid despite being members of D-1 since 1962. As a hardwood tandem, they are known as “The Dour Duo”. This season, one is doing considerably better than the other.

New Hampshire: The Wildcats are 18-11 overall, and finished fourth in the America East. This is UNH’s first winning season since 1994-95.

Albany, which leads the conference, is the favorite to get the league’s autobid. Still, Bill Herrion’s crew has a puncher’s chance to crash the party, which is not something you can say too often about New Hampshire’s basketball program.

Maine: Times are tough in Orono. The Black Bears are 3-26 this season (after winning only six games last year). Even the school’s hockey team has a losing record.

Maybe Rick Carlisle could return to campus and turn the hoopsters into winners. After all, he started his collegiate career at Maine before transferring to Virginia. I’m guessing he’s happy coaching the Dallas Mavericks, though.

The rest of the rundown:

– Denver (D-1 from 1948 to 1980, then back to the division in 1999): A couple of seasons ago, the Pioneers were coming off consecutive 22-win campaigns. The window may have closed for Denver, however, which is 12-17, 6-10 in the Summit League.

Only one D-1 school (American) plays at a slower pace than the Pioneers, which has partially masked the fact UD is poor defensively (bottom 30 nationally).

– UT-Pan American (class of 1969): The Broncs are in last place in the WAC and are 9-19 overall. It’s not going to happen this year (a sentence I will repeat, with variations, throughout the rundown).

– Stetson (class of 1972): Ted Cassidy’s alma mater is 9-21 this season. Only once in the last six years have the Hatters managed to get to double digits in wins, a fact that would even depress Uncle Fester.

– UC Irvine (class of 1978): UCI was the top seed in last season’s Big West tournament, only to lose in the semifinals to Cal Poly (as mentioned above). This year, the Anteaters are 17-11 overall and alone in second place (10-4) in the league standings.

The most well-known UCI player is 7’6″ Mamadou Ndiaye, who has been injured this season and has missed most of the Anteaters’ games. However, Ndiaye returned to action on February 26. Perhaps UCI’s dream will only be delayed by one year.

– Grambling State (class of 1978): The Tigers are 2-23 this year, and winless in SWAC play. That continues a trend, as in the previous three seasons Grambling won 4, 0, and 5 games. GSU is currently last in the kenpom ratings, a position it has held at the end of two of the last three seasons. To state the obvious, this isn’t going to be the year.

– Maryland-Eastern Shore (D-1 in 1974-75, then back to the division for good in 1982): Last year, UMES had its 12th consecutive 20+ loss season.

This year? Well, it’s a new and much better one. The Hawks are 17-13, 10-5 in the MEAC. In his first season at UMES, Bobby Collins has performed one of the nation’s best coaching jobs.

The odds are against Maryland-Eastern Shore winning the MEAC tournament. Top seed North Carolina Central is undefeated in league play and will be hard to beat, as will second-place Norfolk State (particularly with the tourney being held at the Scope).

Having said that, I wouldn’t put anything past the MEAC tournament, a six-day extravaganza that defies convention (see the bracket on page 39 of this document). This year, Gladys Knight opens the festivities.

– Youngstown State (D-1 in 1948, then returning to the division in 1982): The Penguins are 11-20, 2-14 in the Horizon League (last place). Hey, did you hear Bo Pelini is the new football coach?

– Bethune-Cookman (class of 1981): This is another program that had its window of opportunity three or four years ago. This season, the Wildcats are 10-19, 6-8 in the MEAC. I don’t really think this is going to be the year.

– Western Illinois (class of 1982): Speaking of windows of opportunity, the Leathernecks won 22 games two years ago. This season? 8-19, 3-13 in the Summit League (last place). It’s not meant to be this season.

– Chicago State (class of 1985): Of the seven schools in the WAC eligible for the NCAA auto-bid (Grand Canyon hasn’t competed its reclassification period yet), five of them have never made the Big Dance. Despite that, this season the odds are good the league doesn’t send a newbie to the tourney.

Of the WAC no-nos, Chicago State is the least likely to break through this year, as the Cougars are 8-22 overall, 4-9 in the league (next-to-last place).

– Hartford (class of 1985): Dionne Warwick is Hartford’s most famous alum. If one of the NCAA regional pods were in San Jose, and Hartford won the America East tournament, by law the selection committee would have to send the Hawks there.

However, San Jose is not a host site this year, and Hartford (14-15, 7-9 in league play) is not likely to win the AE tourney. That will greatly upset WCSC-TV sportscaster Kevin Bilodeau, who may be the most ardent Hartford fan working in local television.

