There will be a lot of fun games before conference play begins. You know the ones: top ten teams playing top ten teams on national television. The best amateur players in the world testing themselves against each other thanks to a pile of TV cash.
This piece is not about those games. It is about the worst matchups on the schedule this season. These are the games you should not watch unless you are an essential part of the competing teams or the game operations staff.
All of these games involve a team outside of Division-I. There were 436 such contests last season, and the non D-I team went 10-426 (.023) in those games, with an average scoring differential of 28.3 points. Each of those ten wins was a minor miracle. The biggest one was a seven-point victory for Roanoke College over N.C. A&T. Curiously, it’s not even listed on Roanoke’s schedule last season.
These games aren’t completely pointless. The winning team gets some confidence1, the practice players can get some serious minutes, the losing team gets some money, and the refs get some low-stress paychecks. When you’re at the bottom of D-I you have to turn to lesser divisions for your guarantee games. But that doesn’t mean that you, the fan, have to watch these games. For every Texas-Permian Basin/UTSA barnburner, there are dozens of games like Tennessee-Martin’s 122-60 victory over Boyce College.
Other than their unwatchability, the problem with these games is that the stats and results are given the same treatment as games where the outcome is in doubt.2 Well, they count for the D-I team anyway. Often, the games are listed as exhibitions for the non D-I team. Hence the N.C. A&T game not even being acknowledged by Roanoke. I suspect that wrinkle has statistical justification as well. Illinois Tech would be less likely to play Chicago State if the Scarlet Hawks knew that the 137 points they gave up would be included in the NCAA’s statistical rankings.3
As long as the stats and outcomes are counting from these games, these mismatches will exist. But that doesn’t mean you have to watch them. You shouldn’t really ever watch them.4 These are the worst of the worst on the schedule this season.
5. November 11: Toccoa Falls at Troy
Toccoa Falls has been a D-I punching bag for a few years so it’s appropriate they are featured in the worst game of opening night. The team has played 27 games against the top level of college hoops over the past 15 seasons and won zero of them. The closest of these losses was a respectable 86-76 decision to Presbyterian on November 18, 2003. That was a big deal for the Screaming Eagles because a year earlier they lost a game by 102 points (141-39 to Western Carolina). On November 21, 2005, they scored 15 points in an entire game while surrendering 81 to Wofford.
The average margin of defeat against D-I squads has been 51.5 points. TFC will take on three other D-I foes this season – Charleston Southern, The Citadel, and Gardner-Webb. You should also stay as far away as possible from these games, although The Citadel will surely expect to crack the 150-point mark given that the Falls’ previous D-I opponents have averaged 103 per game.
4. November 26: Maine-Presque Isle at Maine
Despite a 12-13 record last season, Massey ranked Maine-Presque Isle at #1848 in the country. Maybe that was because the best team that the Owls beat was #1802 Maine-Machias.5 (There was no court rushing I am told.) UMPI has made two prior forays to the D-I level, both against their much bigger, more mature brother. In 2008, Maine pulled out a 126-50 win and in 2009 the final score was 133-58. UMPI bills itself as “North of Ordinary” but it’s men’s hoops’ team is very far south of Division-I quality, even compared to the perpetually-rebuilding Black Bears.
3. December 22: Walla Walla at Portland State
Walla Walla took a break from D-I action last season after a three-game Big Sky tour in late 2014 that resulted in losses of 95-34, 86-39, and 94-52. The NAIA Wolves have gone 0-9 against D-I teams, losing by an average of 48.6 points per game. That doesn’t mean there haven’t been some close calls during that stretch. OK, actually it does. The closest loss was a 89-61 defeat to Eastern Washington in 2009. Maybe things will be different this time! They won’t – but what if Walla Walla was allowed to play its entire roster of 23 players at the same time? It’s a fascinating debate. On the one hand, its defense would be more effective, but the floor spacing on offense would be tricky.
2. December 28: Central Penn at Elon
Central Penn dipped its toe in the D-I waters in November of 2010, losing 151-92 to VMI. Perhaps it was the excitement of the 110-possession game, but that contest sparked an insatiable lust within the Knights’ basketball program for further D-I action. They played three games each in the 2012 and 2013 seasons, four games in 2014, five in 2015 and six last season. They lost all of those games, of course, only twice coming closer than 23 points. Mostly, they play some of the worst teams in D-I, but then there’s this game with Elon who should be able to handle themselves in a strong CAA this season.
This game is the final non-conference game for the Phoenix and comes right after playing Duke, so I suppose some confidence-building will be in order. If you want to see some players on one team have their confidence strengthened and some players on the other team have their confidence shattered, then by all means, head out to Alumni Gym at Elon on December 28th. But only if you are an essential part of the competing teams or the game operations staff.
1. December 11: Montreat at Appalachian State
Literally “my treat” in French, the Cavaliers have lived up to their name. If you’re buying, they’re flying – actually bussing – to your school for a kindly game of hoops. Montreat has treated more D-I teams to wins (47) in the last 15 years than any other non D-I school. And the tradition continues this season with contests against N.C. Central and Appalachian State that figure to be lopsided losses. Massey says the App State game will be a hard-fought 104-59 win in favor of the Mountaineers. However, he had Montreat winning its opener by 19 and they won by 64, so maybe the Cavs will get the last laugh. But I say that will only happen if the team binge watches the DVD collection of Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell after the game.
The last win against a D-I team for the Cavaliers came against WCU in 2001 and there are rumors about a 30-for-30 in production to recount the accomplishment. If Montreat can keep this game within 30, well then hurray for basketball.
|^2||This is a good spot to remind you that stats from non D-I games are ignored on this site, except in a team’s won-loss record.|
|^3||Actually, Illinois Tech is in NAIA, but you get the point.|
|^4||Except the games involving Chaminade and Alaska-Anchorage in their respective tournaments because those can sometimes be close and the home crowd adds something to the atmosphere. Sadly, Chaminade games in Maui will be more limited in the future.|
|^5||”Maine’s Coastal University”|