Independents ShootAround: Can anyone make the postseason?
AP Photo/Bill Kostroun
Nowhere to go but up
By Jeff Shelman
Special to ESPN.com
Five Things To Watch in '08-09
By Jeff Shelman
Special to ESPN.com
While the transition to Division I isn't easy -- it costs a ton of money for the schools involved, getting into a conference can be a nightmare and then there is the whole thing about competing against top programs -- it doesn't seem to be scaring some schools away. This year, North Dakota and South Dakota will play a mixed schedule as they move into Division I. Bryant University in Rhode Island and Southern Illinois-Edwardsville are also making the move, but they have the advantage of conference support. Bryant will join the Northeast Conference, while SIU-E is moving into the Ohio Valley. • The Great West answer?
While several independent schools already have a scheduling arrangement so they can play games in January and February (when schools in conferences are playing league games), six schools are taking things a bit further. The Great West has been a Football Championship Subdivision (better known as Division I-AA) league for several years. Now it will become an all-sports league. Utah Valley State, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Houston Baptist, Texas-Pan American, North Dakota and South Dakota will compete in most sports. • Will the CBI take an independent?
One of the biggest challenges for independents is that it is seemingly impossible to be selected for a postseason tournament. The last two teams not in a conference to reach the NCAA tournament were DePaul and Notre Dame in the early 1990s. This decade, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (now in the Southland) twice failed to be invited to the NIT despite consecutive 20-win seasons. But with the creation of the College Basketball Invitational, another postseason tournament along the lines of the NIT, independents have one more option. While many teams without conferences have to play extremely difficult schedules early in the season, there is at least a greater chance a good team could reach the postseason. • Will anyone find a home?
A number of former independents have found conference affiliation in recent years. North Dakota State, South Dakota State and IPFW all moved into the Summit League. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi moved into the Southland. Winston-Salem State got picked up by the MEAC. So who will be next? Cal State Bakersfield is pushing hard to get into the Big West. NJIT could fit in the NEC or America East or Patriot League. But will it happen? It would certainly make things easier for coaches and athletic directors if they can pull it off. • No chance
Division I basketball isn't the same everywhere. Some schools have private planes, others ride buses. Some teams don't go on the road early in the season, others live out of a suitcase. At some places, 1,000 empty seats is a bad night, but a crowd of 1,200 is a big deal at some schools. But the biggest difference between the haves and have-nots is talent. There are certainly good independent players, but there is a big gap. All you have to do to see that is look back to last season. Last season's independents (10 schools, including current conference members Winston- Salem State and Presbyterian) combined to go 2-31 against teams that reached the NCAA tournament. The two tournament teams that lost to an independent were San Diego (beaten by Cal State Bakersfield) and Coppin State (North Carolina Central).
2008-09 Team CapsulesBy Jeff Shelman
Special to ESPN.com
Cal State Bakersfield
The Roadrunners return leading scorer Terence Johns, a guard who averaged 13.2 points per game as Cal State Bakersfield went 8-21. That record did include a good win at San Diego. Junior guard Trent Blakley (9.8 ppg) also returns, as does team assist leader Donavan Bragg (3.4 apg). CSUB will play virtually every Big West team this season, and coach Keith Brown had his contract extended through the 2010-11 season. Chicago State
David Holston is one of those players that most college basketball fans don't know, but they should. While only 5-foot-8, the Chicago State senior can fill it up from long range. Last season, Holston led the nation in 3-pointers made per game at 4.6. That number was slightly higher than Davidson's Stephen Curry (4.5 made 3s per game). Holston averaged 23.1 points per game, while backcourt mate John Cantrell returns after averaging 15.5 points per game. They were two of the reasons why Chicago State finished with the best RPI of any independent team. Houston Baptist
Houston Baptist's first season playing a full Division I schedule will certainly be a little easier with Gordon Watt still around. The 6-6 Watt put his name into the NBA draft after averaging 16.4 points per game, but he pulled his name out before the deadline. Houston Baptist played a mixed schedule of Division I and Division II opponents last season, going 13-15. Only one of those victories came against a Division I opponent. The school has won 32 in a row at home. Longwood
While the Lancers don't play in a conference and are certainly realizing how difficult the Division I level can be, the Longwood players are definitely getting to play quality opponents. This season, the Lancers will play road games at West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Florida. Longwood has two starters back from last season's 9-22 team in forward Kirk Williams and guard Ryan Bogan. Those two combined to average 28.6 points per game as juniors. NJIT
This is how difficult things have been of late at New Jersey Institute of Technology: Only one player on the Highlanders' roster has won a game there. Junior center Dan Stonkus was on the 2006-07 team that won five games. The only other junior on the roster is forward Gary Garris, but Garris spent his first two seasons at American University in Washington, D.C. Ten players on the NJIT roster -- five sophomores and five freshmen -- have never won a college game. North Carolina Central
North Carolina Central might share the same city as Duke and the same area code as North Carolina and NC State, but it lives in an entirely different world. Last season, NC Central played seven home games all season and went 4-26. The Eagles opened the season playing 15 of their first 16 on the road. The good news is that team had just one senior. The bad news is that the senior was leading scorer Charles Futrell (16.7 ppg). Bryan Ayala is the leading returning scorer (13.0 ppg). Savannah State
There are signs of life in the Savannah State basketball program. It wasn't that long ago when that didn't seem possible. The Tigers went 0-28 in 2004-05 and followed that up with a 2-28 record the following season. Former Georgetown player and current Savannah State coach Horace Broadnax is playing players in waves, and he led Savannah State to a 13-18 record last season. Chris Linton (8.6 ppg) and Anthony Jones (8.5 ppg) are the leading returners. Texas-Pan American
Texas-Pan American coach Tom Schuberth was named the All- Independent Coach of the Year after the Broncs went 18-13. This season, Schuberth has a lot of work to do. Texas-Pan American has to find a way to replace guard Paul Stoll (14.2 ppg), forward Zach Trader (13.9 ppg) and guard Brian Burrell (13.6 ppg). Junior forward Nathan Hawkins is the leading returning scorer after averaging 10.6 points per game. Utah Valley State
Ryan Toolson doesn't have the benefit of a national stage, but the Utah Valley State senior is among the best shooters in college basketball. For each of the past two years, Toolson has led the nation in foul shooting. Last season, Toolson made 95.1 percent of his free throws. In 2007, he made 96 of 99 free-throw attempts (97 percent). But Toolson isn't merely a free-throw machine. A year ago he was eighth in the nation in scoring, averaging 23.4 points per game, and he also made 43.6 percent of his 3-point attempts.
|Utah Valley State||15-14|
|Cal State Bakersfield||8-21|
|North Carolina Central||4-26|
Top Returning Scorers
|Ryan Toolson, Utah Valley State, Sr.||23.4|
|David Holston, Chicago State, Sr.||23.1|
|Kirk Williams, Longwood, Sr.||16.9|
|John Cantrell, Chicago State, Jr.||15.5|
|Terrence Johns, Cal State Bakersfield, Sr.||13.2|
Top Returning Rebounders
|Kirk Williams, Longwood, Sr.||6.5|
|Santwon Latunde, Cal State Bakersfield, Sr.||6.1|
|Paul Davis, Winston-Salem, Soph.||6.1|
|Chris Linton, Savannah State, Sr.||5.9|
|Carl Montgomery, Chicago State, Soph.||5.8|