Incidentally, the great big freeway known as L.A. is hosting the West regional.

– UMKC (class of 1988): Here is another never-been from the WAC, and another one with a losing record (13-17). The Kangeroos are actually in second place in the conference standings (8-5), so perhaps UMKC is capable of making a miracle run through the league tourney. Edie McClurg would be so happy.

– Buffalo (D-1 from 1974-77, then back to the division in 1992): Buffalo has put itself in good position several times in recent years, but hasn’t had a lot of luck in the MAC tournament. This year, the Bulls are having a solid season (19-9, 10-6 in conference action).

This is head coach Bobby Hurley’s second year in charge at Buffalo. The former Duke star knows what it takes to be successful in the NCAA Tournament; first, though, you have to get there — and that’s the hard part.

– Sacramento State (class of 1992): From this year’s Blue Ribbon annual, Sacramento State’s preview (written by John Moorehouse):

Sacramento State has a pretty pitiful history as a Division I hoops program. In 24 seasons, the Hornets have never finished with a record better than .500. They’ve also never reached the NCAA tournament.

Nothing lasts forever. And Sacramento State has an excellent chance to end one of those droughts this season.

Maybe both.

Point to Mr. Moorehouse. Sacramento State is currently 19-8 overall, clinching that winning campaign, and is also in first place in the Big Sky (13-3). If it stays in the top spot, Tom Hanks’ alma mater will host the conference tournament — but not at its regular facility, “The Nest“, a/k/a Colberg Court, which seats 1,200.

Instead, the tourney would take place at another site on campus, “The WELL” (the all-caps is apparently intentional). The WELL will seat 3,000 for basketball.

– UT Martin (class of 1993): Last season, the Skyhawks lost their first ten games and did not even qualify for the OVC tournament. Things have greatly improved for new head coach Heath Schroyer’s squad this season, as UT Martin is 18-11 overall, 10-6 in the league. Getting past conference top dog Murray State in the OVC tourney may be a bit much to ask, though.

– Jacksonville State (class of 1996): The Gamecocks, like UT Martin, did not qualify for last year’s OVC tournament. Unlike UT Martin, JSU (12-19, 5-11) did not qualify for this year’s OVC tournament, either.

– Quinnipiac (class of 1999): The Bobcats are a middling MAAC team (15-14, 9-11). To win the league tourney in Albany, Quinnipiac would likely have to beat at least one of the top two teams in the league, Iona and Rider, both of which swept the Bobcats this season. In a recent survey, 100% of respondents considered Quinnipiac’s prospects of claiming the auto-bid to be less than stellar.

– Elon (class of 2000): The Phoenix moved from the SoCon to the CAA this season. Elon is 14-17 overall and finished eighth in a ten-team conference. This doesn’t look like it will be the year.

– High Point (class of 2000): The Panthers (22-8, 13-5) finished tied for first in the Big South but blew a chance to win the league outright on the final Saturday of the regular season. The Big South is a league in which seven teams have a legitimate shot to win the conference tournament.

HPU can grab that auto-bid, but it will have to do so in three games in three days in Conway, South Carolina — and will probably have to beat three of the other contenders in the process.

– Sacred Heart (class of 2000): At 15-16 overall (9-9 in league play), things are looking up for Sacred Heart, as the Pioneers only won five games all of last season. Winning the NEC tournament is probably not in the cards, however.

– Stony Brook (class of 2000): Over the last five seasons, the Seawolves have won 22, 15, 22, 25, and 23 games. This year, Stony Brook is 21-10 overall, 12-4 in the America East (tied for second).

One of these years, the Seawolves are going to rip down the door separating them from the NCAA Tournament. It’s not out of the question it could happen this season.

UC Riverside (class of 2002): The Highlanders are 14-14, 7-7 in the Big West. That’s a nice improvement from recent campaigns. UCR won’t be favored in the Big West tournament, but neither was Cal Poly last season and we all know what happened.

– IPFW (class of 2002): The Mastodons are 16-13, 9-7 in the Summit League. South Dakota State and North Dakota State will be the heavy favorites in the league tournament, but IPFW beat both of those squads during a recent seven-game winning streak. Don’t count out the Mastodons, even though Mastodons are, well, extinct.

Gardner-Webb (class of 2003): The Runnin’ Bulldogs are 18-13 overall, 10-8 in the Big South. As mentioned earlier, the Big South tournament will be a bloodbath, and Gardner-Webb is one of seven teams with a decent shot at the tourney title.

