For some Chico State men’s basketball fans participation in the Division II NCAA men’s basketball tournament is the program’s birthright, but with last Thursday’s loss versus Stanislaus the Wildcats tournament hopes could rest on their final four games.
This week the first of three regional rankings will be released. The rankings determine the teams that will comprise the 64-team field and the NCAA Tournament. For the past six seasons, the unveiling of the rankings were a culmination of three months of stellar play and only reinforced the Wildcats deserved recognition as one of the best basketball teams in the West.
Wednesday will be different…..
When the rankings are unveiled the Wildcats will most likely not see their name in the top-8 meaning they have some work to do to make a 7th straight trip to the NCAA’s. The Wildcats have a very difficult schedule down the stretch, and it couldn’t come at a better time. Chico NEEDS quality on their schedule and with this quality they need wins. The criteria to get into the NCAA Tournament are pretty clear. There are actually sophisticated formulas based on wins, wins against good and bad teams, and your strength of schedule. For the purpose of this column, let’s just simplify it, because int Chico’s case it is simple.
- Beat the teams on your schedule
- Beat as many good teams as possibly, preferably on the road
- Don’t lose to teams under .500
- Win games head-to-head against NCAA Tourney teams
While the Wildcats have compiled a 16-6 record, only 15 of those wins actually count when determining post-season consideration. Chico’s win over Simpson College doesn’t count since Simpson is an NAIA school. Of the Wildcats 15 wins only THREE have come against D-II teams with better than .500 records. Chico has lost 5 games to teams that are .500 or better and one to a sub .500 Dominguez Hills team. They don’t have any road wins against teams over .500. San Bernardino is 12-11 and Chico beat them on the road. But, one of their wins is against Vanguard University, which means they are 11-11 in the eyes of the committee. Chico could certainly use the Coyotes finishing over .500.
Yes, the situation for Chico State is serious.
With San Diego and San Marcos coming to town this week its the perfect opportunity for the Wildcats to strengthen a resume that needs some polishing. Next week the Wildcats will play road games against San Francisco State and Sonoma. The Gators are over .500 and are always tough in The Swamp. Pat Fuscaldo always has his Sonoma club ready for Chico and is a tough get in Rohnert Park. This four-game gauntlet is not Chico’s only chance to jump into the top-8. They still have a life-line in the CCAA Tournament. If Chico were to win the post-season conference tournament they would get the automatic qualifier to the NCAA’s. But, a strong showing over the next two weeks could mean winning the CCAA Tourney isn’t their only hope.
Fans might be asking why is this year different than others ? The Wildcats are tied with San Diego and San Marcos in the CCAA standings, why are those teams in better shape ? Well, San Marcos beat Chico earlier this year by 18 and the Tritons beat Chico by 23 a few nights later. That is why this week’s games are VITAL.
Also, Chico isn’t only competing for NCAA spots with teams from the CCAA but also the Great Northwest Conference (GNAC) and the Pacific West Conference (Pac-West)
In many cases there are teams with similar records but much stronger resume’s and better wins than Chico State. For example St. Martin’s from the GNAC is 16-6 against D-II opponents and has a couple of losses against sub .500 teams but they also have 4 ROAD wins (@CalBaptist, @CWashington, @SPU, @WWU) against teams over .500 three of these will probably be ranked in the first regional ranking. In this case, similar record, but St. Martin’s, at least now, a much stronger resume than Chico State.
The good news for the Wildcat faithful is they have their playoff destiny in their own hands. They can surge into the discussion in a big way with wins this weekend. They can put an end the question with wins over the next two weeks and a run in the CCAA Tournament.
The other bit of good news. This great group has been through the battles. I simply don’t see seniors Jalen McFerren, Isaiah Ellis and Corey Silverstrom, possibly the greatest triumvirate of Wildcats ever assembled at the same time, going out with a whimper. I’ve seen this group win CCAA Titles, a West Regional and dazzle us with some of the most electrifying basketball venerable ole Acker Gym has ever seen.
I expect this Chico State team to play the next four games like their NCAA Tournament lives depend on it, because it does.
PHOTO COURTESY of Chico State Athletics http://www.chicowildcats.com