Hello, college basketball fans! I, Rodger Sherman, have failed, and will live with the regret for the entirety of my life. Or at least until next year.
My task was a relatively meager one. If you remember my college basketball column, Onions!, which I had written every week of the college hoops season up until I was cruelly wrested into writing about luge and bobsled, my goal was to witness every team in college basketball this year. Not watch, mind you: just to capture a slice (definition: one media timeout, while paying at least 60 percent of my attention to said game) of all 351 teams in college basketball. And of course, to provide you tidbits about the weirder things I saw every week.
As of today, the final day in February, I have seen 208 of 351 teams. I'd been banking on catching many teams during the conclusive conference tournaments, many of which are televised or streamed in their entirety somewhere. The beauty of college basketball is that with less than a month before the start of the tournament, about 300 of the teams in competition are, in theory, still alive for an NCAA title -- provided they win their league tourney and then the NCAA Tournament, which will be damn near impossible for all of them, but still: hypothetically.
But last week, I realized something: I was watching Columbia vs. Yale (to cross Columbia off the list, a neat game where the Lions upset the Bulldogs as the Yalies tried to jostle for the conference lead with Harvard, and also allowing me to write "JEWS" in my Google Doc log) when I realized I had not yet seen three Ivy League teams: Cornell, Dartmouth, and Penn.
The Ivy League, of course, does not have a season-ending conference tournament. As college basketball's snootiest league, the Ivies have not given in to the TV-friendly tourney concept, choosing to reward the winner of conference play -- The 14-Game Tournament, so to speak -- with a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
None of these teams are in contention for the league title, so the NCAA Tournament is right out. Penn has a televised game remaining -- tonight, vs. Brown in the Palestra, on NBCSN -- but if I wanted to catch the other two before the year's end, I'd have to pay for the Ivy League's digital package, which is not a part of the plan.
Realizing my failure, I fell to my knees and wailed at the heavens: I had wanted to see the beauty of the Cornell Big Red, a team that went from the Sweet 16 in 2010 to 2-27 with wins over Oberlin and Dartmouth in 2014. But I would not.
I began scanning for other teams I would assuredly not see. Here is a list of teams that have already been eliminated from NCAA Championship contention:
Teams transitioning to DI:
This is a silly concept: What if, hypothetically, a school that had just decided to move to a higher level of play was genuinely good enough to win their league? Why are we taking their hypothetical ability to succeed away from them? Wouldn't it be great to allow them to at least rustle some feathers at a conference tournament? If the team is not ready for the challenge of D-I postseason play ... why let them play an entire season against D-I teams?
Even sillier, it's a transition that lasts for four seasons, guaranteeing players who come to a school in its first year at the Division I level will never play in the NCAA Tournament, as hard as they try.
Anyway, by my count, Abilene Christian, Grand Canyon, incarnate Word, Nebraska-Omaha, Northern Kentucky, and UMass-Lowell fall into this category.
You probably haven't heard of them, because they're transitioning. But they're real: and they have basketball teams: Dan Majerle coaches Grand Canyon, the only for-profit university in D-I hoops. Besides Omaha and Northern Kentucky, I didn't see them, and they won't be on TV.
Teams that didn't do school
It's a less silly concept that if your academic progress rating is egregiously low -- like, EGREGIOUSLY low -- you won't be able to play postseason games.
This year, that applies to Arkansas-Pine Bluff, FIU, Grambling, Mississippi Valley State, New Orleans, and Southern.
WHAT?!?!?! Southern has GOT to be the NCAA Champion! Did you see them play against Champion Baptist?
And ahhhh, man! Grambling was just starting to get good, after that 710-day losing streak!
Anyway, aside from FIU, I had not seen these teams play, and likely will not be able to.
Teams that won't make their conference tournaments
America is a meritocracy: Look, they both have "Meri" in the middle. Conferences have different ways of valuing their regular season when it comes to conference tournaments: games played at home sites, brackets staggered so that top seeds have byes, etc. One is eliminating the bottom teams, to make the fight for eighth place or whatever A Thing throughout the year.
Road to the Title
Road to the Title
It would probably provide more of an advantage for top-seeded teams if everybody was invited, and the bottom-feeders had to battle it out, giving the league's best either a) a less deserving opponent or b) the opponent they would've gotten anyway, but at least they're tired now. But whatever: these are the worst teams in some of the worst leagues in the country, and although I'd like it if they still had a chance to make miracle runs to the NCAA Tournament, its no grand injustice that they can't.