Savannah State (class of 2003): The Tigers are 9-19 overall, 5-9 in the MEAC. Nope, not going to happen this year.

– Lipscomb (class of 2004): The Bisons are 13-16, 7-7 in the Atlantic Sun. FGCU and North Florida are well ahead of the other A-Sun teams in the standings, and will be favored to meet in the league tournament championship game. Lipscomb is 0-4 this season against those two schools.

UC Davis (class of 2005): The Aggies won only nine games last season. This year, UC Davis is 22-5, 12-2 in the Big West, and favored to cut the nets down in Anaheim (site of the Big West tourney).

UC Davis is coached by Jim Les, the former Bradley player and coach (Les also played in the NBA). During his tenure at Bradley, Les led the Braves to four consecutive postseason tournaments, all of which were different events — the NCAAs in 2006 (when Bradley made the Sweet 16), NIT in 2007, CBI in 2008, and CIT in 2009.

Utah Valley (class of 2005): The Wolverines are 10-18 overall, 4-9 in the WAC. Utah Valley has not been an offensive juggernaut, failing to reach 50 points in seven of its defeats (with a low of 33 points in a loss at Seattle).

If New Mexico State somehow loses in the WAC tourney, the door will open for a first-timer to make the NCAAs. With the history of the five never-beens in the league, though, it would surprise nobody if Seattle (the only team in the league to beat NMSU this season, and the only other team in the league to have made the Big Dance) would grab the auto-bid.

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

The answer, I suspect, will be yes. There are too many teams on that list which have had outstanding seasons. One or more of them will prevail. Among the candidates: St. Francis College, William and Mary (either of which would be huge stories), Sacramento State, UC Irvine, Stony Brook, High Point, UT Martin, Buffalo, Gardner-Webb, New Hampshire, and Maryland-Eastern Shore.

One other potential first-timer not on the list is North Florida, which has been a full-fledged Division I member for only six seasons. The Ospreys (20-11, 12-2) won the regular-season Atlantic Sun title and will get to play all of their league tournament games at home.

If any of the aforementioned schools qualify, they better not be shunted off to one of the play-in games (which obviously shouldn’t exist in the first place).

As I’ve said before (and will say again), the play-in games limit the tournament experience of the automatic qualifiers, and that’s tremendously unfair. If the NCAA has to have the despicable PIGs, make the last eight at-large teams play in them.

A team that handles the pressure of a one-bid league tournament and survives to garner an NCAA bid should always be in the main draw. Always.

Good luck, dreamers.

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…

New year, new hoops post

Conference play goes into high gear starting on Wednesday with the Bulldogs’ trip to Boone to face Appalachian State, followed by a matchup at McAlister with the College of Charleston on Saturday.  The next week will feature more road action as the Bulldogs make the western swing through the league, taking on UT-Chattanooga on the 14th and Samford on the 16th.

The Citadel is .500 right now no matter how you look at it, at 7-7 overall, 1-1 in the SoCon.  Last year at this time The Citadel was 6-7 overall, 1-1 in the league.

Facts, observations, etc.:

– The Citadel’s starting lineup against Savannah State included no players hailing from east of the Mississippi River, which is decidedly unusual (if not unprecedented).

– Zach Urbanus is averaging 35. 7 minutes per game, which is in the top 25 nationally.  I worry a little about him and Cameron Wells (34.1 mpg) wearing down over the course of the season, but they logged major minutes last season too, and it didn’t seem to bother them.

– Bulldog opponents have shot better from 40% from three-point land on four occasions.  The Citadel has lost all four of those games.

– The Citadel’s game notes for the Appalachian State game include the statistic that the Bulldogs are 14th nationally in fouls committed per game, at 15.0 per contest.  However, the flip side to that is The Citadel’s opponents have only committed two more fouls than the Bulldogs (212-210).

– The fouling statistics are really just a function of The Citadel’s pace of play.  At 62.3 possessions per game, the Bulldogs are among the ten slowest-playing teams in Division I.

– So while The Citadel is 22nd nationally in fewest turnovers per game, it is actually 103rd in D-1 in terms of turnover rate (which is still not bad; it’s about where the Bulldogs were last season).

– Let’s talk about offensive rebounding for a moment.  The Citadel has struggled at times on the boards this season, and it’s mainly attributable to the Bulldogs not getting their fair share of offensive rebounds.

