INDEPENDENT NOTES AND RAMBLINGS
-The last time an Independent team made the NCAA Tournament was 1991, and that was Notre Dame.
-North Dakota, South Dakota, New Haven, Houston Baptist, Bryant, Southern Illinois Evansville and Seattle are all applying to join div1. All are eligible to compete for div2 this year, but this will be their final year if they want to continue the transition process. The NCAA is putting a halt on teams moving up to div1 after these teams go through, though. Thats not to say that no one will ever be able to move up again. I can only assume they want to reevaluate what a program must do in order to make the jump. If I had to guess Id say they want to make it more difficult.
-UTAH VALLEY STATE had a 22 win season a year ago, which included going winning 16 of their final 18 games. For an Independent team that is a pretty successful feat. Unfortunately, Jordan Brady is the only starter returning from last years squad. They did get some big contributions off the bench last season, particularly from guard Ryan Toolson, who averaged close to 16ppg, and those players will have to step up and play bigger roles this season. Unfortunately, without being in a conference, the only way for Utah Valley State to make the dance would be with an at-large bid. Their program appears to be in a healthy state, and I could see them being an asset to a western based conference such as the Big West or Big Sky. I dont see them being good enough to make it in as an at-large, though, so until they get the chance to play for an automatic bid they probably arent going to be dancing.
-TEXAS PAN AMERICAN showed signs of life a season ago by going 11-2 at home. Unfortunately they were as bad on the road as they were as good at home, and ended up 14-15 overall. Although their chances of making the NCAAs are slim and none, there is some reason to be excited. Four starters return, including standout guard Brian Burrell who averaged close to 16ppg last season. They also have a manageable schedule which is good in terms of putting together a good record, but not when it comes to making any sort of statement that they belong in the postseason. They do face Alabama, Tulsa and Missouri State twice, but unless they win one or two of those and virtually run the table the rest of the way their season will be over in February. Like Utah Valley State, they really need to get into a conference to have any realistic postseason hopes.
-CHICAGO STATE has always had a decent backcourt, but cant seem to turn that into a substantial number of wins. Two starters return at the guard position in David Holston and John Cantrell. Both averaged in double figures a season ago. Other than that, there are a lot of new faces and young players on this roster. Defense is also something this team has struggled with in the past. They seem to be going backwards rather than forwards, and when a program is as far back as Chicago State is, thats really saying something.
-Two seasons ago, SAVANNAH STATE won just one div1 game, and that was against Longworth. The season before that, they won no games at all of any kind. Its hard to get too excited about a 12-18 season, but I think it is a sign that the team is improving. They ended last season with a close win over Longwood, which was their 8th against a div1 team. Thats more div1 wins than their previous four seasons combined. Two of their better players are gone, but they have three starters coming back. They wont make any sort of splash on the national scene, but bit by bit this program is improving.
-LONGWOOD is now eligible for postseason play, but I dont know how much good it will do them. They were just 9-22 a season ago, but that was actually a significant improvement for a team that won just one game in the 2004-2005 season. They are an example of how tough it is to make the jump from div2 and play as an Independent.
-NJIT is in their second year of transition and has three starters coming back. They were just 5-24 a season ago and are hoping to improve on that. They have a lot of work to do, but considering that they lost more than they won at the div2 level, five wins isnt THAT bad for a first year team. Their schedule this year is actually somewhat manageable. They open the season at Washington in the Preseason NIT, but after that they dont really play any major opponents. Their schedule also consists of several eastern based schools from leagues like the Patriot, America East, NEC and MAAC. The Patriot probably wouldnt be all that interested in having them join, but the NEC or America East might.
-CALIFORNIA STATE BAKERSFIELD is playing their first season as a full fledged div1 team, so they wont be eligible for postseason play. Thats a very moot point as wins will likely be few and far between. They were 15-14 a season ago, but with just one returning starter and with very few contributors coming back it could be a long year. Several Big West teams dot their schedule, and they actually managed to schedule 14 home games, which is somewhat unusual for an Independent team in its first year.
-PRESBYTERIAN enters their first year of probation as a div1 team, and if youre looking to buy a game, then Presby is definitely for sale. They will play just five home games this year and only two of those (Army, Radford) are against div1 teams. Clemson, Ohio State, Georgia, NC State, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech are among the teams theyll play on the road this year. I guess its the year of the paycheck for playing on the road for Presby. The wins will likely be few and far between.
-NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL is another team that is beginning their probationary period. They will be playing just seven home games this year. Their first game is at Duke. Its a chance for them to shock the world!!! Next, they travel to Rutgers and then to Florida. They arent wasting any time. Seeing as how they were just 13-15 in div2 last year, I dont even want to think about what some of those results are likely to be. Like Presbyterian, its the year of the paycheck. They are Independent this year, but are applying for membership to the MEAC Conference.
A CLOSING THOUGHT
-I may be poking some fun at the likes of Presbyterian and North Carolina Central, but what theyre doing is actually par for the course. On top of that, I understand the strategy. Playing on the road allows them some exposure, and perhaps more importantly a nice paycheck for their efforts. Duke, Rutgers and Florida will each give Presbyterian about $40,000. In return, Presby gets to take the floor against a high caliber program, and those high caliber programs get to make all their money back and then some off of ticket sales, and pick up an easy win. These types of wins do nothing to impress the committee, but its a win nonetheless.
-As many of you know I grew up in Kentucky. Bellarmine and Northern Kentucky are two teams that have been teetering with the idea of making the jump to div1. I've always been of the belief that if a school wants to move up, the perfect time to do it is yesterday. With the NCAA putting a halt on that movement, it may be awhile before either institution, and many others like them, gets that chance.
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