Last year the ranks of Division 1 decreased by one when Morris Brown lost its accreditation. But this season, D1 continues it regularly expanding ways with four new teams: Northern Colorado, Utah Valley State, Cal Davis, and Longwood. All of these programs have huge challenges ahead of them, because while those teams will be playing D1 schedules, none of them are eligible to play in the postseason by NCAA rule, until they achieve full D1 status.
The move up doesn’t have to be a bad experience. Birmingham Southern won 20 games in its first season of full D1 membership last year. But by NCAA rule, they were not eligible for the Big South’s automatic bid, and of course were passed over for an at-large bid.
Longwood’s second-year head coach Mike Gillian was kind enough to answer some of the questions I had on their move up to the top level of college hoops. For those who don’t know, Longwood is a private university in Farmville, Virginia. Baseball fans are probably familiar with major league outfielder Michael Tucker who played there. Here’s what Coach Gillian had to say. You can also check out his web site at www.mikegillian.com.
What is the timeline for becoming a full-fledged D1 member, eligible for postseason play?
Coach Gillian: We become a full-fledged D1 member in September 2007, therefore we are eligible for postseason play for the 2007-08 season. That situation Birmingham Southern went through last year has been eliminated by recent NCAA legislation.
In order to have the possibility of getting to the NCAA Tournament, you need to be in a conference. It appears the Big South would a good fit for your school. Do you have a timetable for getting into a conference?
MG: Absolutely correct about both. We need to be in a conference (at large bids being virtually unlikely, although not impossible). The Big South is a very natural fit for Longwood – geographically, size of school, level of competition, academic profile. Almost too perfect. We are pursuing the Big South extremely hard at ALL levels and, although there is no timetable, sooner would be better. We are also looking at The Atlantic Sun as a possibility.
You’re going to play Wake Forest and Illinois, two top five teams. That’s something few schools can say. I would guess part of the motivation behind this is financial. But what are some other reasons that you, as the coach of a team making the step to D1, would seek out opponents that have the goal of winning a national championship?
MG: Not to mention Cincinnati, sandwiched in between Northern Iowa and Valpo. The Wake Forest game is a no-brainer and we are fortunate to have them on the schedule. They are an ACC team and this is ACC country. The game brings immediate recognition to Longwood Basketball and Longwood University on a whole other level. It is also being played on February 23rd, at a time when we need to find games and they will be gearing up for ACC Tournament and NCAA Tournament play.
All of these games are great opportunities for our program to go out and see what it is like when it is done at the highest level and in the best possible way in college basketball today. Those four games against UNI, Illinois, Cincy, and Valpo are all part of the Las Vegas Classic (exempt). We get 4 high profile games that count as 1, get to travel around the country and play some great teams, and that opened space in the schedule for us to fill it with games that we definitely will be competitive in, and a number of them at home.
Finally, before you took the job at Longwood, you were on the staff at George Mason. The pinnacle of Mason hoops was that first round game in 2001 when you took Maryland to the wire. The Terps later went to the Final Four, and the next year won it all with largely the same cast. What memories do you have of that game in Boise?
MG: The memories of that game are tremendous. I was talking about it with some people here at Longwood today. We were truly one play away from winning that game and believed we had a team that was peaking and more than capable of beating Georgia State and Georgetown as Maryland did. We felt that Stanford would have been very tough because we had seen them earlier in the year at the Cable Car Classic, although not played them, and we thought our guys would have been a little intimidated by them. The Maryland and G’town games did not scare us because our players had played with and against those players for summers in The Kenner League in Washington, DC and knew they were as good as them. We had a great team. Maryland had the CAA’s number for 2 straight years. If you remember, in our game Juan Dixon hit about a 40 footer just before the half and Steve Blake hit a long three with just over a minute left (we were up 2 at the time) that were huge shots. Also, they were not a great free throw shooting team and in that game against us hit something like 22-25 from the foul line, with two of those misses being with :30 left in the game. Chris Wilcox hurt us in that game as did the starting 3 man [Byron Mouton] who was usually a role player.
The following year on the way to the title was when Drew Nicholas hit the running 3 at the buzzer to beat UNC-Wilmington. I do believe those are the type of first or second round games that when teams tough it out, it helps prepare them to make that run through the tourney. Look what Northern Iowa did in pushing GA Tech in round 1 last year. Maybe we will be Wake’s first round tune up in February this year – it would be nice to be in a game like that Boise game with them next February. That is how we are going to treat it going in, it is our NCAA Tournament.