Joe Wolfinger has 25 offensive boards this season.  Now, that leads the team, but on the other hand, Wolfinger has played 339 minutes so far; he’s averaging one offensive board every 13.5 minutes on the floor.  Bryan Streeter has 18 offensive rebounds in 255 minutes (one every 14.2 minutes).

Those are the guys you would expect to get the majority of the offensive caroms, and they have — but on a per-minute basis, they haven’t been as effective as Ed Conroy might like.  Nobody on the team is actually bringing in an exceptional percentage of offensive rebounds (the best per-minute performer in the category is Mike Groselle, who in limited time has grabbed one every 9.1 minutes).

This is where the Bulldogs really miss John Brown.  Last season Brown had an excellent offensive rebounding campaign, averaging one such board every 9.9 minutes (and he played 537 minutes).  At least one member of the current edition of the Bulldogs needs to repeat (or at least approach repeating) that effort — either that or The Citadel has to significantly increase its shooting percentage, which is unlikely.

– Wolfinger is shooting 44.2% from the floor, but he’s under 40% against Division I competition.  He has only had four games this season in which he has shot better than 50% from the field — against Kenyon, UVA-Wise, Missouri State, and Maryland-Eastern Shore.

Wolfinger has struggled in the two SoCon games.  Here is hoping that he gets better as the second half of the season begins, both offensively and defensively.  He could still be a key cog in the rotation, but perhaps not as an offensive focal point.

– Although Wolfinger is a 7-footer, the Bulldog who appears most comfortable as an offensive post player is Groselle, who suffered an ankle injury that limited his time on the court the last few weeks.  If healthy, I would not be surprised if Groselle’s minutes increase markedly as the season progresses.

– Another freshman, Harrison DuPont, got his first career start against Savannah State (as part of the all-Western starting lineup) and shows potential to be an impact player.  He has played 30+ minutes in each of the last two games, scoring 14 points against Houston and 11 against Savannah State.  He had six turnovers against Houston, but other than that did well in both games, shooting better than 50% from the field and picking up a few rebounds along the way.

– In nine games as a starter, Austin Dahn shot 15.6% from three-point land.  In five games coming off the bench, he is shooting 47.8% from beyond the arc.  Advantage, Ed Conroy.

– Bryan Streeter also has some improved statistics after being switched from the starting lineup.  His rebounding rates have almost doubled.  His free throw shooting has even improved (albeit that’s a very small sample size).

Streeter is shooting 58.8% from the line so far this season (and was 5-6 against Savannah State).  That may not seem impressive, but it’s a big change for the better when compared to last season, when Streeter only made 16 free throws in 44 attempts (36.4%).

The upcoming league games will be tough, considering three are on the road and the one home game is against the College of Charleston, which beat North Carolina on Monday night. Last season The Citadel was a combined 5-2 against the four teams.

The Bulldogs swept Appalachian State in two tight games (one in OT, the other by two points).  The Citadel also swept the College of Charleston in two contests, neither of which was particularly close, something the Cougars will surely remember.

The Citadel lost at home to UT-Chattanooga, and had a disappointing split with Samford — disappointing in the sense that while Charleston’s Bulldogs dominated the Birmingham Bulldogs in the regular-season matchup at Samford, in the conference tourney quarterfinals Samford put a quick end to The Citadel’s championship hopes.

The SoCon looks to be very competitive this season, with a lot of evenly-matched teams.  The Citadel’s 7-7 overall record is in line with the records of its next four opponents, which have current records of 7-6 (Appy), 8-6 (UTC), 8-6 (CofC), and 6-8 (Samford).  Other conference teams with similar records:  Davidson (7-8), Furman (7-6), and Wofford (8-7).  On the other hand,  Western Carolina  is 11-2 (with a win at Louisville) while Elon, Georgia Southern, and UNC-Greensboro are a combined 8-33.

I’m hoping for an entertaining conference race.  My definition of entertaining is one in which The Citadel is in or near the lead…

Post-turkey hoops, live from McAlister

The Citadel went 2-2 on its recent road trip, just about as expected, losing to Missouri State and West Virginia, and winning neutral-site games against Eastern Michigan and Maryland-Eastern Shore.  A few comments on the four games:

