Thursday, December 26, 2013

The New Schools of Division 1

By Kevin Beane

I'm on record as loving the gluttony of college sports, the sheer number of teams, conferences, and possible matchups, and nothing sates that gluttony like college basketball, which is probably where my sports nerdery is at my nerdiest (what do you mean you don't know that Utah Valley's colors are green and gold and their nickname is the Wolverines?)

There are 351 Division 1 college basketball programs, including four new ones this year. If you aspire to my level of geekery, you should get familiar with them. So here now are thumbnails of the new ones.

ABILENE CHRISTIAN UNIVERSITY

Location: Abilene, Texas

Enrollment: 4,461

Nickname: Wildcats

Colors: Purple and White

Were they prepped for D1 by dominating D2 last year? No. They finished 6-12 in the Lone Star conference, good for next-to-last place, and 12-14 overall. They had not made the D2 tournament since 1999.

How're they doin'? Not so hot. They're 5-8, but all five of those wins are against D2 or lower opponents. They played a nice game against TCU, losing by just 7, and all of their other games against D1 schools have been double-digit losses. They also lost to D2 West Alabama. They are members of the Southland Conference.

UNIVERSITY OF THE INCARNATE WORD

Location: San Antonio, Texas

Enrollment: 6,404

Nickname: Cardinals

Colors: Red and Black

Were they prepped for D1 by dominating D2 last year? No. They are another Lone State Conference-to-Southland Conference school like Abilene Christian. They were 9-9, 14-14 in their last year in the Lone Stare and D2.

How're they doin'? Incomplete. Okay, I'm not sure this should even be allowed for schools transitioning into D1. They are 10-1, and all 10 of those victories are over schools that are D2 or lower. So who knows how good they are? Well, we do know they can't be that great, but lordy, how are you going to get ready for your first D1 conference slate if you only play schools like "Open Bible College" in the meantime? I say, each D1 school can schedule no more than 5 lower-level schools and I think I'm being generous at that.

UMASS-LOWELL

Location: Lowell, Massachusetts

Enrollment: 16,969

Nickname: River Hawks

Colors: Persian Red, Pigment Blue, and White. PIGMENT BLUE?! Is that in the same color family as Shade Green and Hue Yellow?

Were they prepped for D1 by dominating D2 last year? Yes! Well, sort of. They did make the D2 tournament, although they were knocked out in the first round. Actually they made the last four D2 tourneys and were knocked out of the first round in all of them. They finished 19-10 last year.

How're they doin'? The worst of the lot. 1-11, that win was against a non-D1 school, and they haven't come closer than 9 against any of the D1 schools they have played. But bless them for actually playing them. Ken Pomeroy's ranking has them 347th in the nation, ahead of only Grambling, Alcorn State, Southern Utah, and South Carolina State.

GRAND CANYON UNIVERSITY

Location: Phoenix, Arizona

Enrollment: 6,500

Nickname: Antelopes (if you're cool though, you'll just say 'lopes).

Colors: Purple, Black, and White

Were they prepped for D1 by dominating D2 last year? Like UMass-Lowell, they have a strong pedigree of recent if not overwhelming success. They were 23-8 last year but got bounced in the first round of the D2 Big Dance for the second year in a row.

How're they doin'? Well, first, there is a bit of controversy and intrigue around GCU. First of all, they are taking their place in the smoldering ruins of the Western Athletic Conference, which you and I know and love as the WAC. Second, they are unique in D1 as being a for-profit school, which rankles some people so greatly that several Pac 12 coaches and admins made statements condemning their inclusion in D1. Third, they showed the door to their quite successful coach, Russ Pennell, so they could bring in a "name," that name being Thunder Dan Majerle.

So it's perhaps no surprise that they are faring far better than their plebe peers. They are 5-6 and have notched two wins so far (compared to the other three's collective zero) against D1 competition, over Lamar and Savannah State. The Pomeroy rankings have them in the mid-250s, ahead of such schools as Rice, Tulane, and all three service academies. Expect to hear about these controversies, especially the for-profit one, if Grand Canyon starts making national noise once they are eligible for the tournament in 2017.

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