It's hard to tabulate which schools I've missed out on here, but suffice it to say, they exist. Eat it, Southland Conference, for only allowing eight of your 11 teams to go to The Extremely Miniscule Dance (my new nickname for the Southland Conference Tournament)
It's the saddest conference on ESPN's conference standings page:
Congrats, NJIT! You're in first place! Bad news: you're also in last place. You can click "Expanded Standings" as many times as you'd like; more teams will not appear.
You may remember the NJIT Highlanders from their 0-29 season in 2007-08, or perhaps their 1-30 season in 2008-09. They've improved greatly in a short time -- nine D-I wins so far this year, including two over Army and Lafayette squads that are just garden variety bad and not horrific -- but they will not be dancing. For a few years, they were in the Great West, the worst-named conference of all time, but the NCAA essentially knew that that league was a few independents hoping to scrounge an NCAA Tournament bid and gave them only a bid to the CIT. (For those unfamiliar with the difference between the CBI and CIT: The CIT is the worse one.) So that league dissolved, leaving NJIT homeless. Unless the NCAA Selection Committee makes the strangest decision of all time, they will not be dancing.
Luckily, I caught a few minutes of NJIT-Seton Hall earlier this year, so I'm saved the shame here. Basically, I wanted an excuse to mention I watched some of an NJIT game this year.
The infinite sadness
I am so very disappointed I was not able to accomplish my goal of watching 351 college basketball teams, for you, the reader.
I think accomplishing this goal is possible. If I were to sit down at the beginning of a season and scope out each team's schedule, I think I could map out a plan a few minutes of a nationally televised game from each team. But I liked freelancing, scrounging around, and catching glimpses at the good ones, like OT games between Mercer-North Florida and Western Carolina-Chattanooga last night.
In the end, I only have three things to blame: my lack of planning, my passion for watching good basketball, and my passion for occasionally leaving the house. And despite my failure, I regret none of them.
Maybe next year. Hopefully not.
Games of the nights of the week!
How did you survive watching college basketball without my guidance during the 'Lympics?!??!?!?1
Friday, Feb. 28: Iona vs. Manhattan, 7 p.m., ESPN2
Friday night MAACtion! Note: This was also an Onions! Game of the Night last month, to which I say a few things:
1. Friday nights don't have a lot of basketball, and as noted, I pick the earlier games because I care about your social lives
2. What, you gonna be mad about two high-tempo teams that play lots of offense? Iona chucks tons of threes and hits 'em, Manhattan's more un-fun -- No. 1 in FT/FGA -- but still, offense!
3. This and East Tennessee State/USC Upstate are the two games with two teams with above-.500 conference records tonight. GO READ ANOTHER BLOGGER'S COLLEGE HOOPS WATCHING SUGGESTIONS IF YOU MAD
Saturday, March 1: Louisville vs. Memphis, 2 p.m., CBS
The AAC was actually a really fun conference this year, and here we got two teams that hit that athleticism jackpot. Memphis took the one in Louisville, so the one in Memphis should be even more fun. Memphis being good at everything besides holding on to the ball should be interesting against a team that forces turnovers like Louisville. A little bummed Memphis dropped one to Houston -- their first *bad* loss of the year.
Sunday, March 2: Stanford vs. Arizona, 8 p.m., ESPNU
The first one was a real tough save for the then-undefeated Wildcats, although that was in Palo Alto. This is your lone game with two teams on the right side of the tourney bubble today.
Monday, March 3: Kansas State vs. Oklahoma State, 9 p.m., ESPN
I can't believe Oklahoma State is 6-9 in Big 12 play. There's too much damn talent there. But there they were, dropping eight of nine. Marcus Smart should be in the NCAA Tournament, so I'm pulling for the Cowboys to finish very, very, very strong and grab a bid.
Tuesday, March 4: Iowa State vs. Baylor, 7 p.m., ESPN2
I can totally believe Baylor is 6-9 in Big 12 play. There's too much damn talent there, but it's also Scott Drew's talent. I'll watch teams with starting fives like these two have play until eternity.
Wednesday, March 5: Louisville vs. SMU, 7 p.m, CBSSN
Sorry for two Louisville's but, well, IF YOU AIN'T SEEN SMU PLAY THIS YEAR, NOW WOULD BE A GOOD TIME. Larry Brown's done something fascinating built on defense, and they're still undefeated in Moody this year. Maybe the game of the week, to be honest.
Thursday, March 6: Iowa vs. Michigan State, 9 p.m.
/runs to the top of a mountain
I STILL THINK IOWA IS GOOD EVEN THOUGH THEY'RE LOSING ALL THESE CLOSE GAMES
I ALSO STILL THINK MSU MIGHT BE THE NO. 1 TEAM IN THE COUNTRY WHEN THEY'RE HEALTHY
/runs back down mountaintop
/ends post, because we are out of days