  • Against Maryland-Eastern Shore, Mike Groselle had a very active 13 minutes, scoring 14 points (4-4 FG and 6-6 FT) while pulling down 4 rebounds, and also committing 4 fouls.  Talk about an all-action player.
  • UMES reserve frontcourt player Lyvann Obame Obame grabbed 10 rebounds in only 9 minutes of play but didn’t attempt a shot from the field…kind of a strange line.  Obame Obame is a 6’6″ native of Gabon, by the way.
  • Austin Dahn was 3-5 from 3-point land in the UMES game.  Alas, in the other three games he was a combined 0-10 from beyond the arc.
  • Conversely, Zach Urbanus made 12 of 21 three-pointers over the four-game span.  Joe Wolfinger was actually even better from outside (13-21), including a 5-5 night against UMES (The Citadel made 13 three-pointers in that game).
  • Fifteen different Bulldogs played against UMES.  All of them played at least three minutes.
  • The Citadel’s win over Eastern Michigan came down to winning the rebounding battle (33-24) while committing five fewer turnovers.  Cameron Wells’ 10-12 night from the line came in handy, too (he finished with 24 points).
  • The Citadel led for much of the EMU game, but actually trailed by 2 with less than 5 minutes to play before rallying for a victory in what was in effect the “swing” game of the road trip.
  • The Bulldogs lost by 17 points to Missouri State, but it was a three-point game (55-52) at the 4:32 mark of the second half before the Bears pulled away.  That game was more competitive than the final score suggests.
  • Missouri State had a very efficient offensive game against Bulldogs, scoring 72 points in only 63 possessions, which is what happens when you shoot well from the field (including 9-18 from 3-land), the foul line, and only commit 8 turnovers.  The Citadel’s defensive stats took a hit in that game.
  • West Virginia only committed four turnovers against The Citadel (the Bulldogs suffered 19 of their own).  Three of the four WVU turnovers were steals by Cameron Wells.
  • The Citadel had 56 possessions against the Mountaineers, a very slow pace, even by the Bulldogs’ normal standards.  The 19 turnovers are an even bigger black mark in a game that with that few possessions, of course; without them, The Citadel fared well, shooting well from outside (9-16 from 3) and holding its own on the boards (30 rebounds for each school).  It’s just almost impossible to win, or even be in the game, when you turn the ball more than one of every three possessions.
  • Incidentally, the Bulldogs’ pace of play for each of the four games was as follows:  EMU (60 possessions), Mizzou State (62), UMES (65), WVU (56).  That’s a little low for the WVU game, but generally those numbers indicate the tempo that favors The Citadel’s style of play.

Before anyone gets too disappointed with the Bulldogs’ 3-3 record, a little perspective.  By the time the turkey was being carved this year, The Citadel already had two Division I victories.  Two years ago, the Bulldogs had two D-1 wins all season…

Now it’s time for the CollegeInsider.com Skip Prosser Invitational, named for the late Wake Forest coach.  The Citadel will host Savannah State (although the Bulldogs will not play the Tigers), UVA-Wise (an NAIA Division II school) and Central Connecticut State (of the Northeast Conference).  There will be two games on Saturday and two on Sunday, all held at McAlister Field House.

The Citadel is hosting the event, I gather, primarily because head coach Ed Conroy was named the 2009 Skip Prosser Man of the Year.  I suspect that attendance will not be very high, given the field, and also because it’s the weekend after Thanksgiving.  Still, it’s two more games for the Bulldogs before beginning conference play, which probably counts for something.

As I noted above, The Citadel will not play Savannah State in the event — it’s an “invitational” as opposed to a true tournament.  The Bulldogs open with UVA-Wise on Saturday and face Central Connecticut State on Sunday.

UVA-Wise (officially “The University of Virginia’s College at Wise”) has been a four-year school since 1970; it was initially a junior college, founded in 1954.  Until 1999 the school was called Clinch Valley College, so if you aren’t familiar with UVA-Wise, perhaps you have heard of it under that name.  Of course, odds are you’ve never heard of Clinch Valley College either.

UVA-Wise has a little under 2,000 students and is located in the southwestern corner of Virginia, not too far away from Big Stone Gap.  Its most notable alum, according to Wikipedia, is Holly Kiser, who appeared (and was the first-season winner) on a reality TV show called Make Me A Supermodel.  I will admit I don’t know anything about this show, which evidently airs on Bravo.  At any rate, I suppose congratulations are in order to Ms. Kiser.

As for the basketball team, the Highland Cavaliers play in the Appalachian Athletic Conference, a league that includes schools like Milligan, Montreat, and Virginia Intermont.  UVA-Wise was 8-21 last season, and has averaged 18.5 losses per season over the last four years.

The Citadel is UVA-Wise’s first NCAA Division I opponent this season, but in past years the Highland Cavaliers have played (and lost to) schools such as VMI, Wofford, and Charleston Southern.  Last season UVA-Wise dropped games to Elon (92-65), Longwood (87-44), Gardner-Webb (74-47), and Coastal Carolina (90-51).

