It's that time of year again, y'all!
For the past two years, I've tracked every team in college basketball that has never made the NCAA Tournament. By my count, this includes 51 of the 345 teams to play Division-I basketball. To the great pleasure of announcers and opposing fans everywhere, Northwestern - the team I write a blog about, and the team you likely pay attention to - is one of these teams. It is one of five to have been playing basketball since the inception of the NCAA Tournament. It is the only one in a major conference.
The past two years, I've written this as a joke: as Northwestern sputtered along, I found this an interesting way to retain my sanity and give me something to pay attention to while the Wildcats sputtered towards the NIT.
This year, Northwestern has a chance to leave the kiddie table. Take a look around, sirs. These are our brethren. There is no need for this inanity. Over the next two weeks, we will find out whether our lot is cast with these, the unloved, unwanted souls of NCAA basketball, or whether we get to finally move to a higher plane.
There's one game tonight, which I'll cover at the bottom. As I mentioned in the game thread, there might be an interesting development with these posts, but we'll cross that bridge sometime by the end of the week.
The Still Alive: The beauty of college basketball is that as of right now, essentially every team in the country can become the champion of college basketball. Almost every conference has a conference tournament, almost every conference tournament receives an auto-bid to the NCAA Tournament, and almost every conference tournament features every team from the conference.The teams below are still alive with hopes of making their first NCAA Tournament. Only one team - Northern Colorado - was able to escape last season.
Although 37 teams receive at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament, only one of these teams - Northwestern - is receiving any sort of consideration for an at-large bid. For the rest, it's either win a conference tournament or bust.
Northwestern Wildcats, Big Ten
High Point Panthers, Big South
Gardner-Webb Runnin' Bulldogs, Big South
Youngstown State Penguins, Horizon
UC-Davis Aggies, Big West
Cal Poly Mustangs, Big West
UC-Irvine Anteaters, Big West
Sacramento State Hornets, Big West
Grambling State Tigers, SWAC
Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks, MEAC
Norfolk State Spartans, MEAC
Bethune-Cookman Wildcats, MEAC
NC Central Eagles, MEAC
Savannah State Tigers, MEAC
Buffalo Bulls, MAC
San Jose State Spartans WAC
Army Black Knights, Patriot League,
The Citadel Bulldogs, Southern Conference
Maine Black Bears, America East
New Hampshire Wildcats, America East
Stony Brook Seawolves, America East
Hartford Hawks, America East
Denver Pioneers, Sun Belt
Jacksonville State Gamecocks, OVC
Central Arkansas Bears, Southland
Elon Phoenix, Southern,
North Florida Ospreys, Atlantic Sun
Stetson Hatters, Atlantic Sun
Florida Gulf Coast Eagles, Atlantic Sun
USC Upstate Spartans, Atlantic Sun
IPFW Mastodons, Summit
South Dakota State Jackrabbits, Summit
Western Illinois Leathernecks, Summit
South Dakota Coyotes, Summit
The dead: Teams that have been eliminated from NCAA consideration will be below, with their names struck through. Although we're just starting our endeavor today, seven of the 51 teams already have no chance of making the NCAA Tournament:
The Great West: The Great West is an absolute joke of a conference. A hodge-podge of six teams for basketball, more for other sports, some of which are not western at all, these guys were Independent schools that banded together for no apparent reason. They were promptly told that because they weren't a real conference, they wouldn't get a bid to the NCAA Tournament. The CIT gave in and saw an opportunity and awarded a bid to the winner of this, but that's silly. Anyway, five of the six teams have never been to the NCAA Tournament - Houston Baptist has been once, in 1984 - and all of them are nowhere near being qualified for the NCAA Tournament - Utah Valley, who have won all nine games on their conference schedule thus far, are ranked 60 slots higher on Kenpom than anybody else, at a measly 238. Therefore, it's safe to say that none of these teams will appear in their first NCAA Tournament this year. Luckily, these schools aren't dumb: two of the conference members are leaving in the next two years, meaning this unlucky band of six will be an unlucky band of four.
If after all that, you're still interested in seeing the Great West Conference Tournament, great news! It's being held in Chicago! Sadly, the hometown team, Chicago State, won't be playing, as they were banned from postseason play by the NCAA for having an Academic Progress Rate below standards.
Texas Pan-American Broncs Great West NJIT HIghlanders, Great West North Dakota Fighting Sioux , Great West Chicago State Cougars, Great West
The Independents: Ahh, yes, the GDI's of the college basketball world. It's tough to be an independent team: you have to schedule all your games out-of-conference, which means you have to find 30 teams willing to play you. Most of them will also be independent, which means most will be bad. And there's no season-ending conference tourney to launch you into the Big Dance. While teams can be independent in football and still successful, I venture to say it would be almost impossible for any independent team - at least of the four in that category now - to ever make the NCAA Tournament. Although, in their defense, they're almost all better than every team in the Great West. Of course, these schools also have a clue: of the five independent teams in last year's posts, three of them joined conferences this year. But alas, for these two guys, I think we've reached the end of the line.
Longwood Lancers , Independent Cal State Bakersfield Roadrunners, Independent
As I said, the first conference tourney, the good old Big South tourney, starts today, with first-round matchups at school sites, and, well, guess what! There's some never-made-the-tourney action going on. AND IT'S HOT NEVER-MADE-THE-TOURNEY ON NEVER-MADE-THE-TOURNEY ACTION! LEGGO!
6:30 p.m., No. 8 High Point Panthers (12-17, 8-10, kenpom ranking 223) vs. No. 9 Gardner-Webb Runnin' Bulldogs (12-19, 6-12, kenpom ranking 263)
Our squad?: BOTH!
Chances of winning, per kenpom: High Point, 73%, Gardner-Webb, 27%
Who to root for? Well, everybody! It's never-made-the-tourney action, folks! Although it's not on TV or anything and whoever wins will most likely be promptly eliminated tomorrow night by the No. 1 seed, UNC-Asheville, this is never-made-the-tourney ball at it's finest. I have a soft spot for both teams: High Point for the cushy optimism in the name of the school, plus this summer I saw someone in High Point athletic gear at JFK and in my head thought "hey! They're a real school!", and Gardner-Webb for the image of a bulldog constantly sprinting at full force, jowls flapping everywhere. A brief check of stats shows that High Point is oddly one of the best shooting teams in the nation, thanks to Nick Barbour, who is 105-for-211 from three point on the year, which as math fans will see, is literally one shot away from 50 percent, making him the fourth-best shooter in the country and best to have taken over 100 attempts from downtown.