Great West Conference play opens on Saturday and I'll be at Chicago State to check out the first game of the season between the Cougars and Utah Valley. Because most people probably don't know a thing about the Great West I thought I'd put together this quick little primer about the conference.
What is it? -- The Great West is a marriage of convenience between seven independent schools that wanted to find some more cohesive scheduling from year-to-year. Playing all the guarantee games required to sustain an NCAA Division I program can wear on people, but by getting together, the conference was able to guarantee its members at least 12 games each season - an even split of 6 and 6 home and away. Of course this doesn't make for a very stable conference. South Dakota is leaving for the Summit League soon and North Dakota is going to join the Big Sky conference in 2012.
Who's in it? -- Well besides the aforementioned Dakota schools the other five basketball schools are Chicago State, Utah Valley, Texas-Pan American, N.J.I.T. and Houston Baptist. Like I said, it's a marriage of convenience, but it's not too convenient since it literally requires a team to travel across the entire country to play games.
Why should I care? --
Well, it's a really interesting league to follow because the teams in general are very evenly grouped in talent level - all near the bottom of Division I. Only two schools rank better than 300 in the Ken Pomeroy rankings. The winner of the conference tournament gets an automatic bid to the CollegeInsider.com Tournament
. Last season South Dakota got to do the honors.
Well who are the favorites? -- Well, according to Ken Pomeroy, South Dakota is the favorite again. Here's the projected league standings going into the start of conference play:
- South Dakota - 10-2
- Utah Valley - 9-3
- Texas-Pan American - 7-5
- North Dakota - 5-7
- N.J.I.T. - 5-7
- Houston Baptist - 4-8
- Chicago State - 2-10
Thus it's important for the Cougars to get off to a good start on Saturday against the Wolverines. If Chicago State can steal an early game, even at home, it'll be an excellent start.
What else should I know? -- If there's anything of a non-geographical rivalry budding in the Great West it's between Chicago State and Utah Valley. Those two teams have played some really close games over the past two years. Here are the results:
- January 29, 2009 - Utah Valley wins at CSU (in 4OT) 123-121
- February 24, 2009 - Utah Valley wins at home 77-72
- January 9, 2010 - Utah Valley wins at home 48-43
- January 28, 2010 - Chicago State wins at home 43-41
Those are some really competitive games with none being decided by more than five points. Expect another great game to start conference play on Saturday evening. The game tips off at 4:30 p.m. and I guarantee good seats are still available.