UVA-Wise comes into Saturday’s game with a record of 3-4, having lost on Tuesday in Pippa Passes, Kentucky, to Alice Lloyd College.  The Highland Cavaliers like an up-tempo game, averaging 81.6 possessions per contest.  This has led to some high-scoring games.  UVA-Wise shoots the ball fairly well (other than free throw shooting — the H-Cavs were an atrocious 9-31 from the charity stripe in a loss to Emory & Henry), but turns the ball over a lot and is not a particularly good defensive squad.

The Highland Cavaliers employ a 9- or 10-man rotation.  No player on the squad is taller than 6’6″, which may make guarding Joe Wolfinger a bit of a problem.

Central Connecticut State will be The Citadel’s opponent on Sunday.  CCSU is located in New Britain and has slightly under 10,000 students.  It has been around in various forms since 1849, attaining university status in 1983.  Notable alums of the school include two former NFL head coaches, Dave Campo and Mike Sherman, as well as the legendary Richard Grieco.

Howie Dickenman, a former assistant to Jim Calhoun, has been at Central Connecticut State since 1996.  Dickenman has had a good run at CCSU, which is also his alma mater.  The Blue Devils have made three NCAA appearances under Dickenman, most recently in 2007.  However, CCSU has had two straight losing seasons (going 13-17 last year).  The Devils were 8-10 in NEC play; CCSU hasn’t had a record in conference worst than that since joining the league in 1998.

Dickenman has a young team this season.  Only one senior has seen playing time thus far, and that player (Joe Seymore) has only played fourteen minutes in two games.  Of the six players who are averaging more than twenty minutes per game, two are freshmen, two are sophomores, and two are juniors, including hard-nosed point guard Shemik Thompson, who was the rookie of the year in the NEC in 2008 despite having a plate put into his head following a concussion.

In contrast to UVA-Wise, the Blue Devils like to play at a slower pace.  In the past two seasons, CCSU has averaged 65.9 and 67.2 possessions per game, but this season in two games Central Connecticut State is averaging just 59.5 possessions per contest.  Of course, two games is a decidedly small sample size.

The bigger issue for CCSU is that is has lost both games, against Fairfield (in a game played in Bridgeport) and at Savannah State.  Yes, Central Connecticut State is going to play consecutive games against Savannah State, which is a little odd.  The Tigers have actually played three games since the initial meeting with the Devils, while CCSU hasn’t played a game since the 16th of November.

CCSU simply hasn’t shot well from the field in either of the two games, shooting less than 38% from the field while its opponents have shot almost 46% from the field.  The Devils have also been crushed on the glass, to the tune of a -12 rebounding margin, particularly getting whipped on the offensive boards.  It’s hard to win games when you don’t shoot well and can’t rebound effectively.

Like UVA-Wise, CCSU has a 9- or 10-man rotation, and also like UVA-Wise, the Devils lack size.  The tallest player on the roster, freshman Joe Efese, is only 6’6″.

The Bulldogs should handle UVA-Wise fairly easily and will be a slight favorite against Central Connecticut State.  It would be nice to be over .500 when Davidson comes to town on December 3.

Hoops season is upon us, ready or not

Note:  when I refer to a basketball season as “2009” I mean the 2008-09 season; “2010” is the 2009-10 season, etc.

As I did last season, I waited for The Citadel to play a couple of games before writing a season preview.  I like to see the team play a game or two just to get an idea of who is actually going to play, get minutes, that kind of thing (just glancing at the team roster isn’t enough; after all, Ed Conroy seems to have almost as many guys on his squad as the football team does).

Also, even though I love college hoops, it’s still a little early for basketball, at least for me — and that’s despite a poor year on the gridiron for The Citadel, part of the lamest college football season I can remember.

The Bulldogs have now played two regular season games, a 64-45 victory over Kenyon College and a disappointing 61-60 loss against Charleston Southern, both taking place at McAlister Field House.

