It’s always fun to see teams notch their first EVER NCAA Tournament bid. Today, I’ll be helping the readers be ready for who to root for to make their first tourney! Only about fifty teams out of the 357 D1 teams have never made the tournament, with a fair amount being ineligible for the tournament. That’s because of the four-year transition process from D1-D2, a majority of the teams on this list will be somewhat newer D1 teams. The ineligible ones will be listed below.
Merrimack, Bellarmine, UC San Diego, North Alabama, Cal Baptist, Dixie State & Tarleton State. Two of which currently lead their respective conferences (Bellarmine & Merrimack), it’s unfortunate that the transition process takes four years.
Without further ado, let’s hop into the list.
South Dakota Coyotes- Summit League
There aren’t many conferences where there isn’t a defined favorite. The Summit is right ahead of that. It’s a complete jumbled mess between South Dakota, NDSU, South Dakota State, and Oral Roberts. I would put the Coyotes right there in the mix. Why’s that? USD’s played their in-state rival, SDSU, three-times, defeating them twice of which. We’ve seen Todd Lee’s team be up-and-down, but there’s no doubt there’s talent there.
Like most of the Summit, sans UMKC, the Coyotes are an offensive first team.
Stanley Umude is a fantastic leader, averaging 20.8 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 2.6 APG, along with 46% from-the-field & 38% from deep. That kind of efficiency makes Umude such a valuable player these days.
It isn’t solely the “Umude Show.” Fellow guard A.J. Plitzuweit (PLITTS-Zoo-White) is a fantastic scorer in his own right. A fun story about A.J. His mother, Dawn Plitzuweit, is the head coach of the Lady’s South Dakota Basketball team. More on A.J., he started his career at Augusta, a D2 school, prior to transferring to USD in 2019-20, with having to sit that season via NCAA transfer rules. In his lone year as a Coyote, Plitzuweit is averaging 16.6 PPG on 35.7% from deep. However, that percentage is substantial, not nearly indicative of how lethal of a shooter the 6’2 guard can be.
A key piece to this squad, and the third-leading scorer for USD, is former JUCO product Xavier Fuller. Prior to joining the Coyotes, Fuller spent two seasons playing for the Scottsdale Fighting Artichokes in the DII JUCO ranks, coached by Mark Bunker. Fuller is a fantastic two-way player, continually proving to be one of the better defenders on the roster while scoring when given the opportunity. The former JUCO player is a low-volume scorer with uber-efficiency, averaging 7.9 PPG, with a percentage slash line of 52-41-95, supremely talented.
If the defense can hold up to it what it has to do, South Dakota could win the Summit League tournament to notch their FIRST EVER NCAA Tournament bid since becoming a D1 team in 2008.
Grand Canyon Antelopes- WAC
The Lopes had a few disappointing seasons consecutively, which led to Dan Majerle’s dismissal following the 2019-20 campaign. It’s not only GCU underachieving, but New Mexico State went through a historically great stretch in the WAC, going on a near two-year winning streak in conference play. That’s changed this season with COVID issues among different things marring New Mexico State, makes an opened spot for someone to emerge in the conference, that team is Bryce Drew’s Grand Canyon squad.
In today’s Basketball, using two bigs is an archaic endeavor. GCU doesn’t see it that way. The presumptive WAC POTY, Asbjorn Midtgaard, quickly made his name known to the involved Lopes faithful. The Wichita State transfer is averaging 14.8 PPG 9.7 RPG, with an unheard of 74% from-the-field. What an unreal season for Midtgaard.
The other big alongside Midtgaard is Alessandro Lever, an all-time Lopes great. It’s been a down season for Lever based on what he did in the past, mainly with what Midtgaard’s emergence has done. Lever’s a different player stylistically than his big-man brethren. Lever is a big that stretches the floor, shooting nearly 40% from deep this season.
Along with the two stars of the team mentioned above, Jovan Blackshear’s offense is a talented conductor. The sophomore guard is undersized, but shifty along with being a stout defender.
The Lopes play a deliberate pace trying to get their bigs the ball to find the best look. For GCU to get over the hump to win the WAC tourney, the turnovers need to go down. With that, the shooting from deep could also use improvements.
UC Riverside Highlanders- BIG WEST
What a first season it’s been for Coach Mike Magpayo at UCR. Magpayo took the reigns at UCR after David Patrick made a surprising move to leave his head position to becoming an assistant on Eric Mussleman’s squad at Arkansas.
While I currently see UCSB as the team to beat in the Big West, UCR is right behind them on the totem poll. There’s tons of talent on this team mixed with fantastic defensive ability.
Along with defense, seven of the nine rotation players are shooting 36% or better from deep. Those seven being Arinze Chidom, Jock Perry, Zyon Pullin, Flynn Cameron, Wil Tattersall, Dominick Pickett & George Willborn III. When you have that kind of shooting ability, equaling 39% from deep as a team, along with playing stout on the defensive side of the ball, you can win the conference.
Beating UCSB is a tough task; the two meet in about ten days for a series.
This UCR squad is battle-tested, though, nearly beating USC in Galen Pavilion before there was a questionable foul call at the end of regulation, which sent the game to overtime. UCR lost, but to compete against a team like USC, you can defeat anyone in conference play.
I did a full piece on the Bulldogs a few months back, explaining why everyone should pay attention to Jared Grasso’s squad. Those reasons still stand despite no longer holding first place in the NEC, trailing Merrimack & Mount St Mary’s. Part of the reasoning is a COVID pause hindering the Bulldogs from playing since January 31st, allowing losing three of four prior to the pause.
With two-star scorers like Peter Kiss & Michael Green, pieced together with the elite defensive ability of Hall Elisias, also pieced with a 15 PPG scorer in Chris Childs, that’s a pure sharpshooter. There’s simply so much talent on the roster, along with a fantastic up-and-coming HC.
The Bulldogs don’t have a lengthy history of winning at the D1 level; in-fact, almost no history. Bryant went D1 in 2008-09, joining the NEC in 2009-10. Grasso’s turned Bryant into a legitimate program that is capable of competing.