Editor's Note: I say this is a sort of preview because I had written a full preview yesterday for release today, but when it posted here at 3 p.m. Eastern, I noticed that the entire section on the Independents, as well as my all-Great West team didn't appear. It appears the story editor had some coding issues. However, I don't have time to completely rewrite the post. So, I now present you the introduction, and a brief rundown which teams are which.
The last independent to qualify for the NCAA Tournament was DePaul in 1991. That's epochs ago in hoops, and conference realignment, terms. The early 90s concluded a process that began with the formation conferences such as the Metro, Atlantic 10, and Big East in the late 70s and early 80s. More and more schools started to realize that maybe having 14 to 18 games a season already on the schedule was the way to go. Plus, the bigger schools also figured that playing better schools regularly might help them at a time of serious tournament expansion. In the end, everyone who "mattered" found themselves for the most part grouped with schools of similar means, size, and academic profile.
But there have always been a few schools who didn't quite fit for whoever reason, and they've formed the group of Independents that has acted like a yo-yo dieter since 1990. The Independents pool generally serves as the first Division I home for teams transitioning from another level of collegiate competition. Occasionally, a school might spend a season or two here in between leagues. For these schools, seasons are filled with random home and home series, and A LOT of time on buses and planes, all for the pure joy of the game, as there just aren't the postseason opportunities available.
Several independent institutions banded together to form the Great West Conference in the summer of 2008. It begins play this season with the aim of earning an automatic bid to the 2020 NCAA Tournament. However, given that it will undergo almost immediate membership changes, that date may change. In the meantime, this season's champion will earn an automatic bid to the fledgling CollegeInsider Tournament.
Seven teams will compete for this bid as part of the Great West.
Chicago State (last NCAA: none): Full D-I members
Houston Baptist (last NCAA: 1984): The Huskies are returning to D-I after some time in the NAIA. They'll be full D-I members in 2014-15.
NJIT (last NCAA: none): Full D-I members.
North Dakota (last NCAA: none): The Fighting Sioux will be full D-I members in 2012-13.
South Dakota (last NCAA: none): The Coyotes will also be full D-I members in 2012.13. They're headed to the Summit League.
Texas-Pan American (last NCAA: none): Full D-I members
Utah Valley (last NCAA: none): Full D-I members
Six teams will compete as Independents this season.
Cal State-Bakersfield (last NCAA: none): The Roadrunners will become full D-I members next season.
Longwood (last NCAA: none): Full D-I members.
North Carolina Central (last NCAA: none): The Eagles will become full D-I members in 2011-12. They'll rejoin the MEAC next season.
Savannah State (last NCAA: none): The Tigers are full D-I members, and have a membership application under review with the MEAC.
Seattle (last NCAA: 1969): The Redhawks, whose 1958 team, featuring Elgin Baylor, finished as National Runner-up, will be full D-I members in 2012-13.
SIU-Edwardsville (last NCAA: none): The Cougars are OVC bound. They'll play a full schedule in that league in 2011-12, and be a full D-I member the following season.