Before examining this season’s team, I would like to take a brief look back at last year’s edition of the basketball Bulldogs…

Prior to last season, I wrote a long (probably too long) post detailing the incredible lack of success the basketball program at The Citadel has had over its long history.  I followed that up with a season preview which I titled “Room for Improvement”.  I think it’s safe to say The Citadel improved last year.  Just some examples:

  • 2008:  RPI of 334;  2009:  RPI of 175
  • 2008:  1 SoCon win; 2009:  15 SoCon wins (most ever by The Citadel)
  • 2008:  6 wins overall (only 2 over D-1 opponents); 2009:  20 wins (only the second team in school history to win 20)
  • 2008:  Points allowed per possession:  1.145 (last nationally); 2009:  0.999 (middle of the pack nationally)
  • 2008:  Opponents’ effective FG%:  51.3% (last nationally); 2009:  43.0% (upper half of national rankings)

The Citadel also improved significantly in offensive effective FG%, offensive points per possession, rebound percentage, and defense against the three-pointer.

Why were the two seasons so different?  Well, Demetrius Nelson, lost early in the 2008 season to injury, returned for a full season in 2009 and had an All-SoCon campaign; his presence in the post was a key factor in the offensive improvement, and also had an impact defensively.  Also, the freshmen who had been thrown into the mix in 2008 (principally Cameron Wells, Zach Urbanus, and Austin Dahn) were stronger, smarter sophomores in 2009.

They were helped out by rotation newcomers John Brown (a redshirt freshman) and Cosmo Morabbi (a true freshman) and the return of Bryan Streeter.  Those seven players got the bulk of the minutes for The Citadel in conference play, with some solid work also done on occasion by reserves Jonathan Brick, Matt Clark, Daniel Eykyn, and Tyrell McDowell.

This season, The Citadel will have to replace Nelson, Brown, Brick, and McDowell, with the contributions of Nelson and Brown obviously being the most difficult to replicate.  Nelson averaged over 16 points per game, added 6.5 rebounds per contest, and was an efficient force on offense (shooting almost 60% from the field, and often camping out at the foul line, where he shot 77%).

Brown also averaged 6.5 boards per game, along with 1.2 steals per game, not to mention numerous deflections and countless hustle plays.  His insertion into the starting lineup against Bethune-Cookman on January 3 (after only playing 14 minutes total to that point of the season) helped key the Bulldogs’ remarkable run of success in league play.  His oncourt presence will be greatly missed.

To replace that production, The Citadel has to turn to new players and hope for improvement from returning team members.  Nelson’s departure left a void in the paint that needed to be filled, and to fill it Ed Conroy is counting on 7-footer Joe Wolfinger, a graduate student who previously played at Washington.

Wolfinger, based on what I’ve seen of him so far, is more of a finesse player than Nelson was.  He can shoot the three, but needs to be more physical to succeed in SoCon play, where he will face post men not as big as he is, but generally more athletic and just as strong.  Against Charleston Southern he struggled, going 4-16 from the floor with three turnovers (although he did have nine rebounds).

He took a lot of shots against CSU, and even if he hadn’t had such a poor night shooting I would suggest that he shot too many and (more importantly) too quickly, at least in the framework of The Citadel’s offense, which relies on a moderate pace of play (fewer than 65 possessions per game last season) to create open looks and frustrate the opposition.  I’m not going to crush him for that after one game, though; he has to get accustomed to playing with his new teammates, and he also has to get used to playing a lot of minutes after being mostly a bench player for the Huskies.

Tangent:  he’s also going to have to get used to the officiating at this level of Division I, a good example of which was on display last night, as all three officials somehow missed a blatant traveling violation committed just before CSU’s game-winning basket.  However, the Bulldogs should not have been in a position to be victimized by a bad (non) call in the first place.

Incorporating Wolfinger into the offense is going to take time.  It may cost The Citadel a game or two in the early going (it could be argued that it was a key reason the Bulldogs lost to the Buccaneers).  Then again, it took The Citadel a few games last year to figure things out (which is how a 20-win team could lose  a home contest to 19-loss UC Davis by 18 points).  As long as things are running smoothly by the time league play rolls around, it’s all good.

Admittedly, that gives the Bulldogs just two weeks, as Davidson comes to town on December 3…

The task of providing the same type of energy that Brown brought to the team will likely fall to several players, including the 6’6″ Streeter (who in many respects is a bigger version of Brown, all the way down to the horrific free throw shooting) and 6’5″ Harrison Dupont, the only one of the incoming freshmen to have played in both games so far for The Citadel.

Streeter averaged a little over 14 minutes per game for the Bulldogs last year; he will probably come close to doubling his time on the hardwood this season.  He brings a lot of strength and grit to the table on both ends of the court, and is a good finisher, provided he isn’t fouled (36.4% from the line in ’09).  His problems from the charity stripe can make him a liability in late-game situations, just another reason he needs to improve in that area.

Another player to watch in the “gets the dirty work done” department is Morabbi, who appears to be stronger this year (and definitely has more hair).  Morabbi’s play in the latter stages of the contest nearly won the CSU game for the Bulldogs, both defensively and with his outside shooting (as he told Rafu Shimpo, “My specialty is shooting”).

Morabbi will occasionally freelance offensively.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, even in Ed Conroy’s disciplined attack, as it keeps opponents honest.  He can also make the corner 3, the thinking man’s favorite three-point shot.  He had a tough night from the field against Kenyon, but was back in form in the CSU game.

Someone who The Citadel would like to see return to good shooting form is Dahn, who struggled from the field last season after enjoying a solid freshman campaign, falling from a 39.7% 3-point shooter to 32.7% beyond the arc.  Now, 32.7% isn’t terrible, but most of Dahn’s shots are from 3-point land, so overall he shot just 32.6% from the field in 2009.  The 6’4″ Dahn is a good defender and a mainstay in the rotation, but his value increases markedly if he can knock down shots.

Zach Urbanus is the epitome of dependability, always in the right place, usually making the right decision, and capable of making big shots.  A comparison of his freshman and sophomore seasons shows just how consistent he is, as in both years he shot 44% from beyond the arc, had 3.3 rebounds per game, and 2.9 assists per contest.  He did improve last season, as his overall shooting percentage increased substantially, and he also cut down on his turnovers.

Cameron Wells is getting some pre-season recognition as a potential MVP candidate in the Southern Conference.  He certainly didn’t hurt his cause against CSU, scoring 23 points on 10-16 shooting and being an all-around defensive pest (including 3 steals).

The 6’1″ Wells is a vital cog in the offense.  He can bring the ball up the court against pressure, penetrate into the lane and finish.  Wells is a good free throw shooter, is able to make the occasional three-pointer, and is an outstanding perimeter defender.  He’s a very smooth performer with a complete game, and he’s still getting better.

Other returners from last season who will see action include Clark, a slender 6’8″ junior forward who is a career 35% three-point shooter, and Eykyn, a 6’4″ native of Charleston who logged double-digit minutes in 11 games last season.  While neither was a rotation regular, both had their moments last year and will be counted on again in 2010 (indeed, Clark has played at least 11 minutes in both games so far).

Some of the newcomers who may see the court include the well-regarded Dupont (a native of Oklahoma who has played 19 combined minutes in the first two games) and 6’8″ forward/center Mike Groselle, a Texan who impressed in a brief appearance against Kenyon.  Also making his debut against Kenyon was 6’2″ guard Ben Cherry, a freshman from Charlotte.

I would guess that all three of those players will be contributors to The Citadel’s cause this season.  I also wouldn’t be surprised if a couple of other players on the Bulldogs’ sizable roster eventually get a chance, as 16 different players participated in The Citadel’s exhibition game against Georgia Southwestern.

Whether Bulldog fans are ready for the season to begin, the Bulldog players and coaches have to be ready, because The Citadel is about to embark on a stretch where it will play nine games in eighteen days, including three on consecutive days this weekend.  The Bulldogs will play in the Hispanic College Fund Challenge, hosted by Missouri State (which beat Auburn on Tuesday).  The Citadel will also play Eastern Michigan and Maryland-Eastern Shore in that event.

The Bulldogs will then venture up to the “other” Charleston in a matchup with West Virginia, formerly of the Southern Conference and currently in the AP Top 10.  After tangling with the Mountaineers, The Citadel will host an in-season tournament of its own at McAlister Field House, playing UVA-Wise (an NAIA school) and Central Connecticut State (of the Northeast Conference).  That tournament honors the late Skip Prosser.

After that, The Citadel begins Southern Conference play, with the aforementioned game against Davidson followed two days later by a game against Georgia Southern.  The last game of the “nine in eighteen” run is arguably the biggest, as The Citadel will host Tom Izzo and his Michigan State Spartans on December 7.

MSU is currently ranked #2 in the nation and, of course, played in last season’s NCAA title game, losing to North Carolina.  It will be the second year in a row a Big 10 school has come to McAlister, although I suspect there will be more “juice” in the arena than there was for Iowa last year.

That’s quite a way to start a season.  It will be a challenge for the players and coaches (heck, it’s going to be a challenge for me just to keep up with it).  After the fun of last year’s campaign, I just hope that this year The Citadel doesn’t revert back to its old, lots-of-losing ways.  I don’t think it will, though, as (barring injury) the core of the team is too solid for that to happen.